The History of this Historical Drama
George Wunderlich, former Executive Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and on-set adviser for Mercy Street shares his memories of how the show took shape and his thoughts about the final product.
I have been a part of over seventy television programs and ten motion pictures over the years. Starting with The Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill back in the 1990’s, I slowly became familiar with the business of film and I have loved every minute of it. Sometimes, I am on screen, sometimes my banjo or other craft work is on screen, and sometimes I am just behind the scenes as an adviser. I love it all. But rarely do I get excited when a project finally comes out. This time, I am excited!
It seems like a lifetime ago. I was sitting in my office at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine when I got a call from Lisa Wolfinger from Lone Wolf Media. She asked if I would be interested in helping promote the idea of a TV series on Civil War Medicine. I think that call was over five years ago now. Please understand that, for every call like this, one in five actually turned out to be a real opportunity. Despite this, I was enthusiastic about each one. I stifled my first response (Interested!! You Bet! Woooohooo!) and calmly said, “Why yes, I would love to have the Museum involved.” That started a long partnership that is finally coming to fruition in January 2016, with the premiere of Mercy Street on PBS….
Involvement in these things is a complicated process. David Price, who is now the Executive Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and I met on several occasions with Lisa and her staff…. In the beginning there were no sponsors, no commitment from PBS, just a great idea and a great team of professionals with a passion for the subject. The Museum and our staff provided research to help Lisa attract funders, we reviewed scripts, we provided material support in the beginning, just to get PBS to say yes. There were months with no word … those times were hard, then came a frenzy of activity to get ready for the next phase as soon as word came. I want to take a moment to thank the staff whose hard work all those years helped create this series, especially Terry Reimer, Tom Frezza, Kyle Wichtendahl, David Price, and Joanna Jennings. Their commitment throughout the process helped make the final product a reality.
But what about that final product? Many in the Civil War history community are afraid that historical accuracy will be lacking. I must say that I have been impressed with Lisa and her team. When I was on-set in an advisory role, I was given the opportunity to make changes. I know for a fact that scripts were changed based on the research museums like the National Museum of Civil War Medicine provided.
I am particularly excited because I think that the show’s newly released website demonstrates their commitment to historical accuracy and educating the public through dramatic television. There is a great Civil War medical quiz with embedded articles, websites and videos to help explain the answers. There are teacher resources, articles and videos on the site. Take a look and see what you think….
I am proud to be a part of this program. I am proud of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and all of its staff for their hard work. I hope that you will all watch on January 17th. And I hope we can begin a much needed discussion of Civil War medicine and what it truly means to our current lives in the 21st century!
This post first appeared on George Wunderlich’s blog.
It has been lightly edited. Click here to read the original post.Posted in: Mercy Street PBS