By Jaimie Julia Winters
Over 40 residents will have their histories in connection to Montclair recorded for posterity. The Montclair History Center launched the Many Voices of Montclair oral history project with its first session on March 23. For three days over three hours, residents will be interviewed by Montclair State University students under the guidance of Chris Matthews of the Archeology department at Montclair State University. The goal is to record the stories of people who grew up in Montclair in a wide variety of neighborhoods and decades, creating a multifaceted snapshot of Montclair in the early to mid-20th century.
“In 2014, a documentary was made on the Women of the YWCA. We are so grateful to have that, as some of the participants have now passed on,” said Jane Eliafsof, Montclair History Center executive director.
With this year being Montclair’s 150th anniversary, the group planned the project to coincide with the sesquicentennial.
For three hours on March 23, 10 residents sat with Montclair State students who audio recorded their connections to Montclair for 50 minutes each.
People interviewed in March were Raffaele Marzullo, who spearheaded the effort to make Aquilonia Montclair’s sister city; Danny DiGeronimo, whose family came over from Italy; local public advocate Keith Ali; a group interview of the Cross sisters; Montclair High School graduates Nathaniel Johnson Jr. and Molly DeCarlo; Linda Stark, who spoke about her grandparents’ horse and buggy days in Montclair; Kathleen Maher Cocca, whose family were Irish immigrants; Tom Russo, former chief of police and part of the Italian community; Montclair’s “Elvis” Peter Giuffra; Nancy Arny Pi-Sunyer, who resides in her family’s historical home; and Montclair Sustainability Officer Gray Russell.
“Professor Matthews’ class are trained on the art of conducting oral histories, principles and best practices,” said Eliafsof.
At the end of the session, TV 34 video recorded one question and answer of each of the participants.
Residents will have to tune in to discover the answers to questions like the one posed to Giuffra: “Why are you Elvis every year in the July 4 parade?”.
The center is conducting the interviews to record and archive this generation of Montclairites history, with the youngest being a Vietnam War veteran. The recordings will be logged by subject with number codes for easy accessibility for research. The group also hopes to incorporate the recordings into walking tours and exhibits. The podcasts will eventually be broadcast as a series with the help of Montclair Film, said Eliafsof.
The center garnered a $5,000 grant from New Jersey Council for Humanities, which covers Matthews interviewing training of the students. The group will apply for another grant, up to $20,000, to properly archive the interviews and to get them out to the public.
The next session will take place April 6 at the Montclair Fire Department. Although the center already has about 40 interviews set up, Montclairites who grew up in town and/or lived here prior to 1960 can still sign up.
If you are or know someone who might be a candidate for the Many Voices of Montclair project, contact the Montclair History Center at 973-744-1796 or firstname.lastname@example.org, registration required.