Historic Vienna tells town’s story of pandemic with ongoing oral history project

As long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so too will Historic Vienna, Inc. in its efforts to document the experiences of Vienna residents and businesses.

Operator of the town’s Freeman Store and Museum, Historic Vienna has been collecting stories of local history since 1976, but the nonprofit corporation launched its COVID-19 oral history project back in the fall of 2020.

Some of the collected stories are already available on the organization’s website, but with the virus’ recent resurgence, new stories emerge every day that could be worth preserving for posterity.

“This pandemic has been, and continues to be, a historic and important time in our history,” said Patti Bentley, project manager for Historic Vienna’s Oral History Committee. “The goal of this particular project is to capture how Vienna residents, businesses and organizations have been affected by, reacted to, and coped with the COVID pandemic.”

Bentley says the stories they have received have ranged from heartbreaking to heartwarming. People have shared how they have struggled to keep businesses afloat, dealt with isolation, learned new skills, and taken advantage of unexpected family time.

There are also stories from local organizations and businesses, such as Vienna Foodies, Rustic Love, Clarity’s, Vienna Inn, Caboose Brewery, Bards Alley, and the Vienna Business Association. Town of Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and former Mayer Laurie DiRocco have made contributions to the archives as well.

Historic Vienna has no end date in mind for the project right now, especially with COVID-19 cases rising again, so the oral history committee plans to continue creating questionnaires and collecting stories as long as it’s relevant.

Interested Vienna residents and businesses can still submit new stories.

“There continues to be an opportunity for people to fill out the second questionnaire and/or to submit their personal story in written or video form, poems, pictures, etc,” Bentley said by email. “We encourage anyone with a pandemic story to tell to please share your story with us.”

Whenever the pandemic does end, the Freeman Store and Museum will display an exhibit of the printed submissions, photos, video interviews, and questionnaire results for the public to reflect on.

“We want this record on our website and in our archives, for current and future residents and historians to access,” Bentley wrote. “In 5 years, 10 years, 100 years those interested will be able to see what this time looked like and felt like in Vienna. It is part of today’s experiences and tomorrow’s history.”

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