A Page from North Quabbin History: People’s History of Petersham collecting oral histories

  • Family outings are where stories are told and will live on for generations, historian Larry Buell believes. Photo courtesy of Buell Family Archives

  • Historian Larry Buell shows a photo of the 1945 Dairy Bar on the site of The Garage. Photo courtesy of Petersham Historical Society

Published: 9/20/2021 1:18:02 PM
Modified: 9/20/2021 1:18:02 PM

History involves many things — artifacts, events, photos and stories. So many stories. The oral history stories of Petersham from the last 100 years is what Larry Buell, founder and executive director of University of the Wild, is hoping to preserve in the People’s History of Petersham.

The oral history is a special project of the Wild Earth Institute, Inc. a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt educational corporation of which Buell is founder and executive director. Wild Earth Institute is the parent company of the University of the Wild, where Buell is also president and founder. The idea for the oral histories, according to Buell, came during the Covid lockdown, when he was writing down his own family’s stories. He began thinking about other families sharing their family stories during the same time.

Buell’s original idea has blossomed into the People’s History of Petersham. Currently, they are looking for more residents who would like to donate their oral histories of life in Petersham, or would be willing to be interviewed for the project. Among stories the project would like to collect include personal stories involving Petersham, involving other people and relating to events such as the hurricane of Sept. 21, 1938, the tornado of 1953, and stories of the war years as well as local events.

“We would like to collect as many stories as possible,” Buell said. The Petersham Cultural Council has given a grant of $750 to provide seed money for the project.

Over the years, Buell has recorded some oral history of town residents. These include 25 tapes of oral history of Joe Higgins, who served as a Petersham selectman, sheriff and logger, as well as serving as a state representative. “They are irreplaceable and very informative,” he said. Other recorded oral histories include those of Windy Anderson, fire chief in Petersham, who owned Anderson’s Mobil Gas Station, and those of Emily Arnold and George Brunelle telling their personal stories of living and flourishing in Petersham. These residents have since passed away.

Once Covid subsides, Buell continued, there are other plans for the project as well. They hope at that time to begin working with seniors to record their memories. “They have stories that must be told, Buell continued. By seniors telling their stories to grandchildren and others, it preserves their stories and allows seniors to feel connections to future generations. Another project planned when Covid subsides is to have all five sections of town come together to share their stories.

Also in progress, Buell explained, is The People’s History of Petersham Workbook, which will be a multi-page book with images and questions that will stimulate a person’s mind and memories to encourage people to share their stories. “They can jot down memories which will be shared at an oral history interview or other gatherings.”

It is also hoped to have manuscript of stories available by the fall of 2022. Along with stories, the manuscript will also have pictures and quotes relating to the stories. Also planned is a website and Facebook page “where people can access these amazing stories,” Buell said. The histories will also be available on YouTube and/or Vimeo.

Those interested in being interviewers or contributing an oral history to the project can e-mail Buell at larrybuell2143@gmail.com

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