Oral History Project

Young Boulderites—those 50 and under—might never otherwise know how it is to smoke a “bark willy” or ride four on a horse to school. The BCA-sponsored Oral History project is illuminating some of our senior residents’ colorful pasts and making the stuff of legend available to all Boulderites through the world of video.

The project was catalyzed by Dianne Oberhansly. She’s always enjoyed hearing “old-timer” stories and began realizing that many of the protagonists of these great stories were aging or already gone. She thought “someone needs to capture this soon.” Dianne called retired video producer, Tom Bartelt, who enthusiastically agreed to videotape interview sessions. She then convened a small group of assistants to help identify a common thread of questions, a list of interview candidates, and then started scheduling interviews. The group agreed that it would be important to have a friend conduct the interviews, to make them more conversations than interviews, and to try to tape in a setting identifiable with the interview subject.

A typical session includes the interviewee and interviewer; Tom, the cameraperson; and one or two assistants to take notes during the interview. The notes track physical items mentioned by the interviewee, such as family photos, buildings and structures, old tools or equipment, or memorabilia. Later, members of the team locate and photograph these items. The photos are scanned and inserted appropriately into the interview. The photos, together with the person telling the story, plus some sound background results in a world come back to life. Watching a finished DVD is the next best thing to sitting around a fire listening to your grandparents’, or great-grandparents’ stories.

Two interviews are “in the can;” another is being taped, and several more are in the planning process. The individual DVDs are priceless mementos of an individual’s or family’s life. If the Oral History group’s long range plans come to fruition, however, each DVD will also form part of the tapestry for a larger narrative: the story of Boulder, Utah.