The 1918 "Spanish flu" was the fastest spreading and most deadly influenza pandemic in recorded history. Hypotheses of its origin have been based on a limited collection of case and outbreak reports from before its recognized European emergence in the summer of 1918. These anecdotal accounts, however, remain insufficient for determining the early diffusion and impact of the pandemic virus. Using routinely collected monthly age-stratified mortality data, we show that an unmistakable shift in the age distribution of epidemic deaths occurred during the 1917/1918 influenza season in New York City. The timing, magnitude, and age distribution of this mortality shift provide strong evidence that an early wave of the pandemic virus was present in New York City during February-April 1918.