Super Senior: Dan Higgins
WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - Dan Higgins knows Winooski perhaps like no other.
“My community is scattered around this 1.1 square miles,” Higgins said on a recent stroll down Main Street, giving me a tour of his old haunts. “When I came here late at night at the bars, you were as likely to hear French as you were English.”
When the Michigan native arrived in 1969, Winooski was down on its luck. The once-thriving mill had closed and the downtown was struggling. It was an ideal time for an artist to come to Winooski because you could rent anything. Higgins says his rent came to $60 a month. “It was a huge space,” he said.
Enough room to live and do his silk screening art. He also had an eye for the faces of the community. Slinging a camera, Higgins has documented the people and places here for the last half-century. “I am curious, I want to know all the stories,” he said.
An urban renewal project in the early ‘70s leveled two blocks of downtown, all in the name of progress. “I was very sad, it was horrible,” Higgins said. “I miss a lot of what the old days were like, yeah. But I’m also finding it interesting to connect with people from this era... The camera allows me to access stories.”
With a degree in anthropology, Higgins has taken thousands of portraits of the faces of Winooski, one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the state. “I would say stories. I think people, people’s narratives -- I’m really interested in what people think,” he said.
His recent project is a photo book of the people, places, and the changing community from 1922 to 2022 -- a century of images to celebrate Winooski’s 100 years of being a city. “The book isn’t just a collection of photographs, it’s a way to start conversations,” he said.
The old and the new. That includes Henry’s Cafe, where Henry Cleaves opened up his bar for the morning patrons. “He claimed he had eight wives... Henry the 8th he called himself,” said Higgins.
And then there are the most recent arrivals he’s documented. “This is Ludo, it’s a board game played by the Somali Bantu,” explained Higgins, showing photographs from his book. “This is a Nepali group that meets on Friday mornings at the senior center... But you wouldn’t know about that group from downtown Winooski, which is made up now with hip restaurants.”
The 80-year-old’s goal is to foster a discussion and share their experiences with all. A coming together of sorts. “There’s nobody in Winooski that can’t find a photograph in here that they can’t tell you something about,” Higgins said. “There are so many stories here. Which is what I love about Winooski... It’s a big part of me.”
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