Many years ago, when I was studying video production, I had a passion project I hoped someday to make a reality. It was inspired by the loss of my childhood babysitter and friend, Annie. She was from the shipping town of Cobh, in Ireland, and her stories were endlessly fascinating to me. Annie was the eldest girl in a large family of dock workers. The family wanted to better themselves, so they scrimped and saved to purchase passage to America for their eldest son. But something happened to the son – I confess I no longer remember what it was – the night before the ship was to leave. So the family packed up 16-year-old Annie, who had never been out of Cobh, and unceremoniously put her on the boat. Though she knew no one, on the boat or in America, the teenager was expected to find a place to live, get a job, and send back money for the family. Annie met some interesting characters on the ship, including her future husband, who looked after her during the voyage. The pair were married a few months after they landed in the US. Annie found a job as a housekeeper, and her husband worked on the docs in New York. They were eventually able to send back enough money for members of both families to join them, but you can imagine the hardship they endured.
I always wanted to record Annie’s stories, and that led me to what I thought of as The Oral History Project. I wanted to capture the stories of those among us whose stories were in danger of being lost. I never got it off the ground, but StoryCorps originator David Isay had a similar idea, and he ran with it. I have written about StoryCorps videos before, but I’ve never explored their origin story. Today, Dave is telling us in his own words how it came to be.
Because of Covid, their Grand Central Station recording booth is gone, but you an still hire StoryCorps for a day of recording. Wouldn’t that be a great idea for a family or school reunion?
You can learn more about StoryCorps on the organization’s website.