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Recording History's Witnesses

Long-planned project to collect personal histories under way.

Long before it was a Jiffy Lube car repair center, the plot of land at the corner of Maple Avenue and Lawyers Road in downtown Vienna was the site of a wooden home where, on Oct. 15, 1915, Vienna resident Mayo Stuntz was born.

"Vienna was little, the streets were not paved, they were all gravel back in those days," said Stuntz, 91, who still resides a mile south of town. "So in time, you started seeing more paving, and there was a lot of road-building, and after that they did a lot of school-building."

Stuntz said that he still remembers when Lee Highway was built prior to World War II as the main road to link Washington D.C. with Northern Virginia, and, of course, the requisite long walks to local schools before the advent of buses.

But to Stuntz, a lot of this history and a reflection of how much it has changed can still be see in Vienna's roads.

"You can still see, you can still remember … when I look around, the roads in Vienna are still all the same, they still have the same names," Stuntz said. "But now they're all paved, they're all taken care of … and just like back in those days, it's just a nice place to live."

IT'S STORIES and recollections like these that Historic Vienna, Inc., a local historical association, is trying to capture as it launches a long-desired project to record the oral histories of long-time residents and living local historic figures on video tape.

Stuntz was one of three people interviewed last month by the 25-year-old non-profit "historic depository," with the intention of saving the video histories to be viewed by future generations and potentially someday in local museum exhibits, according to Laine Hyde, president of HVI.

"Its something that we've always been interesting in doing, and because we see it as our mission to provide learning resources to the people of Vienna — we take this as a very important project," said Sarah Jane Brady, historic administrator for HVI.

The video oral histories, taken of Stuntz, HVI board member Frank Lancaster and long-time Vienna Volunteer Fire Department member Tom Bonner are just the beginning for what HVI hopes will be many more, said Brady. HVI will next shoot a video session with Vienna resident and historic tour guide Millie Monahan later this month, according to Hyde.

The video oral histories focus on how the interview subjects arrived in Vienna, what special contribution they have made to the town and general discussion about how things used to be, Hyded added.

USING MODERN TECHNOLOGY to capture the memories of historic times is revolutionizing the way the world records its events, and Vienna does not want to be left out of the loop, Hyde said.

"You can read all the books you want, but there's no substitute for the real, individual memories of people who lived through these times," she said. "Having on tape someone talking about buying a home in Vienna for $13,000 is always interesting to anyone who lives in town."

"Everyone has their own special thing that they remember and when you put it altogether it creates a really amazing picture."

Eventually the group would like to use the video histories to create interactive presentations for museum exhibits or educational presentations, splicing the interviews with images, photos and historic records, Hyde added.

"Right now we're in collecting mode, so all of the people we're interviewing, they'll be a part of the historical legacy of the town," she said. "When we get a little more time and resources and find out what we want, we'll put them together in a way that is fun and exciting for people, as well as interesting and educational."

"It's amazing to think about, but right now we have people who can talk about when there used to be horses and buggies in town … and these are things we're interested in."

BUT THE PROJECT is not without its challenges, as resources and volunteer time, common obstacles for many non-profit organizations, sometimes hinder HVI's attempts to capture everyone they would like, Hyde said.

"We just need to find the people with the time who are willing to do this, to sit down and record these histories," she said. "There are plenty of stories out there, and we'd like to capture more of them."

Hyde would like to see more people taking the initiative to record these oral histories on their own, for both personal and public records.

"I think anyone, but especially our young people, would be stunned to hear some of their grandparents' stories," she said. "Anyone with an interest in their families or their history in general should take the time to just sit down with some of our residents or their family members and find out about what life was like."