Westerly Sun Column | Learn About Local History at the Library

March 18, 2024

This Wednesday, March 20, is World Storytelling Day, a global celebration of the art and science of storytelling. This day has been celebrated for over 30 years and is traditionally held on or near the March equinox and the beginning of spring. Unsurprisingly, the library has many resources related to the art of written stories — we’ve got hundreds of thousands of books that are just this! You may be surprised to learn, though, that we also have some great materials in the collection related to local stories, including recollections from Westerly residents over the years.

There are a number of DVDs in our media room that tell stories of Westerly’s history, and which were produced locally. One of the better-known of these is “Carved from Stone: Legacy of a Granite Town,” which was produced and written by Betty-Jo Cugini in 2014. The documentary looks at Westerly’s granite industry over the years — from 1846 to the present — and introduces some of the talented individuals and ethnic groups who contributed to it. For more on the subject, you can look at the book that the documentary was based on, “Built from Stone: The Westerly Granite Story” by Linda Smith Chaffee, or the film “The Westerly Granite Story”.

One of the beautiful things about storytelling, and notably oral storytelling, is how you can share vivid experiences and first-hand accounts of historic events with younger generations. News articles are great, but they don’t always capture in detail the lived experiences of people. The appeal of oral histories is evident when we look at the hurricane and flood of 1938, a subject that people often visit the library to learn more about. There are numerous books, DVDs, and newspaper articles on the subject, but one of the most personal is “Watch Hill in the Hurricane of September 21st, 1938: Including the Survivors’ Stories of the Fort Road Tragedy,” which was published by Charles Hammond in 1938. For oral accounts of the storm, you can also watch the PBS documentary “The Hurricane of ’38” (2007), part of their American Experience series, which was narrated by David McCullough.

At the library, we’re celebrating World Storytelling Day on Wednesday with a free screening of another PBS documentary: “Our Town: Westerly,” which first aired in 2017. The film features stories and interviews by Westerly residents, and highlights many of the establishments, events, and people that make Westerly the wonderful town it is. Some examples include the Westerly Land Trust, the soupy from Westerly Packing, and (shameless plug) Westerly Library and Wilcox Park! The screening will take place in the library auditorium from 7 to 7:45 p.m. No registration is required, and popcorn will be served!

by Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian

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