Everyone Has A Story To Tell
History is more than just names, dates, places, and events. History includes the detailed daily lives of the people you see walking down the street. It includes the events that make up the life of a community. Oral histories give us the opportunity to discover what a community's life was like from the people who lived it. They are an authentic record that go well beyond the pages of a textbook. Through stories, experiences, and various anecdotes, historians can begin to construct a social history of an era. In this way, oral history is a tool for making the past important and relevant to future generations.
Oral History Project
The goal of the Oral History Project at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is to connect with the people who grew up in, lived, and worked in and around the City of Paterson. The stories they tell us represent an often untold historical record that will paint a richer picture of America's first planned industrial city. The stories might be accounts of mill or factory work, passed down from parent to child. Those parents may have been mill or factory owners, or the workers themselves. They may have been labor leaders, or residents of the nearby communities. The narratives we collect will better allow us to share the great history of Paterson, New Jersey, with our visitors.
Do you have a story to tell of Paterson's past? Would you like to participate in our Oral History project? Please Contact Us to find out how!
Below are links to excerpts of a few examples of the stories recorded through the Oral History Project, collected by National Park Service Rangers and Interns, which future generations will be able to both learn from and enjoy. Hear the history of Paterson from those who lived it.
Lawrence Francis "Pat" Kramer served as Paterson's mayor for two sets of consecutive terms, 1967-1972 and 1975-1982. In his oral history interview, Kramer talks further about his love of the city, its features, and its role as the nation's first industrial center.
Thomas Rooney served Paterson for decades, first as mayor for eighteen months, and then as Sixth Ward councilman for 28 years. Rooney was also instrumental in helping establish the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, developing and presenting a proposal and building a model.
Al Marocco remembers attending midget car races, minor league baseball games, and football game in Hinchliffe Stadium. He worked as a batboy and ballboy for the semiprofessional Paterson Smartsets (featuring Larry Doby at shortstop) and the Negro League's New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans.
Art lived on Totowa Avenue in a largely Italian-American neighborhood. Surrounded by Italians, Art grew up speaking Italian. With the help of Americanized cousins and cartoon programs, he eventually got the hang of speaking English, and recalls his experiences growing up in Paterson, including Philippe Petit walk a tight rope across the Great Falls.
Betty was born at General Hospital in Paterson in 1931, and lived here until 1966 when she and her husband, John, moved to nearby Totowa. She remembers visits to the Great Falls and picnicking with friends.
To Bonnie Wetter Ross, Paterson was a wonderful place to grow up. She was born in 1947 to Irving Wetter, a kosher butcher in Paterson, and his wife Mollie. Bonnie fondly talks about shopping downtown, taking a bus and getting off between Fabian's and where City Hall used to be.
Bunny Kuiken was born in the Botto House, Haledon, NJ. Bunny has spent much of her life researching the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike and working to preserve her family's home. In 1982, thanks to her efforts, the Botto House was declared a National Historic Landmark. It now houses the American Labor Museum, which tells the story of the 1913 strike.
Born in 1929, Dolores Davidson Most has been a devoted Patersonian. She bears the distinction of being the last surviving member of a female police force from the 1950s, a time when police academies did not exist and folks looked down their noses at divorced women.
Reverend Erik Soldwedel, born in June 1958, has both family and religious roots in Paterson. Since 2016, Erik has been serving as interim clergy at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Paterson.
Francis Blesso was twenty-nine years old when a job called him from New Britain Connecticut to Paterson. That was in 1967 and he make Paterson his home. Blesso came as a civil engineer to help redevelop the city Paterson.
At the age of ten, Gerry's father and uncle joined the picket lines during the massive 1933 Silk Strike. Gerry remembers standing hand-in-hand with his father on the line as the Police Department arrived on horses and rode through the crowd to disperse the strikers.
Helene Arbus Miller was born at Barnert Hospital in Paterson in 1933 into a Jewish family of silk weavers from Lodz, Poland. The family owned a mill, New Deal Weaving Company, at 3 Mill Street.
Sussex County native Irene Sterling first fell in love with Paterson when attending an urban theology conference there with her fiancé and Drew University theology student, Howard Sterling. She moved to Paterson and became involved in various nonprofit organizations, including the Great Falls Development Corporation.
In this series of three interviews, Paterson Renaissance Man Jimmy discusses the history of the city's African-American churches, African-American newspapers, involvement (or rather lack of involvement) in the silk and textile industry, the Negro League Baseball League and Hinchliffe Stadium, and historical preservation.
Maria Mazziotti is a Paterson poet and educator. Maria specifically chose Paterson as the home of the Poetry Center, inspired by William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and her own upbringing.
Mary Marocco was born in 1931 in Brooklyn, New York. When she was a toddler, her parents took seasonal jobs sewing pockets at a Paterson clothing factory that was owned by her mother’s cousin. Mary attended preschool and elementary school in Paterson.
Many years ago, native Patersonian Roberta Perez Farber was asked to write a guest column for the newspaper. She wrote about a time in the future, maybe 20-50 years ahead, about a female mayor of Paterson and the revitalization of the city's historic district and the Great Falls.
Roni Seibel Liebowitz, a genealogist, founded Jewish Roots in Paterson on Facebook. It was a way, she says, to reconnect and she marvels at the friendship and camaraderie that continue even after many years.
Last updated: June 19, 2019