An Interview with David Pultz: The Spring Street Story: A Documentary Film

I recently had a chance to interview David Pultz.  Here is our conversation about his work creating The Spring Street Story: A Documentary Film. –Meredith A.B. Ellis


Tell us a little about your involvement with the Spring Street project. How did you get involved?

I was asked by the Presbytery of New York back in January 2007, along with a couple of others from First Presbyterian Church to visit a construction site where some burial vaults with human remains were found that were part of a former Presbyterian Church. The Presbytery had been contacted by the developer of the site, asking if they would take custody of the remains for eventual reburial. I believe First Presbyterian was subsequently contacted with the idea that perhaps the remains could be re-interred in its vaults. I was then asked if I would become part of the Presbytery’s Spring Street Committee, which I did. I’m assuming I was drawn into this project because of my position as Archivist at First Presbyterian and general interest in history.

(Read more about David Pultz’s involvement here: Eulogy by David Pultz)

Where did the idea come from to do a documentary film about the site and its history?

It generally evolved in my mind as I began to learn more about the history of the Spring Street Church, and in particular its abolitionist pastors and the fact that it practiced what it preached by accepting free African Americans into full membership.

Where are you in the filming process, and what still remains to be done?

It’s still relatively early in the filming process. I’ve outlined the story in script format that I created for an NEH grant application, and also conducted four interviews with historians and bioarchaeologists. I also did extensive filming of the remains when they were still at the Physical Anthropology Lab at Syracuse University. The recent transfer of the remains to Green-Wood and reburial were recorded as was the Memorial Service on October 19th. I’ve collected a fair number of images and photographs related to the story, and there are still a number of historians and locations to film. As with any independent project, fundraising is an ongoing activity.

Why is this story so compelling to you?

The time period is so early in the abolitionist movement, and is the story of a brave congregation of middle and lower income people who dared to stand up for social justice against tremendous odds. There is a powerful narrative arc to the story along with interesting characters culminating in the 1834 anti-abolitionist riots that almost destroyed the church. The fact that it survived and continued its anti-slavery activities still amazes me. Add to that the exciting discovery of the Spring Street vaults and the ongoing research and you’ve got a unique story for a documentary.

What do you hope people learn from the Spring Street story?

I hope people will be as fascinated by this “fight for justice against the odds” story as I have been. It’s an important piece of the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement that, like the burial vaults themselves, had been forgotten. To me the history of the Spring Street Church, combined with the recent discovery and study of the remains, illustrates an exciting chapter in New York City history that is still being uncovered by the ongoing bioarchaeological work at Syracuse University.

If people want to support this film, is there somewhere they can go to do so?

They can go to my project page at the New York Foundation for the Arts, my fiscal sponsor. The project is currently titled, “The Bones Speak.” Donations can be made online.

Be sure to follow along for updates on the project at the Facebook page for the film The Spring Street Story.

Producer, Director, Writer – David Pultz graduated from the film school at Emerson College in 1976. He has worked as a colorist in the postproduction area of film/video for the past thirty-five years, primarily on feature length films and documentaries. In 1997 he produced and directed the landmark documentary, “Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror” about the Stalinist purges during the 1930’s and 40’s in the former Soviet Union. This 81 minute film combines on location photography in western Ukraine, interviews with survivors, public officials and historians and archival footage. It is narrated by Meryl Streep. In addition to producer and director, Mr. Pultz also served as writer and cinematographer for the project.

In 2007 Mr. Pultz joined the Spring Street Committee of the Presbytery of New York City. The committee was formed in the wake of the discovery of human remains at the site of the former Spring Street Presbyterian Church. In 2009 Mr. Pultz became Chair of the committee, which has recently completed the task of reburial of the historic remains at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.