Tag Archives: Oral History

National Park Service Hosting ‘Community Conversation’


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eleanor-rooseveltBeginning in the late 1940s historians with the National Park Service collected stories from friends, neighbors and staff of the Roosevelts and Vanderbilts. The tradition of recording people’s memories and using them to understand our history, and the people who created it carries on to this day.

The National Park Service and the Sound and Story Project have teamed up to offer two special events to be held at the Home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site, in Hyde Parak, NY. Continue reading

Oral Tradition in Historical Scholarship:
The Dutch, The Iroquois, and The Two Row Wampum


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13220774-largeThe challenge of contact in the 17th century between the Dutch and the Iroquois was brought to life in the 21st century with a symbolic summer journey from western New York to the United Nations to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum and its message.

That event was the subject of several posts on The New York History Blog. I wrote about the scholarly challenges posed by the Two Row Wampum; Naj Wikoff, an artist active in the Lake Placid region, also wrote about the the Two Row Wampum, acknowledging that there is not a written record of the treaty, nor does the physical object exist, but the oral tradition of the event is valid and its message remains relevant. Continue reading

The Story of Newburgh: A Creative Community Collaboration


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Newburgh SpanishThe Sound and Story Project whose mission is to strengthen community through the power of listening, and the Newburgh Free Library invites the community to participate in the making of a multimedia documentary featuring their personal impressions of Newburgh. “Our Story,” a collaborative multimedia program, will take place at the Library on June 1, 2013 from 10:00 – 4:00. Contact Chuck Thomas at 845-3614 to reserve a space.

Community members, assisted by local artists Eileen McAdam, Mia Lobel, Ilene Cutler, and Mariel Fiori, will record stories, take photos and shoot video to tell the story of Newburgh through their eyes. From the material collected and the participant’s impressions, The Sound and Story Project will produce a multimedia presentation that will premier during a public celebration at the Newburgh Free Library. Continue reading

Warren County Oral History Project Seeks Volunteers


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Warren County (Asher and Adams Atlas, 1871)The Warren County Historical Society will be conducting oral history interviews during the Rural Heritage Festival and Youth Fair at the Warren County Fairgrounds in Warrensburg, NY on August 10th.  The Warren County Historical Society is searching for individuals who would like to participate and are specifically interest in talking with individuals who have some knowledge in three specific areas:  Continue reading

Local History Collaboration Leads To Annual Theater Event


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547569_600954409922681_354691017_nThree organizations – Colton Historical Society, Grasse River Players and Colton-Pierrepont Central School – have announced new collaborative work for 2013 following the successful production of Sunday Rock—The Folk Musical in 2012.  Last year, when they first combined their historical, theatrical and educational interests to produce the show along with author and Colton resident Evelyn Riehl and her family, they received lots of support and encouragement to continue.

The partnership has now committed to presenting a theatrical performance addressing a dimension of history each July around the time Colton celebrates its history. Over the winter plans were made to produce The 1940’s Radio Hour and to also pursue an oral history project in conjunction with it focusing on World War II. Continue reading

Community Narratives: The Importance of Story-Telling


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Cheers historic Bar ShotWe are a story-telling species. Storytellers need an audience. Storytellers and the audience need a place to meet. The venue may vary, the technology may change, the message evolves, but somehow, in some way, we will tell stories. They define who we are as individuals and as members of something larger than ourselves, a family, a community, a county, a state, a country, or a religion.

How exactly would we celebrate Easter or Passover without a story to tell? Would we even celebrate them if there were no story?  With these thoughts in mind, I would like to turn to some examples of the importance of storytelling and community which I have noticed. Continue reading

Circle of Life: Performance Art at the Cosmic Center


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Millais_Boyhood_of_RaleighWe are a story-telling species. We tell stories through various media which have changed over time as our technologies have changed. In ancient times the common modes of expression included the verbal story, art, dance, and music. These forms still are in use today. New forms have been developed and the ways of communication for millennia have evolved at a speed that is both wondrous and frightening to behold. Continue reading

New York City: What Is Your World War Two Story?


