The National Park Service hopes to record Glen Echo's living history
More than 100 people have volunteered to be interviewed for project
With a microphone in front of her, Esther Delaplaine looks through a window at the Clara Barton National Historic Site toward Glen Echo Park, where she once organized a picket line.
"I think being on the grounds certainly helps my recall," said Delaplaine, 87, of Friendship Heights.
In the summer of 1960, Delaplaine lived in the Bannockburn neighborhood of Bethesda and joined Howard University students to picket the white-only amusement park. The story of her efforts which helped bring about the park's integration in the spring of 1961 is recorded as part of the Glen Echo Park oral history project.
Conceived as an effort to document the diverse history of Glen Echo, four interns with the National Park Service have begun interviewing people who witnessed important milestones in the park's history, park ranger Zackary Gardner said.
With a file full of photos, newspaper clippings and handwritten notes on the table in front of her, Delaplaine recounted her experience as a civil rights protester. She was telling her story to Samantha Green, 21, a history major from Ohio working on the project as part of her internship with Eastern Mennonite University's Washington Community Scholars' Center.
"Hearing them from an individual person is more beneficial then reading it out of a book," Green said. "Her passion comes into play, her personality."
Much already has been written on the history of the park, but the stories that are missing are the first-hand accounts, park ranger Beth Ruschau said.
"What did it smell like? What did it sound like?" she said. "We want to capture the whole experience that these folks had on tape."
About 100 people have volunteered to be interviewed since the park service began collecting names last summer, Ruschau said.
Two digital audio recorders were purchased for the project using money from the general operating budget, supervisory park ranger Aaron LaRocca said. Besides staffing, the project does not have any additional costs.
The audio interviews will be transcribed and filed in the park service's archives, Ruschau said. The goal is to make all of the interviews available for the public online.
The priority is to document the civil rights era in the park because it is the furthest back in time, Gardner said. Once those stories have been recorded, the next goal is to document Glen Echo's transition into a national park in 1970, and then the development of the arts and cultural center.
The project's four interns will complete 12 interviews during their 14-week session, Gardner said. The park rangers hope to have three cycles of interns a year and continue the project as long as there is interest.
Glen Echo Park is special because it is one of the last remaining historic amusement parks in the country, Gardner said. By beginning to document the park's history now, it will create a framework for collecting stories of the park into the future.
"For me, it's about creating a cultural resource centered on Glen Echo," he said.
Delaplaine's actions in the summer of 1960 launched a lifetime dedication to social justice. She was quick to volunteer for the oral history project to make sure that her efforts are not forgotten.
"Unless you keep telling the story of what happened and why it happened and when it happened, it all gets forgotten," she said. "Every chapter and verse that advances the story needs to be witnessed and recorded."