An old saying has it that today's news is the first draft of history. But historians rely on many sources for their work, including first-person accounts. Dozens of Vermonters are taking part in a project this month that will become a source of information for historians in the future.
People are lining up outside an Airstream trailer parked at city hall in Burlington. StoryCorps is a nationwide oral history project in partnership with National Public Radio and Vermont's affiliate, VPR. Former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin and her brother, Edgar May, are among 130 Vermonters who are recording interviews inside the trailer, equipped with a studio. The second of half of the month is still open and prospective interviewees can sign up starting Friday. Usually a friend or family member conducts the interview.
Both have stories to tell. They fled their native Switzerland as children in 1940, as Nazi Germany was launching World War Two and the holocaust. "For us children it was more of an adventure," Kunin said toward the beginning of a forty-minute recording session. "We didn't know the fear and the panic. I mean, people were fleeing Europe because Hitler was marching across Europe."
The StoryCorps mobile recording booth is one of two that roam the country. The oral history that results is saved on compact disc and becomes part of American history, preserved at the Library of Congress.
Lisa Janicki, who has traveled with the StoryCorps trailer to Pittsburgh, along with Canton and Watertown, New York and now Burlington said, "When you get in that booth, it's very safe. And people really let themselves go and it can be very emotional."
As compelling and frightening as Madeleine Kunin's and her brother's flight from the Nazis, the pair focuses not on themselves but on the blessing they found in America as immigrants.
"They make a contribution. You know, this country wouldn't be the United States of America without immigrants," Kunin told Channel 3 outside the trailer.
May added, "This is not about Madeleine Kunin or Edgar May. This is about America. That part of optimism is as true today as it was on June 10th, 1940 when we landed on the dock in New York. And that's what's the strength of this country."
It's a strength that sometimes brings tears inside the trailer, as well as laughter. In this case it can also bring out some compelling oral history.