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When the New-York Historical Society set out to create its WWII & NYC exhibit, we knew that personal histories would be an important part of our presentation and our approach to soliciting visitor responses. Many visitors would have served on the home front or war fronts, or experienced the “War Emergency” as children. Others would have heard stories from their parents and grandparents. Continue reading

Lyon Mountain Mines: George Davies of Clinton County


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George Davies of Standish in Clinton County was about as tough an Adirondacker as you’ll find anywhere. Standish was the sister community to Lyon Mountain during its century-long run of producing the world’s best iron ore. Davies (1892–1983) was among the many old-timers I interviewed around 1980 for my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town. He was kind, welcoming, and honest in describing events of long ago.

George was a good man. The stories he told me seemed far-fetched at first, but follow-up research in microfilm archives left me amazed at his accuracy recounting events of the early 1900s. His truthfulness was confirmed in articles on items like strikes, riots, injuries, and deaths.

When I last interviewed George in 1981 (he was 88), he proudly showed me a photograph of himself as Machine Shop Supervisor in the iron mines, accepting a prestigious award for safety. I laughed so hard I almost cried as he described the scene. George, you see, had to hold the award just so, hiding the fact that he had far fewer than his originally allotted ten fingers. He figured it wouldn’t look right to reveal his stubs while cradling a safety plaque.
In matter-of-fact fashion, he proceeded to tell me what happened. Taken from the book, here are snippets from our conversation as recorded in 1981: “I lost one full finger and half of another in a machine, but I still took my early March trapping run to the Springs. I had a camp six miles up the Owl’s Head Road. While I was out there, I slipped in the water and nearly froze the hand. I had to remove the bandages to thaw out my hand, and I was all alone, of course. It was just something I had to do to survive.

“When I lost the end of my second finger in an accident at work, I was back on the job in forty-five minutes. Another time I was hit on the head by a lever on a crane. It knocked me senseless for ten minutes. When I woke up, I went back to work within a few minutes. [George also pointed out that, in those days, there was no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. Unionization was still three decades away, and the furnace’s schedule ran around the clock.]

“When I started working down here, the work day was twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and the pay was $1.80 per day for twelve hours [fifteen cents per hour] around the year 1910. That was poor money back then. When they gave you a raise, it was only one or two cents an hour, and they didn’t give them very often.

“In one month of January I had thirty-nine of the twelve-hour shifts. You had to work thirty-six hours to put an extra shift in, and you still got the fourteen or fifteen cents per hour. It was pretty rough going, but everybody lived through it. Some people did all right back then. Of course, it wasn’t a dollar and a half for cigarettes back then [remember, this was recorded in 1981].

“Two fellows took sick at the same time, two engineers that ran the switches. They sent me out to work, and I worked sixty hours without coming home. Then the boss came out to run it and I went and slept for twelve hours. Then I returned for a thirty-six hour shift. No overtime pay, just the rate of twenty-five cents per hour.” Now THAT’s Lyon Mountain toughness.

The tough man had also been a tough kid. “When I was thirteen years old, I worked cleaning bricks from the kilns at one dollar for one thousand. On July 3rd, 1907, when I was fifteen, I accidentally shot myself in the leg. I stayed in Standish that night, and on the next day I walked to Lyon Mountain, about three miles of rough walking.”

His father was in charge of repairing the trains, and young George climbed aboard as often as he could. “I was running those engines when I was sixteen years old, all alone, and I didn’t even have a fireman. I always wanted to be on the railroad, but I had the pleasure of losing an eye when I was nine years old. I was chopping wood and a stick flew up and hit me in the eye.

“I pulled it out, and I could see all right for a while. Not long after, I lost sight in it. The stick had cut the eyeball and the pupil, and a cataract or something ruined my eye. The doctor wanted to take the eye out, but I’ve still got it. And that’s what kept me off of the railroad. That was  seventy-nine years ago, in 1901.”

Next week: A few of George Davies’ remarkable acquaintances.

Photo: George Davies.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 32 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing

Fenimore Lunch Lecture Series Spotlights New Exhibits


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Food for Thought, the popular lunch-and-lecture series at the Fenimore Art Museum, offers an in-depth understanding of the museum’s new exhibitions, including Tasha Tudor, G.C. Myers, and New York in the Civil War.

All Food for Thought programs are held on Wednesday from 12:30-2:30 pm at the Fenimore Art Museum. The museum offers two discounts: NYSHA members receive $5 off. Register for three or more Food for Thought programs at once, receive $2 off.
September 12: In Plain Sight: Hidden Gems of Native American Open Storage

Join Eva Fognell, Thaw Collection Curator, as she offers a behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s Study Center, which houses open storage of the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art. Appreciate the extraordinary range of art produced by North America’s first artists, including ritual objects, ceremonial clothing, pottery, and basketry.

September 19: Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed

Learn about America’s most prominent folk artist as Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO, explores the William Matthew Prior exhibition (on display through December 31).

October 10: On the Home Front: New York in the Civil War

Join John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections, as he shares Civil War artifacts from the On the Home Front exhibition. Objects tell us so much about the past and the history of those who made and used them. Learn about New York State and its place in the American Civil War through lively discussion.

October 17: Tasha Tudor Around the Year

Come for a heart-warming discussion and tour of Tasha Tudor Around the Year, an exhibition from the Norman Rockwell Museum. This exhibition illuminates beloved author and illustrator Tasha Tudor and stirs the imagination through the artist’s iconic art and greeting cards. Co-curator Jeanette Chandler Knazek reflects on the changing seasons and special celebrations as depicted by Tudor.

October 24: Oral Histories of New York’s Farm Women

Professor William Walker of the Cooperstown Graduate Program plays excerpts from oralhistory interviews with women who have lived and worked on farms in central New York State. Using recordings available on the website CGP Community Stories, Dr. Walker leads a discussion of the varied experiences of women in the agricultural heartland of the state.

November 7: Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of G.C. Myers

Guest curator Gary C. Myers joins us in a discussion and tour of his contemporary exhibition, InternalLandscapes. Learn first-hand from the artist in this amazing exhibition of paintings that provide moments of stillness and encourage reflection and a renewed sense of purpose.

November 14: Flags, Uniforms, and Insignia: New York State Material Culture of the Civil War
Ted Shuart, printing supervisor at The Farmers’ Museum and re-enactor with the 125th New York State Volunteer Infantry, discusses flags, uniforms and insignia of New York troops during the Civil War. Learn about New York State’s wartime history while looking at objects from the period and understand what they tell us about one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

Pricing Information: Lunch and lecture fee – $20 members/$25 non-members. Register for three or more Food for Thought programs at once and receive a discounted price of $18 members/$23 non-members per program. Call (607) 547-1461 with questions regarding pricing or the cancellation policy.

Historic Local Recordings Now Available in Plattsburgh


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Access to hundreds of audio recordings that reveal the rich histories of Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties are now available at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Feinberg Library’s Special Collections.

Recordings include Adirondack Folk Music; Clinton, Essex, and Franklin County oral histories, including those by local residents born prior to the American Civil War; SUNY Plattsburgh concerts; a 1963 recording of Edward “Doc” Redcay on piano and Junior Barber on dobro; and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost reading his works.

The collection of recordings is the result of a collaborative effort by SUNY Plattsburgh Communications Professor Timothy Clukey and Feinberg Library’s Special Collections staff. According to a statement released to the press “copyright restrictions require that researchers visit Special Collections during open hours to listen to any of these recordings.” The recordings are available as mp3 files on a new Audio Station computer kiosk.

A Soundscriber Recorder was used in the mid-20th century by Marjorie Lansing Porter, historian for Clinton and Essex counties. Porter recorded 456 interviews with elderly local residents telling stories and singing traditional Adirondack folk music.

