It's been almost 17 years since lower Kenai Peninsula residents spoke in informal sessions for the Alaska Communities of Memory Project, but now those recorded interviews have come into the digital age in a new online format.
Through Project Jukebox, 11 interviews with more recent and longtime Kachemak Bay residents are now available on the web. Project Jukebox has been organizing and putting online Communities of Memory oral histories from around the state. Videotapes were made and archived, but not easily available.
"They kind of went on to a shelf," said Leslie McCartney, curator of oral history for the Oral History Program, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives, Elmer Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
With funding from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Professor Emeritus William Schneider started organizing the interviews to be more web accessible. Projects include stories about Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Judges of Alaska and the Sen. Ted Stevens Project Jukebox.
Project Jukebox recently got funding to put the Homer discussions up. "This was Homer's turn," McCartney said.
The Homer Communities of Memory Project Jukebox highlights a gathering at Land's End Resort April 26-27, 1996. Three sessions covered the themes "Tales of the Sea," "One Hundred Years of Endurance" and "Community Ties." The online interviews are of Ralph Broshes, Marcee Gray, Mark Marette, Sandy Miller, Bob Moore, Dave Seaman, Gert Seekins and Wilma William. There also are interviews with Don Ronda, Diana Tillion and Carolyn Turkington, all of whom have died since the interviews. Families of people who have died can get CD copies of the oral histories by writing the library, McCartney said.
The Homer Communities of Memory Project also had seven brown-bag lunch talks that haven't been archived on Project Jukebox, but are available at the Pratt Museum.
The project sections have been organized like chapters in a book, McCartney said. On the main page is a description of Homer and the project, and then a list with photographs of the participants and a short biography. Clicking on the names of the people links to a page with a transcript of the talk and a video of the talk.
What's cool about the interview is that it's interactive. Go to a paragraph in the transcript and it advances through the video to that section. The interviews also are searchable by key words, too. For example, there's Dr. Ralph Broshes, Homer's first official veterinarian, talking about pulling porcupine quills, and how Howard Myhill, the guy who had done some animal doctoring, felt about Broshes moving in:
"Howard said he was -- several times, how glad he was that I'd moved down here, because at least he didn't have to get up at all hours of the day and night to pull porcupine quills out of dogs."
Some interviews include slideshows, like Gert Seekins' photos of hunting mule deer or posing in front of the first tour buses in Homer.
Browsing through the interviews gives a perspective on Homer from the 1940s up into the 1990s. It includes gems like this, from Sandy Miller, about when the Sterling Highway was finally paved, shortening the 7-hour trip.
"And when the road was finally paved, I remember my sister and I getting out down at -- it was right there by what's now about the junior high school, about that area where the paving started. And I remember when we got out and made Dad stop so we could get out and kiss the pavement."
The interviews also give some cultural and historical context to more recent changes, such as the arrival of the first Russian Old Believers when they settled Nikolaevsk. Bob Moore, the first teacher talks about starting the school in 1970:
"We had no books. We had no chalk. We had no pencils. We had no paper. We had no chalkboard. So the first books and the first chalkboard and the first chalk I carried in from the Anchor Point school -- I carried in on my back to Nikolaevsk. It was a mile and a half through the woods. Took 40 minutes to walk. Had to go down across the North Fork River and up the other side."
The interviews have been edited so all the hemming and hawing isn't on the tapes, McCartney said. People who have looked at the Project Jukebox web pages have raved about it.
"We're really proud of this," she said. "We've had some great feedback."
More communities that participated in the Communities of Memory project are being added to Project Jukebox. To browse and listen to the interviews, visit www.jukebox.uaf.edu and click on "projects" to find the Homer and other pages.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.