Lewis County Historical Museum taking part in oral history program


Everyone has their own history and, for the Lewis County Historical Museum, it's time to tell some of those stories.

The Chehalis museum is sponsoring a project conducted by a University of Washington library and information science graduate student to add to its oral history archives. The museum is now looking for people to tell their stories.

"It is incredibly important to record the oral histories of the people who live and work here in Lewis County. Their stories are invaluable," project manager Isebelle Fraser said. "From our first meeting, Museum Director Jason Mattson and I both felt that it was imperative to get as many people's stories recorded as possible, before we lose that opportunity forever."

Mattson and Fraser will be conducting the interviews, recording them and adding them to the Lewis County Historical Museum's current collection of oral histories. 

There aren't any specific subjects or types of people the program is looking for. If you have a story to tell, Fraser and Mattson would like to record it.

"We are more interested in getting people's stories and experiences recorded for posterity," Fraser said. "The amazing local stories that exist out in our community are incredibly precious to us, and we know that, all too quickly, we can lose any chance of capturing them if we wait too long."

Fraser said if potential interviewees need some inspiration or want to know the kind of stories that might make for good oral history interviews, events such as the eruption of Mount St. Helens, happenings at the The Fox Theatre and major weather or geological events can be a few items of inspiration. Fraser said political and social events such as the Armistice Day Riot — also known as the Centralia Tragedy and the Centralia Massacre — the first Pride parades held in the county, and other notable historical happenings would also be good topics of discussion.

"The community feedback has been very positive so far, but the actual number of people signing up to be interviewed has been surprisingly low," Fraser said. "It seems like there is a lot of support for the idea, but there is some reluctance to actually take part."

Interviews have been occurring in a neutral third location, with the local library being a popular meeting and interview place. In the case of individuals who have mobility struggles or other issues preventing them from leaving their home or another place of residence, Fraser said she would be more than happy to meet them where they are.

The program is part of Fraser's capstone project as a University of Washington graduate student.

"Because I've always had an interest in archives and a passion for history, I thought a great capstone project would be to help create or support a local oral history archive," Fraser said. "When I reached out to Executive Director Jason Mattson, he was quite enthusiastic and mentioned that he had been wanting to add to the museum's oral history archive for quite some time but hadn't had the time and resources to put towards getting it done."

Fraser is handling the community outreach and interviews for the project, which will go on until the end of April. The histories will go to the Lewis County Historical Museum, while Fraser will also write up an overview and presentation covering the whole project for a panel of University of Washington staff and professors. Fraser said interviewees' information would not be shared during the presentation, just a general description of the project and the work that went into completing it.

"It is incredibly important to record the oral histories of the people who live and work here in Lewis County; their stories are invaluable," Fraser said.

To sign up to be interviewed for the oral history project, people can fill out the signup sheet at https://forms.gle/FkrG7FiMbXoYWK2o7 or email Fraser at ibfraser@uw.edu