Storytelling as art form at the Bellmore Library

The Bellmore Memorial Library is creating groundbreaking local historical content using audio recordings that are digitizing Bellmore’s past and its people to maintain them in posterity for perhaps centuries to come.

StoryCorps, through with the American Library Association, has provided the library with state-of-the-art digital audio equipment through a $2500 grant designed to record the stories of many of Bellmore’s earliest residents, often revealing intimate details and totally unexpected responses and discoveries from those residents who agree to be interviewed for the series.

StoryCorps – a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide residents of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, preserve, and share the stories of their lives – is the primary work of librarian Martha DiVittorio, who wrote the grant to secure the funds.

One of 10 in the nation

“We were one of only 10 libraries in the country to receive the grant,” she told this magazine.  There were well over 200 applications for the grant, but DiVittorio persuaded the ALA that Bellmore was a perfect place to let the history and its people tell their stories in recorded form.

The grant proposal focused on two distinct aspects.  One aspect was to record the recollections of the historical Bellmore. “There is a rich history here, yet the people who know it most intimately are moving away to Florida and other places, and taking that knowledge with them,” she remarked. The grant inferred it was incumbent – perhaps urgent – the library become the center for recording this rich Bellmore history before it became too frayed through lack of knowledgeable residents to make it discernible any more.

A second, more facile reason for the StoryCorps grant was the experience of superstorm Sandy and the impact it has had on the residents of the community. “Many residents are still not completely whole again” from their experience with Sandy, DiVittorio said, “and they have a lot of history to share about what has happened to them.”  

She noted the library became the ultimate community center for Bellmore residents when it was able to open almost immediately after the storm. “We were able to offer residents warmth, provide them an opportunity to watch local news and elections, help them charge their phone equipment, get email and communicate to the outside world, and get FEMA information,” DiVittorio continued.

storycorps 002Martha DiVittorio wrote the grant for the StoryCorps program, and is one its interviewers

With several librarians trained to interview residents, friends and family are also invited to interview residents as a means of making the interview process perhaps more intimate, or revealing.

The stories are distinguished

Jack Skelly interviewed Roy Weinman, for example. Weinman is closing up his Weinman Hardware on January 31 after more than 80 years on Bedford Avenue. His father was one of the founders of the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce.

Regarding those who have come in for interviews, DiVittorio speaks of a son who called for three days to get his 96-year-old mother in to talk about her life in Bellmore. “She spoke of voting for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and of how she so thoroughly enjoyed the day when she was 10 and went out on a day’s outing with her father. It was such a special day for her because she was with her father,” DiVittorio said.

More special during that day with her father is that she went to Roosevelt Field to watch Charles Lindbergh take off on his solo journey across the Atlantic.

 DiVittorio also told of two residents who came in to talk of their history. They both spoke of a certain teacher they had at Martin Avenue School who had tremendous impact on their lives, though each of the residents as students had completely different makeups.

“One resident was very outgoing in school, while the other was, to his admission, introverted and troublesome,” DiVittorio said. But she added that the two of them talking together learned a great deal about one another and how their teacher, Adeline Cook, impacted their lives even as they were so different from one another.

“I felt privileged to have been at this interview with them,” DiVittorio related.

Still another resident came in to speak of how her life has been turned upside down by superstorm Sandy. “She is a strong, resourceful, self-sufficient woman who was impressed by the actions of all her neighbors and whose son came to help her during this time,” DiVittorio said.   

What the mother discovered during the interview was that her son had been such a significant part in her life in helping her to do the things she had  been able to do, more so than her other children.

“The interview was a very positive experience for this woman to discover just how close she was to her son,” remarked DiVittoro.

The interviews, originally expected to end in March, will now continue into June. But DiVittorio says the library will be able to keep the equipment, and may continue the interviews for some time into the future.

The interviews are recorded onto a disk, which is then given to the participants as well as sent and preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions have listened to such stories as broadcast over National Public Radio’s Morning Edition – and at www.storycorps.org.

To see how you can be recorded to be part of Bellmore’s historical past call the library at 785-2990. Or stop in at 2288 Bedford Avenue.

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