The Race Underground

SOON TO BE A PBS “AMERICAN EXPERIENCE” DOCUMENTARY

AMAZON’S BEST NON-FICTION BOOKS OF 2014

THE WEEK: “ONE OF 18 BOOKS
TO READ IN 2014!”

Sam Roberts in The New York Times said, “Mr. Most weaves together the egos, political hurdles and other daunting challenges in a sweeping narrative of late-19th-century intrigue.” The Economist raved, “Doug Most’s meticulously researched history reveals that getting the subways built was more a collaborative than a competitive effort.” Kirkus Reviews said, “It’s a story of blizzards and fires, gas explosions and dynamite blasts, of trenches tortuously dug, of sewer and water pipes rerouted and cemeteries excavated, of political infighting, of turnstiles and ticket-taking, of ingenious solutions to staggering problems.”

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‘The Race Underground’ documentary to air January 31 on PBS

Posted on 01/6/17

c1vtnikxgaesy1lOK, set your DVR if you’d like. Tuesday evening, January 31, at 9 p.m., WGBH TV will air the documentary “The Race Underground” based off of my book of the same title. Yes, I’m excited. It’s hard to believe, but this project I undertook is now stretching into its 7th year! Geez.

It started with an idea for a book. Then a year writing a book proposal and selling it to St. Martin’s Press. Then two years writing the book, which came out in February 2014 to positive reviews. Then the paperback came out in 2015. And now the documentary. The Matt Damon movie, well, still waiting on that one!

I’ve seen the film, which is almost an hour long, and it’s remarkable (if they finish a trailer for it, I’ll be sure and post that, as well). It was produced by Michael Rossi, a North Shore filmmaker as I’ve written here before, and he pulled together half a dozen great interviews, myself included, as well some incredible new research and graphics, to weave a great story. It doesn’t tell the story of the whole book about the rush to build America’s first subway between Boston and New York, but rather he zooms in on one of my favorite characters, the unsung hero Frank Sprague.

So the first showing will air January 31, but if you miss it, or forget to record it, don’t worry, there are plenty more times. Here is the entire PBS schedule of airings.

Wed. Feb 1 at 5:00 AM WGBH 2
Sun. Feb 5 at 12:30 AM WGBH 2
Sun. Feb 5 at 3:00 PM WGBH 2
Wed. Feb 1 at 2:00 AM WGBX 44
Wed. Feb 1 at 1:00 PM WGBX 44
Thu. Feb 2 at 4:00 AM WGBX 44
Fri. Feb 3 at 3:00 AM WGBX 44
Sat. Feb 4 at 2:00 PM WGBX 44
Sat. Feb 4 at 9:00 PM WGBX 44
Fri. Feb 3 at 8:00 PM WGBH WORLD
Sat. Feb 4 at 1:00 AM WGBH WORLD
Sat. Feb 4 at 9:00 AM WGBH WORLD
Sat. Feb 4 at 3:00 PM WGBH WORLD

 

The film aired in early November during HubWeek at the Globe Docs Film Festival, and we had a fun evening with a panel talking about the film and the broader story (here is a photo from that night). ctun8wewyaagcx8

And finally, here is the summary of the documentary from “American Experience.”:

In the late 1800s, Boston reigned as America’s most crowded city, with nearly 400,000 people packed into a downtown of less than one square mile. With more than 8,000 horses pulling the trolleys, the city was filthy and noisy, reeking of manure and packed with humanity.

But a young American inventor named Frank Sprague had a revolutionary idea. Inspired by his visits to the London Underground, Sprague envisioned a subway system that would trade London’s soot-spewing coal-powered steam engine with a motor run on the latest technology — electricity. After an early job with his idol Thomas Edison, Sprague launched his own venture, the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company. Seeking investors, he first struck out with financier Jay Gould after almost setting the mogul on fire during a demonstration. He soon found backing with the wealthy capitalist Henry Whitney, who owned a fortune in suburban Boston real estate and quickly saw the financial upside of connecting his desirable residential neighborhoods with the city’s economic center. Whitney also proposed the consolidation of Boston’s seven existing streetcar companies — all under his control. When the Massachusetts General Court granted Whitney the monopoly, he announced an unprecedented plan – to build the nation’s first subway. Powered by Sprague’s technology and enthusiastically supported by Boston Mayor Nathan Matthews, the project threw the city into a voluble debate.

