A recent YouTube query for “BBC documentary, long” popped out a series called “Filthy Cities.” As far as I can tell, this was a three-episode dealio produced by the BBC last year. Presenter Dan Snow and a first-rate visual effects team examine the cleanliness of a particular city, at a particular time. Take the episode I saw, “Industrial New York.” How dirty was industrial New York?
Answer: Pretty freaking dirty.
You had tenements sleeping twelve to a room and crapping two hundred to a potty. Animals, vermin, and bugs everywhere. And the poop. Oh, the poop. Feces of every kind stacked several feet (yes, FEET) deep. Add in the fact that few people had reliable water, and it’s a wonder anyone survived at all.
But Snow shows the whole picture, and spends just as much time on the improvements that cleaned the city as on the bedbugs and Typhoid Mary that made it dirty. We get to see the aqueduct that brought clean water 40+ miles into Manhattan. We learn about the Edison vs. Tesla electric current battle, and how light came to the city. We learn about the doctor who realized that people had to stop pooping where they eat.
I’m hesitant to watch either of the other episodes (“Medieval London” and “Renaissance Paris”) because this show was seriously disgusting. Snow had a live bedbug on his arm at one point, you guys. Eesh. But if he’s willing to go through that to educate us, the least I can do is watch.