City's history made for television

Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush
Posted: April 01, 2012

Who would have thought Sam Katz would become an accomplished documentary filmmaker? That talent was never on display when he ran for mayor again and again and again. But Katz has turned his efforts in a new direction, and it has been to Philadelphia's benefit.

The second in his Philadelphia: The Great Experiment series of documentaries will air at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on WPVI, Channel 6. The documentary, Fever: 1793, looks at the yellow fever epidemic that hit Philadelphia that year. The city lost 5,000 of its 45,000 residents to the disease, while another 17,000 left town.

Benjamin Rush, physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a pivotal figure during the crisis. He was credited with saving a number of his patients by bleeding them and dosing them with mercury. Wrongly believing blacks were immune, Rush enlisted African American ministers Absalom Jones and Richard Allen to aid him.

The first film in the series, The Floodgates Open: 1865-1876, looked at the ethnic conflict in Philadelphia after the Civil War, with the construction of City Hall serving as a backdrop. That program was hosted by Jim Gardner, as was Fever, with both being presented commercial-free.

If you think the documentaries sound like something you would expect to watch on public television, you would be right. But Katz couldn't find the financial backing he needed to go that route. Indeed, Channel 6 and the other corporate and individual backers of this project deserve applause.

But Katz's company, History Making Productions, needs more benefactors to complete the series. He says he's afraid to make the episodes in sequence because he may not have enough money, so he's doing the most important topics first. This project deserves more certainty than that.

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