On September 28, 1918, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Philadelphia to watch a patriotic spectacle. However, the Liberty Loan Parade, which was designed to promote government bonds to finance the Allied cause in World War I, had an undesirable guest: influenza. Within 72 hours, the local hospitals were overcrowded with flu patients. Within weeks, nearly 13,000 people were dead. Today, historians blame the crowded parade for spreading the devastating influenza epidemic in the city. (Worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 500 million people were infected and at least 50 million died in the pandemic.)
The echoes of this deadly event will be heard on Saturday when a performance art parade takes place Streets of Philadelphia.
The parade begins with "Spit Spreads Death," a new exhibition and project of the Mothers Museum of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, which opened on October 17. It was designed by Blast Theory, a British art collective specializing in immersive, interactive media installations.
The audience will be a central part of the parade. People can sign up as patient advocates and march in honor of individual flu victims who died on the deadliest day of the Philadelphia pandemic. During the world premiere of choral music composed by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang and sung by Crossing, a Grammy-winning Philadelphia choir, the names of all 751 of these victims are mentioned.
Cell phones, every patient representative will float in a moment of remembrance alone between two illuminated, 20 foot long wagons.
The dark spectacle has one purpose: to reflect historical losses and an all too modern health crisis. According to the CDC, in the United States alone in 2018, 49 million people were infected with influenza. About 79,000 of these people died. The CDC estimates that 80 percent of flu-related deaths in children were from unvaccinated children.
At the end of the parade in Dilworth Park will be held a free event with information, food and public health commentaries The Artists. Free flu shots are also offered.
The parade starts at 18:00 at Marconi Plaza. Do you want to march in honor of a flu victim? Visit Spitspreadsdeath.com to choose someone to represent you. You can choose by name, age, neighborhood or occupation or have the website selected on your behalf. Attendees can also vote during the parade, though the names may be limited, or just watch from the sideline.