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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



david k petersen

Oral Histories are an important facet of collecting historical documentation and providing another personal view of your own family's history as well. You can collect old postcards, and books but recording oral histories make you a collector of memories. Written documentation in the form of old letters, journals and diaries, the facts that can be gleaned from public records and obituaries are all very important to the collector and researcher. I don't know however if they hold up to a recording of a good oral history, a living history given by someone who was there. Prior to the written record, there were the histories passed down from generation to generation in the form of stories. It's the oldest form of recording history and I'm certain that it was the foundation for many of our legends and fables. Everyone has a story to tell that is unique and important. It's not the giants of our times that necessarily make the best contributors to a good oral history either, but rather the folks who by accident or design were there to witness, take part or live the experience. Those things that we may take for granted or consider not interesting at all that were a part of our everyday lives can make for interesting stories that should be preserved. Whether it is the story of your grand parents courtship and marriage, their first job, what it was like to live and work through the Blizzards of the mid 1930's, the oral histories passed down from their parents before them it's all valuable in helping to understand our own families and communities better. It didn't take long after the advent of the tape recorder for people to start searching out and recording people and their memories and this developed into a movement to preserve this important facet of our history. If you re going to delve into recording oral histories there are some things that you can do to prepare yourself that will help you record higher quality interviews. Of course you need a tape recorder, fresh batteries and a couple of blank tapes, someone to interview and some time set aside so that you are not rushed. Some people will have a better recorder with a clip on microphone, and an external microphone should be used if possible for better results. If you are serious about a high quality recording you can purchase a digital recorder and many people are now transferring their material onto a CDR. The technology continues to change and it's difficult at time to keep up. A lot of material has been lost over the years as technology has advanced and changed. Prepare your topic but be prepared to let go and allow the person to talk, you may find a story more important then the one you were looking for. Prepare your questions by doing a little advance research, maybe read some old newspapers, or a book about the topic you are interested in talking about. You do not want your tape to be about you asking questions though, let the person talk , keep your questions short and clear and use your questions to facilitate the interview. Can you tell me about your childhood, your job, your family etc. what was it like, how did you feel, what was your favorite, can you describe, or what did you dislike most etc. Don't put words in their mouth so to say. Use questions that will help jog the person's memory and let them run with it. More information can be found easily on the internet by doing a simple search for the term Oral History. I had an opportunity to speak with Florence Cornellisse this week, I went over to take a look at her carferry photos of the PM 17 in the storm that Ellsworth T French claimed to have taken in 1929. While there she shared some of her family photos and a story about her Aunt Florenece. I didn't have my recorder with me that day but I would like to share some of what we spoke about. Florence was named after her aunt Florence Ruth French who attended County Normal School and also worked at the Restaurant at Round Lake. While working there her Aunt met Al Capone and his men. Florence French taught school in Chicago and became involved with one of Capone's group. The family however did not speak of it [as families often do] and Florence [the niece] does not know the details of it. She did relate a story about how one day while waiting to cross the street a motorcade of five cars pulled up, Capone it would seem would come through Ludington on his way up north to the Traverse City, Leland area. The door on the second car opened and her Aunt stepped out, the man in the back seat was armed with a gun pointing at the roof of the car. This was one of the few times as a youngster that Florence had an opportunity to speak with her Aunt. I'm attempting to research this a little more and am also interesting to find out if there are others in Mason County who may have had experiences or have stories about Capone that we might put together a column about the time he spent in our County. The voices of our times that have been hidden need only a little of your time and a twenty dollar tape recorder to preserve them for your family and the collective history of the community.

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