secrets beneath the streets
display
ben franklin bridge
city hall
gold depository
peco substation
subway
swann fountain
water department
in the sewer

 

WHYY-TV TAKES VIEWERS UNDERGROUND WITH "SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS" HOSTED BY DERRICK PITTS

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Dark, dank caves, life-threatening danger, riches beyond imagination and sights truly beautiful to behold - all part of a day's work for the production team of SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS.

Hosted by Franklin Institute Chief Astronomer and Host of WHYY-FM's SKYTOUR, Derrick Pitts, SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS takes viewers on a tour of the well hidden and often well guarded places beneath our region. Topics range from a precious metal depository under the roads of Wilmington, DE, containing hundreds of millions of dollars in gold, silver and platinum to a Philadelphia sewer - "A highway of sewage with beautiful, vaulted ceilings where the most horrendous stuff goes flowing," says WHYY Producer Ed Cunningham.

Why underground, though? And why Pitts, a man far more at home looking up?

Over the past year a number of people approached Cunningham, curious about the other piece of Philadelphia he had yet to capture on film - the underground. "The idea for the show came from people asking questions. It seemed this could have some appeal, and it started to capture my imagination," said Cunningham.

"People's curiosity will be piqued. They will get a look at what they may otherwise never, ever get to see."


And Pitts? "Derrick brings a wonderment and amazement for the sites along the way," said Cunningham. "There's a lot of science to be explored in many of the sites we visit, and that appealed to him. He's also a great scientific communicator."


Pitts was more than happy at the chance to explore the underground. "Are you kidding?" Pitts said of WHYY's offer to host. "Of course, when do we start?"


The idea for some of the places visited came easily. "Have you ever ridden the subway and looked out and wondered what went on between the stations? I figured it was about time they saw the light of day," said Cunningham.


Actually, they saw the illumination of production lighting, which thankfully put the third rail in clear view. Cunningham explained that this was one of the more dangerous parts of shooting on the project.


"We had to be very careful, logistically, dragging all of the cameras, microphones, people and other equipment past this very dangerous rail," Cunningham said.


Other venues required research to find, such as the precious metal depository under the streets of Wilmington, DE. Cunningham, Pitts and the rest of the crew were some of the only non-employees to ever enter the vaults.


Though the contents of the sewers didn't match that of the depository, the visit shows viewers marvels of engineering and beautiful architecture. The most surprising element, however, may be the people who work in them, especially their camaraderie and sense of humor. The sewers also posed a danger - toward the edges it is relatively safe to walk, but step slightly too far to the middle and a person could be easily whisked away in the rushing water.


"But this [the danger] makes it that much more interesting," said Cunningham.
Not dangerous, but sure to surprise, is the basement of City Hall. Though never meant to be seen by the public, the 19th Century architects included many beautiful elements, such as mosaic tiles and archways.


Another mostly unknown place captured in SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS is the never used, in fact, never finished, trolley stop located below the lightning bolt statue near the Ben Franklin Bridge. The underground stop was begun in the 1920s, but before it became anything more than a "dark, dank, man-made cave," people's transportation habits changed and the project was abandoned.


Other abandoned trolley and train stops include those in the towers along the Ben Franklin Bridge. The bridge's footings, located well under the Delaware River are also closely examined.


Philadelphia's other river is the location of yet another landmark that many have seen above ground, but few get to go in and under. The Fairmount Water Works along the Schuylkill is home to an Olympic-sized pool opened by the Kelly family (swamped by Hurricane Agnes in 1972), as well as architecture and facades ranging in look from ancient ruins to Greek and Roman splendor.


The Water Works is currently undergoing its most comprehensive overhaul since closing as a working utility in the early 1900s. At one time an aquarium, the facility is now being revamped to house a museum and restaurant.


The aim of SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS is to let people see the working infrastructure of the region, as well as its history. People tend to forget that much of what they enjoy and use on the surface has deep roots, which may at times be fascinating curiosities, but also require the work of many to maintain.


"I always like to think that having watched our station, a person comes away having learned something," Cunningham said to sum up his dedication to this and his many other projects, such as A WALK UP BROAD STREET, HOLY PHILADELPHIA, WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD and THINGS THAT AREN'T THERE ANYMORE.


The executive producer for SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS is Trudi Brown, the producer is Ed Cunningham and the associate producer is Rob Parker.


Funding for SECRETS BENEATH THE STREETS comes from the support of WHYY members.

Additional support provided by: