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Stories wanted

Lake Placid Historical Society launches oral history project

From left are Carla Eilo, coordinator of the North Elba Narratives oral history project, and Courtney Bastian, administrative director and collections manager at the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society. They are seen here at The History Museum, Station Street. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society officials are launching a new oral history project this summer — North Elba Narratives — and they want your stories.

Much like Lake Placid’s Community Day, the oral history project is not just for residents; it’s for anyone who has a connection to the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba, including people who work and volunteer here.

People are encouraged to share a story — preferably 3 to 5 minutes in length — and add their voices to local history.

This one-year project has roots dating back to 2017, when Carla Eilo was the administrative director and collections manager at the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society, which operates The History Museum at the train station on Station Street. She worked with Northwood School Associate Head of School Tom Broderick on an oral history project with students.

“This oral history project is a revival of that 2017 project that Carla and Tom started,” said Courtney Bastian, the current administrative director and collections manager at the historical society.

This is an appointment card for the North Elba Narratives oral history project. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

When grant money became available earlier this year through the North Elba Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund (LEAF), Bastian and her board members saw an opportunity to revive the 2017 project.

“When I was writing the LEAF grant, my board kept suggesting that we start our own oral history project,” Bastian said. “And I was looking at neighboring towns and villages and their projects, such as Historic Saranac Lake and their Cure Porch on Wheels. And the Keene Valley Library Association and Jery’s project, My Adirondack Story, came up.”

So Bastian and Eilo — who is coordinating the North Elba Narratives project — contacted Jery Huntley, a seasonal resident in the town of Keene who spearheaded the Keene Valley Library Association’s oral history project, “Adirondack Community: Capturing, Retaining and Communicating the Stories of Who We Are.” Many of those stories, which now number more than 200 since launching in 2019, can be heard on the My Adirondack Story website, www.myadirondackstory.org. Huntley’s newest program, OurStoryBridge, is a free online resource to help communities begin oral history projects of their own.

“We started the website OurStoryBridge.org with tools for libraries around the country to use our model and do exactly what we did,” Huntley said. “And those story projects are starting. We’re especially excited that one is right next door to us in Lake Placid and that we’ve been able to help them kick it off. … To say the least, I’m excited!”

Other oral history projects using the OurStoryBridge resources are now being planned in communities in Utah, Illinois, Alaska, upstate New York, Vermont and Wisconsin, according to Huntley. Hundreds of librarians have now listened to her presentations about the free program since launching on Sept. 29, 2020.

“The national interest at this point is way beyond anything we could have ever dreamed of,” Huntley said.

In Lake Placid, the historical society received a $15,000 LEAF grant to conduct the project as a “continuation of the collection of oral stories and photos of the town’s history and digital catalogue for future use.” And once again, Northwood School is a partner. Broderick will be working with students to collect oral histories around the village.

“Eventually we’d like to get the kids to edit them and make them into a wider-ranging documentary on Lake Placid,” Broderick said.

Broderick usually works with students in grades 11 and 12, first going through the process of interviewing and then coming up with questions.

“We try to get them to understand that some of the best questions and answers aren’t questions that you prepared for, that your research hasn’t revealed, but rather a comment or a sidebar from someone in the conversation that leads you down a bigger, broader path,” Broderick said.

While Eilo will be recording stories of 3 to 5 minutes, Northwood students usually record long-form interviews.

“For the kids, I think there’s real value in the longer oral history and then from there, capture the 3 to 5 minutes of gold,” Broderick said.

While participating in the oral history project, students learn a variety of skills they can use later in life, such as storytelling, research, editing and listening.

“They learn how to listen better, which is important in any profession you’re going to be in,” Broderick said. “The other thing that they gain is an appreciation for the past. Too often in school, history is sterilized through textbooks and kind of viewing what the state did, as opposed to what the people did.”

Students also learn the value of oral histories — that it takes boots-on-the-ground collecting to get stories they won’t find in the history books.

“We walk away and say, ‘If you didn’t capture that, nobody would have that,'” Broderick said. “And they learn that there’s really great things you can pick up from personal history.”

Unlike in Keene Valley, where the library has a booth to record 3- to 5-minute stories, Eilo will be setting up interviews wherever it’s most convenient — including homes and businesses — with a portable recorder and microphone.

The project began on July 30 with Eilo’s first interview — with townvillage Historian Beverley Reid at her home on the Wilmington Road. It was to be followed up by a visit to the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department to collect stories from volunteers.

Like in Keene Valley, Lake Placid will launch a website so people can listen to the stories. To make an appointment to share a story, contact Carla Eilo at 518-523-3830 or by email at northelbanarratives@lakeplacidhistory.com.