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Collecting Memories

Celebrate Virginia committee gathers personal anecdotes for historical collection.

Over the past several months, local historian Carole Herrick has been learning more about McLean and Great Falls than she ever thought possible — and she has been enjoying every minute of it.

"It's a big project, but it's also a fun project," said Herrick, who is one of the co-chairs of the "McLean and Great Falls Celebrate Virginia 1607-2007" committee.

The Celebrate Virginia committee was created last year to help prepare the communities of McLean and Great Falls for the Grand Jamestown 400th anniversary event to be held in May of 2007. The committee has been involved in several projects, including the identification of local historic houses, sites and trees, and the creation of a commemorative sundial at Turner Farm Park in Great Falls. However, Herrick has been spending a substantial amount of time on one particular project — the creation of "Dranesville Recollections," or what will eventually be a collection of old photographs and stories told by long-time residents.

"It's recollections, not interviews," said Herrick. "I sit down and have people talk to me, rather than me talk to them. Right now, over 60 people have already participated."

Herrick started out with a list of local long-time residents, but the more people she meets, the longer her list becomes.

"Each time I talk with someone, they give me names of other people I should talk to, and the whole thing has sort of mushroomed," said Herrick. "It has just turned into a huge, huge project."

DESPITE the hard work ahead of her, Herrick remains committed to having a final product published in time for the May 2007 Jamestown anniversary extravaganza. She will continue to meet with as many people as she can, while simultaneously fact checking their stories against the actual recorded history of the area.

"When you do recollections and people talk to you, it doesn't mean that it's accurate," said Herrick. "So what I have to do often, is research what they say, and occasionally go back to them and say, 'we need to reword this…' but the big point of this is to make people aware of the history and how things have changed, so we are really striving for accuracy."

This is not the first project of its kind. "A Look Back at Braddock" was recently published for the Braddock district, and "Providence Perspectives" will come out in the near future.

"It's something that's been done in other districts... and it's done periodically throughout the county," said Catherine Hanes, a legislative aid for Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois.

HERRICK said that as she has worked on the project she has found it interesting to see all of the different perspectives on how things happened in the past.

"Everybody's story is different, and everybody has something to say," she said. "It's just unbelievably interesting reading."

Herrick said she has also started to notice a common theme in people's assessments of life then versus life now.

"Nobody is saying that it was better back then, but there's a general feeling that people were more relaxed, and that people were more neighborly and had more time for one another," said Herrick. "Everybody knew their neighbors, and nobody worried about safety — they felt free to roam all over and didn't worry about anything."

However, Herrick added that this sentiment is hardly surprising.

"I think this is true of all towns in the U.S.A.," said Herrick.

Herrick still has a long list of interviewees, but has already talked to several noteworthy residents, including McLean's first doctor, Dr. Richard Mulvaney. According to Herrick, Mulvaney gave the first polio shot in the United States, and he administered this famous injection at McLean's own Franklin Sherman Elementary School. Herrick has also recorded the personal anecdotes of Carl Schmidz, whose family owned the Great Falls Inn, McLean "old-timer" Dariel Van Wagoner, and countless other long-time residents. Sadly, some of Herrick's interviewees have died, making her all the more grateful for the opportunity to forever memorialize moments from their lives.