Life As We Know It: January 20, 2014
Historians are sometimes accused of rewriting history to suit their own agenda. Updated textbooks and online encyclopedias to which virtually anyone can contribute invite such abuse. Sometimes when we look back, we see things as we wish they had been, not as they were. Who hasn’t reminisced about the “good old days” through rose-colored glasses?
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library has found a way around all that. Record history while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, especially in the words of those who lived it. So was born the Sight and Sound Project, a program undertaken by the library to create video archives of prominent local citizens of achievement.
The subject agrees to sit down with an interviewer for roughly 60 to 90 minutes and answer questions he or she is hearing for the first time. There’s no script, no commercial interruptions, no time clock. The session ends when there is nothing more to say.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to be part of the Sight and Sound Video Archives Project as the interviewer, and I have been enriched by the experience.
Our first subject was a man whose firm has been one of the most successful home-grown companies in Ohio, The Andersons. Company chairman Dick Anderson traced his family’s remarkable history, the triumphs and tragedy that helped define who he is, and the growth of an enterprise that is still going strong after more than 60 years.
Then came Frank Gilhooley, Jr., whose career as a sportscaster and longtime voice of the Toledo Mud Hens made him an obvious choice. I consider Frank “Mr. Baseball” in our region. From Swayne Field to Skeldon Stadium to Fifth Third Field, he saw it all. Fortunately we got it on video before he passed away.
So many stories, so little time, as they say, including Mr. Gilhooley’s recounting of the time Casey Stengel, then the manager of the Mud Hens, was so exasperated with his team’s play that he advised the players to invest in railroad stock because they would soon be riding the rails out of town for good.
Some might ask what’s to stop a Sight and Sound guest from a little historical revision or embellishment.
Nothing, actually. But in the one-on-one interviews so far, without TV or print reporters hanging on every word, the guests tend to be amazingly forthright and determined to get it right for history’s sake.
When Mr. Anderson, who leads one of the most admired companies in the region, spoke of the death of his sister when both were children, the emotion was genuine, the pain still evident. When he described the struggles of The Andersons’ early years, and the difficulties that can come with rapid growth, he didn’t gloss over the bad stuff.
When Mr. Gilhooley talked about his early childhood and the summers he traveled with his father, a major league ballplayer, the memories were vivid and fresh, with no embellishment needed. When he laughed about having the legendary Babe Ruth as a babysitter, or described his close friendship years later with Yankee legend Joe Dimaggio, his stories were a source of personal pride, not an exercise in name-dropping.
Others interviewed so far for Sight and Sound include Jamie Farr, Gordon Ward, Crystal Ellis, Sam Szor, Coach Bobby Nichols, Carty Finkbeiner, Marcy Kaptur, Marie Vogt, and many others.
Every branch of the library has DVD copies of the Sight and Sound interviews to lend. They also can be viewed as streaming video on the library’s web site, toledolibrary.org. They have been viewed many thousands of times.
Video interviews for posterity’s sake are not a new concept. But the library deserves credit for recognizing that some of the most important history lessons are being taught right here in our own community, by people from whom we have much to learn.