”The Boston subway was not a foregone conclusion, not by a long shot. There was a petition at one point where 12,000 businessmen opposed the subway,” says historian Stephen Puleo. ”There were going to be streets torn up, sewer systems affected, water lines affected, electrical lines affected. Secondly, folks felt like traveling underground was very close to the netherworld, that you were getting closer to the devil, that you were taking this great risk in God’s eyes by traveling on a subway.”

The debate raged on, but the Mayor finally convinced the city that the new subway would provide much-needed jobs and not infringe on the city’s beloved Boston Common. After two years of construction, Boston’s new subway made its first trip on September 1, 1897. Despite lingering fears, more than 250,000 Bostonians rode the underground rails on its first day. In its first year of operation, 50 million passengers would ride the Boston system, and within ten years, New York and Philadelphia opened subways, with more American cities to follow.

”Frank Sprague lived in the shadow of Edison but played as important a role in the development and growth of cities as any person in our history,” said author Doug Most. ”His motor is one of the most important contributions, right there alongside Henry Ford’s vehicle and the Wright Brothers’ plane, as one of the most important engineering achievements of our time.”

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PBS/American Experience documentary ‘The Race Underground’ has first screening, October 1

Posted on 09/6/16

yawkeyTheater1I haven’t had too much to update on Michael Rossi‘s documentary “The Race Underground,” coming from PBS and American Experience, but now I do. The first screening of the documentary is happening Saturday evening, October 1, at 7 p.m., as part of the GlobeDocs Documentary Film Festival.

I’ve seen a rough cut of the film, but not the final version yet. What I saw, I loved, and Michael did an incredible research job on top of my own for the book. The movie focuses on the Boston subway, and is less about New York’s, which makes for a tighter, more focused storytelling experience.

GlobeDocs is an incredible collection of documentaries from around the country, so it’s an honor to have “The Race Underground” included. The event is free, but you still need to reserve tickets, which you can do by clicking here. It’s being shown at the beautiful WGBH Yawkey Studio (photo above), directions here. As with everything I’ve posted about “The Race Underground,” thanks for sharing the news, and thanks so much for all your support.

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Transportation Trivia Contest: Subways, ‘The Race Underground’ and the West End Museum

Posted on 08/16/16

immigrants-184x300So this is sorta cool. The West End Museum, which describes itself as “a neighborhood museum dedicated to the collection, preservation and interpretation of the history and culture of the West End of Boston,” is doing an event with me in September (Sept. 14 at 6:30 to be precise). It makes perfect sense because the first subway in America, Boston’s, was the result of a company created by Henry Whitney called the West End Street Railway Company. And Whitney is a key figure, of course in my book, “The Race Underground.” TheRaceUnderground

In advance of this event, we’ve put together a fun trivia contest. The link is here, go play!

And all the details on the event can be found by clicking here.

By the way, if you know Back  Bay, Beacon Hill, the South End, the North End, but you have no idea where the West End is or what the West End is, you should know! It’s a huge part of Boston’s history. Here is a description, from the museum:

The history of the West End is one of a largely immigrant neighborhood displaced or destroyed by ‘Urban Renewal‘ in a campaign that saw a third of Boston’s downtown demolished between 1958 and 1960, but it’s also the history of a diverse community that produced several influential people, boasted a unique culture and included many places of historical significance. 

Among the few famous Bostonians to come out of the West End include Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Sumner Redstone, and Charles Bulfinch.

This map outlines the West End’s boundaries.

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