Among the folk music examples, Granma Delorme sang more than one hundred folk songs for Porter, including a Battle of Plattsburgh ballad composed by General Alexander Macomb’s wife. Included also is “Yankee” John Galusha singing “The Three Hunters,” “A Lumbering We Shall Go,” and “Adirondack Eagle.” Francis Delong sings “My Adirondack Home,” and “Peddler Jack.”

Many of the recorded songs deal with mining, lumbering, Adirondack folk tales, and other subjects, as well as traditional Irish and French folk music handed down through generations. The Porter Oral History Interviews cover many topics of historical interest in Clinton and Essex Counties, such as ferry boats, Redford glass, mining, and lumbering.

The Audio Station also includes 96 interviews conducted by William Langlois and Robert McGowan with elder Franklin County residents in the 1970s.

Plans in the works for additions to the Audio Station include:

Rockwell Kent audio recordings (now on reel-to-reel tapes in Special Collections’ Rockwell Kent Collection);

SUNY Plattsburgh Past President Dr. George Angell speaking on antiwar action in 1967—“Protest is Not Enough”;
The 1965 SUNY Plattsburgh Students for a Democratic Society and S.E.A.N.Y.S. teach-in, “The Vietnam Question,” with introduction by Dr. Angell; 
A1964 speech by Senator-Elect Robert Kennedy on the Plattsburgh campus; and a 1964 meeting between Senator-Elect Kennedy and Dr. Angell, discussing various local and county concerns and other topics.
For more information, contact Debra Kimok, Special Collections Librarian (email: debra.kimok@plattsburgh.edu; telephone: 518-564-5206).

During the summer, the Feinberg Special Collections will be open on Mondays and Tuesdays, from 1 pm – 4 pm, and on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from 10 am – noon and 1 pm – 4 pm. Saturday appointments can be arranged with the Special Collections Librarian.

New Contributor, Ellen McHale of the New York Folklore Society


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Please join us here at New York History in welcoming our newest contributor, Ellen McHale. Ellen is Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society (founded in 1944) and has over 25 years of public sector folklore experience, with over eleven years of experience as the Executive Director of a statewide folklore and  folk arts organization.  She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and was a Fulbright Scholar to the  Institute for Folklife Studies at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.

Prior to her appointment as Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society, she served as Director of the Schoharie County Historical Society/Old Stone Fort Museum and as the Director of the Shaker Heritage Society.  For over ten years she has served as the folklorist for the National Museum of Racing’s Folk Arts project, documenting the predominantly Latino population in the backstretch/ stable area of the
Saratoga Thoroughbred Racetrack through oral history interviews and photography.

New Website Features Northern Franklin County History


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A comprehensive new website on the oral and digital history of Malone and other towns of northern Franklin County, New York, has been launched. The new site brings to life the history of this area from 1870 to 1940.

The website includes the material from a previous website dedicated to the history of the Franklin County logging community of Reynoldston, 1870-1970, located in the Town of Brandon.
You can listen to over 140 hours of tapes of people talking about all aspects of life in the late 19th and early 20th century in Northern New York. It includes hundreds of historical pictures, maps documents and thousands of pages of interview transcripts of more than 40 individuals. The tapes were collected from 1969- 1970. Historical features and background articles on the history of the area are included on the site.

The interviews were with a wide range of people who helped to settle and build the area: farmers, loggers, businessmen, politicians, woolen mill workers, sawmill operators, teachers, housewives, blacksmiths, and prominent members of the Malone community. They deal with religious and personal beliefs, home remedies, schooling, bootlegging, farming, growing hops, and many other topics. The interviews are autobiographical and includes comprehensive details of home life and work.

Photo: Interior of the Blacksmith Shop, Reynoldston, Franklin County,  NY.

A Survey of Oral Histories in Local Repositories


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Historical societies, especially small ones, often fall off the radar when librarians compile collection information, even though most of our cultural heritage is collected and kept in these small repositories. Personal accounts in the form of recorded oral histories are one of the most valuable, and also the most vulnerable of these precious local documents.

Librarian and oral historian Nancy MacKay (San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science), is currently conducting a survey on the state of oral histories in repositories. She is especially interested in reaching historical societies and cultural centers. The results of the survey will be made available as widely as possible.

If your organization contains oral histories, please contribute information about your organization online.
The survey should take 15-20 minutes. More information about the survey can be found on the survey information page. The Survey deadline is March 30. For more information contact Nancy MacKay or Emily Vigor at curatingoralhistories@gmail.com.

A New Titanic Book for Young Readers


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In her new book for young adults, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster (Scholastic Press, 2012), Deborah Hopkinson, noted author of historical fiction and nonfiction for young readers, resurfaces a hundred-year-old tragedy through the stories and voices of those who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912.

Voices from the Disaster includes letters and narrative accounts from Titanic’s passengers to prompt readers to think of those whose journey ended along with what Hopkinson calls “a masterpiece of human engineering:”

. In a letter to their parents, Harvey, Lot, and Madge wrote, “Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent. Lots of love and don’t worry about us. Ever your loving children.”

. “You have to try to imagine it – the last moment I saw my dear sister stand there with little Thelma tightly in her arms.” Ernst Persson, third class passenger.

. “I almost thought, as I saw her sink beneath the water, that I could see Jacques, standing where I had left him and waving at me.” May Futrelle, first class passenger remembering her husband

“This book is an introduction to the disaster and to just a few of the people who survived,” says Hopkinson, “I hope their stories and voices remind you, as they do me, that our lives are fragile and precious. And I hope they make you wonder, as I do, what it would have been like to be on the Titanic that night so long ago.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

World War II Veterans Sought to Share Stories


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On Wednesday, December 7, 2011, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, the Schenectady County Historical Society invites local World War II veterans to share memories of their wartime experiences with the public. This event will be structured as a roundtable, with veterans sharing their stories and audience members having an opportunity to ask questions.

Of the 16,112,566 Americans who served in the armed forces during WWII, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated in November 2011 that only 1,711,000 nationwide are still living. This event provides us, as a community, with a valuable opportunity to honor and appreciate the WWII veterans that are still living among us.

In addition to the event on Wednesday, December 7, participating veterans are encouraged to schedule an appointment with Librarian Melissa Tacke for an individual oral history interview. One-on-one interviews allow time for veterans to tell their stories in greater detail and preserve veterans’ recollections for generations to come. Veterans may choose to come to the Schenectady County Historical Society for an interview, or an interviewer can arrange to interview the veteran at his or her home. An audio recording of the interview will become part of the Schenectady County Historical Society’s Grems-Doolittle Library collection of oral history interviews. Recordings of the interview will also be provided to the veteran and his or her family.

This event is free and open to the public; WWII veterans who would like to attend are encouraged to RSVP for this event. Veterans who cannot attend the December 7 event, but who are interested in participating in an oral history interview, are welcome to contact the Schenectady County Historical Society to schedule an oral history interview.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or librarian@schist.org. The Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Project to Record Adirondack Memories of Irene


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Burlington College students, under the direction of their instructor, New York History online news magazine editor John Warren, will conduct Oral History interviews to record the Tropical Storm Irene stories of Jay and Keene residents on Saturday, December 3rd, at the Keene Community Center, (8 Church Street, in Keene), between 10 and 4 pm. The public is invited to share their stories; the resulting oral histories will be added to the collections of the Adirondack Museum.

Participants can schedule a time on December 3, or walk-in anytime between 10 am and 4 pm. It will only be necessary to spend about 15-20 mins at the Community Center where participants will be asked a number of questions about their experiences with Irene and will be provided an opportunity to tell the stories they think are important to remember about the events of this past late-summer.

To schedule your participation contact John Warren via e-mail at jnwarrenjr@gmail.com or call (518) 956-3830. The public is invited. Walk-ins are welcome.