Chester Library (New Jersey Caucus)
By Deb Schiff, Local History Librarian
One of my favorite projects of 2014 was/is (it’s ongoing) the recording of the Memories of Chester video oral histories. The first subject in the series is Herman Rademacher, an 83-year-old lifelong Chester resident who was, according to a Local History volunteer, “everybody’s plumber.” After his son Jack lent us his postcard collection to make digital facsimiles for an online exhibit (http://chesterlib.com/local-history-room/online-exhibits/chester-postcards-introduction/), Herman wanted to show us his much-larger and older collection. These gentlemen and their families still enjoy the postcards, and they are not
yet ready to donate them to the library. However, the binder of high-quality printed versions of the digitized cards became a popular stopping point at the library’s front desk after some local press coverage.
When Herman came in to lend the library his postcards, Herman began telling me the most interesting stories about the scenes on the cards and the town itself. When I asked him if he’d be interested in being recorded on video talking about these subjects, he enthusiastically agreed and signed the requisite forms. He also was very interested in the prospect of talking about the cards for an exhibit featuring the cards.
Herman sat for me each week in October and November 2014, usually for 1 to 2 hours. I brought in my home video equipment and recorded him in my office. He talked about the cards for the first few weeks, then we had more traditional oral history discussions about his family and experiences in Chester. He later brought in older photographs and his 50th wedding anniversary photo album to talk about and for me to make digital versions for our collection and exhibits.
When I began editing the videos, I thought about the audience – our online patrons. Because postcards are short letters, it made sense to keep the videos short as well. Herman is a natural at these videos and kept most of his discussions to a few minutes. Some of the videos are a bit longer because he would remember a related topic and talk about it. I kept most of these in the online versions because they were so interesting. Since January, I have had a Friend of the Library volunteer, Ellen Speicher, transcribing the online videos to increase the accessibility of the content. He was her plumber, too, and she has told me each week how much she has enjoyed this work.
Link to the videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2wfelLw5pFoG1hzuv9t1EA.
Because Herman enjoyed his experience so much, he donated his The Mendham-Chester Tribune newspaper collection to the library. This collection fills a much-needed hole in the library’s offerings. Prior to Herman’s donation, the library had Observer-Tribune and its predecessor, The Mendham-Chester Tribune newspapers dating back to 1955. Herman’s collection ranges from 1936 to 1939 and includes the very first issue.
When he signed the Deed of Gift, his specific condition was that the library make digital versions of them so that members of the community and visiting researchers could use the historical information in the papers. I applied for a Morris County Heritage Commission grant to pay for the digitization and
rehousing of the papers, and was very pleased when the library received the grant from the Commission. The newspapers were digitized in February, and are now available on the library’s computers.