By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer
(Dec. 10, 2020) The Calvin B. Taylor House Museum, 208 N. Main St. in Berlin, received a $2,500 grant from Beach to Bay Heritage Area to create a new collection of oral histories about the lives of people in Berlin.
“Basically, it’s what people’s … experiences in Berlin are, whether you’ve lived here your whole life [or] whether you have just moved here,” said Melissa Reid, president of the museum. “For example, if we interview someone who’s lived here their whole life, we’ll probably ask them to describe what the Main Street of Berlin was like when they were growing up, because it has really changed over the years.”
Reid added that the museum board will ask interview subjects to describe their everyday lives in the town.
“If someone has just moved here, we will probably ask them what drew them to Berlin,” she said.
Reid also hopes to focus on the African American experience in Berlin as part of the oral histories.
At the annual board meeting in January, Reid said the house committee will present information about the museum’s archives and collecting oral histories.
“What we’re really hoping is that our board members will take a role in identifying people they feel should be interviewed, and then going ahead and doing those interviews,” she said.
Covid restrictions have created some complications for interviews, but Reid plans to interview at least five people to start the collection at the museum by spring, then add more oral histories throughout summer and fall 2021.
“Between now and the opening of the museum in May is to look through oral histories we do have,” Reid said.
The museum previously collected oral histories from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
“We have both the recordings of those original oral histories and transcripts, so our goal is to be looking through those and anywhere we can match an oral history with a current exhibit, we would like to do that,” Reid said. “We interviewed my grandmother. Her name is Bessie Moore, and she grew up on the Esham Dairy Farm, which is currently where the hospital is.
“We have an exhibit in the museum that is about Esham Dairy because it was on the edge of town, and they delivered milk locally and into Ocean City. So, what we’re hoping is when we look at the transcripts from my grandmother, she will talk about life on the farm, and we will be able then to have her actual voice then be connected to that exhibit.”
In the future, Reid and the museum board will aim to create exhibits that are based on themes from the oral histories collected. As an example, Reid said there could be an exhibit of the “metamorphous of Main Street” with photographs and oral histories about the transformation of shop facades downtown.
In addition, the museum is planning a Berlin Homecoming Harvest on Oct. 10, 2021 from 2-5 p.m. with a few oral history sound booths set up to interview people during the event.
The oral histories collection will likely function similarly to the oral history element in the Isaiah Fassett exhibit at the museum with a scannable QR code connected to the audio.
“We’re really looking forward, as always, to engaging our community and telling the story of Berlin,” Reid said. “It is a small town that is sort of beating the odds, I think, of most small towns in rural areas, and people flock here because they see a vibrant community. We want to make sure that we are recording the stories of the people that are part of that community.”