a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Donora smog show to premier

The former steel town of Donora continues to draw audiences to its infamous story about a mysterious, deadly fog.

A new documentary about the Pennsylvania smog tragedy is set to premier at 8 p.m. Thursday on WQED-TV in Pittsburgh.

Rumor of Blue Sky, produced by Pittsburgh filmmaker Andy Maietta, tells the Donora story entirely through the eyes of 25 local residents who survived the deadly smog of 1948.

“I’m glad we were able to capture their oral histories,” Maietta said Tuesday. “They are valuable to history. The story is told entirely through firsthand. There is no narrator.”

The story has many great sound bites, including one about birds dropping dead upon flying into the fumes at the open hearth. Another involves steelworkers suffering the zinc work jitters while toiling in that plant whose smoke greatly contributed to at least 20 deaths over a foggy Halloween weekend in 1948.

My only criticism about the film is that it almost entirely overlooks Webster, the downwind neighbor of Donora where four decades of pollution had killed most of the grass and trees.

There wouldn’t have been much of a Donora story without the constant complaining then from Webster residents about the sour air. Donora wanted the story to go away after the smog. Webster kept it in the news until clean air laws were enacted.

It took Maietta, a digital filmmaking instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, at least five years to complete the project, and many of the people he interviewed have since died.

The film is available for sale at the Donora Smog Museum, 595 McKean Ave., Donora.

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