A TV show star talks about working with cultural icon Mr. Rodgers. An 82-year-old woman remembers the good ‘ol days in Fineview. A community artist shares his childhood memories with his colleagues.
These tales of friendship and life on the Northside have been captured and recorded with the help of StoryCorps, who on Thursday, Friday and Saturday paid a visit to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. In total, StoryCorps recorded 18, 40-minute-long interviews from a pre-selected group of individuals who make up various art and cultural initiatives in the Pittsburgh region, including Children’s Museum employees and other nonprofit groups.
StoryCorps, one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, records stories, memories and original accounts from people all over the country. Its standard format usually involves an individual interviewing another family member, friend or colleague. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Yvonne Atkinson, an early childhood specialist at the Children’s Museum, sat down with her elderly mother, Mattie Powell, to ask her about the Northside of yesteryear. Powell grew up on the Northside, and she reminisced about the Garden Theater, climbing up the steps in Fineview to go to the baseball field and of living on Henderson Street in the same neighborhood.
Another memory described to Akinson was of an equally sweet time when Powell was a child playing in the streets with her uncle.
“She talked about how she used to live near the Clark Bar candy company, and they would throw candy bars down to the children playing in that neighborhood, and they would still be warm,” Atkinson said.
Having moved away from the Northside only to return later, Atkinson was fascinated with her mother’s and grandmother’s rich history.
“It was an honor. We can’t wait to give our family copies of it,” Atkinson said. “It would make my grandmother proud to make her known that we are putting it into a recorded dialogue.”
StoryCorps’ visit to the Children’s Museum was part of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service Award the Museum received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2009, said Suzanne McCaffrey, associate director of marketing and multimedia communications.
One of the interview subjects was Mr. McFeely, who talked about his relationship with Mr. Rodgers, McCaffrey said.
“It [was a] great opportunity for people to … remember about the museum, but to recollect about their lives and their relations with people,” she said. “It prompts yourself to think of things and ask questions that you don’t get asked every day.”
Josh Green was another interviewer who walked away with a completely different perspective of his interview subject.
Green, an artist and vice president of operations at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, talked with the accomplished Bill Strickland, president and CEO of MCG, Bidwell Training Center and Manchester Bidwell Corporation.
Strickland recalled the Manchester and Allegheny Commons of his childhood, using sensory details to describe the smells, tastes and light that comprised his memories. Despite knowing Strickland for more than 21 years and working with him daily, Green said he left the interview seeing a different side of his colleague and friend.
“We got to experience the neighborhood through his memory and to see his artistic perspective. It was a very privileged moment,” Green said. “We left the interview feeling very inspired as though we have received this wonderful, warm gift.”
Upon hearing the clips and sound bites of strangers’ interviews, what StoryCorps project listeners may not realize is that the interviewers are often times hearing details and memories of their loved ones and friends for the first time. The format of the 40-minute interview, Green says, really allows for an introspective awareness of an interview subject.
“We don’t necessarily take the time or have the occasion to ask the questions of them that we’d really like to. The StoryCorps framework allows us to get beyond the day-to-day operations of a work place or the recent history of a person … to really take the opportunity to look at this person in time.”
The Children’s Museum will get raw copies of all of the interviews and will receive one story that is edited and ready for use. McCaffrey said the museum will decide how to use the interviews and may incorporate them on their website or may arrange to have them aired on a public radio station.
Segments of previously-recorded StoryCorp interviews are played on National Public Radio each Friday morning at around 8:20 a.m. and again at 8:50 a.m. Pittsburghers can listen to NPR broadcasts locally on 90.5 fm WDUQ. Listeners can also hear interviews at http://storycorps.org.