ON THE SCENE: Keene stories launch a national program
Three years ago, Keene Valley Librarian Karen Glass and library volunteer Jeri Huntley discussed ways of capturing stories by local residents about such seminal events as Tropical Storm Irene that destroyed roadways and local homes and businesses and initially closed all roads into the community.
The thought was two-fold. Why stop there? Let’s capture as many stories as possible and ask people to tell their stories in four minutes or less. Further fine tuning the idea, they knew they needed to train volunteers in the art of sussing out and recording stories from a wide range of people.
Little did they imagine that they would have captured over 250 stories less than three years later. Further, they never imagined that their program and structure would inspire communities as far away as Alaska to capture stories from the residents of their community.
On Saturday, July 23, people who shared their stories and others gathered together at the Keene Valley Library to celebrate the stories told, the expansion of the program nationwide, and to hear the story behind the stories from Huntley, founder and lead organizer of the project.
Named Adirondack Community: Capturing, Retaining and Communicating the Stories of Who We Are, and sponsored up to now by the Keene Valley Library, the recorded stories have attracted over 6,700 to the website, developed a Facebook page of over 550 followers, and over 2,200 listeners to the podcasts. Not bad for a town of 1,100 residents.
“Nearly everyone in this room has told at least one story,” said Huntley. “You are the reason we were about to launch this project and had such a success.”
The stories are organized by eight topics selected using focus groups to determine public interest: Arts & Culture, Catastrophes, Community, Daily Life, Natural and man-made Environments, Outdoor Activities, People, and Work. The very first story recorded, found under People, was by Charity Marlatt. She told about her father, Alan Washbond, winning gold in the two-man bobsled at the 1936 Winter Olympics, held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
“My dad and his partner Ivan Brown build their sled in our garage,” recorded Marlatt. “They were part of a great controversy as to whether the team should go to Garmisch or not because, at the time, Adolf Hitler was a tyrant trying to prove white supremacy in a very horrible way. So, there was a great question about whether or not they should go.”
Marlatt shared how the ultimate decision was to go as the AAU felt they could not walk out of an agreement made before Hitler became the head of Germany. As a means of sharing their displeasure with Hitler, the American athletes refused to dip their flags to Germany or look toward Hitler during the opening ceremony’s Parade of Nations.
Marlatt said that before her dad left for Germany, her mother admonished him if he was to race; she urged him to “come home with the bacon.” Thus, after winning gold, and just before they left Garmisch, her dad checked out a couple of gift shops and found a tiny little ivory pig, thus allowing him to “bring home the bacon and the gold medal!”
Each story is accompanied by photographs provided by the storyteller or found in the town archives at the library. The stories are uploaded on a website and available to anyone. People wishing to share a story can either call a number or fill out a request form on the website and schedule an appointment. A volunteer will assist you and record your story providing you several tries to get it right.
In addition to these stories, Huntley and her team have captured hundreds of stories by Keene Central School students that they bundle into podcasts. In addition, they bundle stories by the adults into additional topics, such as social justice and societal change and musical interludes. In relatively short order, the website and podcasts began attracting local, regional, and national media, including North Country Public Radio and Mountain Lake PBS. The media attention resulted in other communities asking for advice on creating a similar program for their communities.
As a response, Huntley created Our Story Bridge.
“Our Story Bridge teaches people and schools how to do what we do,” said Huntley. “It’s a free resource and toolkit based on our model. Further, we can assist and community that wishes to start a similar program. It’s grown from libraries, schools, and historical museums to indigenous communities in Alaska and organizations like John Brown Lives!. To facilitate this work, we’ve gone from being a program of the Keene Valley to being incorporated. We are now a standalone non-profit though we continue to work with the library and Keene Central.”
“I found it exciting to tell one of my stories during Hurricane Irene about coming out from John’s Brook Lodge,” said Marcia Mosey. ‘My friends and I were the last to come out before closing the bridge, and it washes out. We heard trees crashing down around us, and it was pouring.”
“I did one story about my father-in-law, Adrian Edmunds,” said Frank Owen. “I could have gone on for hours, but not with Jery. She made sure I was brief and to the point. I think Jery’s getting people to tell their stories is very important.”
Martha Swan, founding director of John Brown Lives!, plans to record stories by and about ordinary people involved in the struggle for justice and human rights, hoping their stories will reach and inspire young people.
North Elba Narratives is working hard to capture stories about the planning, organizing, and experiencing of the 1980 Winter Olympics among the many other narratives about life in Lake Placid.
“I hope these stories will inspire young people to appreciate their neighbor, where they come from, and also what they can do in the world,” said Martha Swan. “Ordinary people make a difference all the time, for good or for ill. I think through these stories we hear how people, through myriad ways, have risen to the occasion of their times bringing what they can do, what their unique gifts happen to be.”
“I was very impressed by the presentation,” said Sam Fisk. “Jery is terrific, and she’s a major force. This project is incredible and reminded me of how special this place is.
For more information, visit myadirondackstory.org, and to share your stories of Lake Placid, visit northelbanarratives.com.
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)