Yore Town Inspiration – Oral History so Vital

downtown Binghamton NY

downtown Binghamton NY

 When my father became ill a few years back I returned to my hometown, Binghamton NY, to help my brother care for dad. I was there four years, during which I started to write a nostalgic column for a local Web site and the Broome County Senior News. Written about New York’s Southern Tier area, I called it Tier Jerker, and talked about the history of Binghamton and nearby Broome County areas. I solicited oral history from local residents. I was inundated with these stories, so much so that I had to remove my contact information. I had two years worth of stories already!

Binghamton has a great historical society, with a beautiful new facility in the brand new central library location downtown. I pored through its files and books, coming across several bound volumes of a 1980’s project. Volunteers had visited elderly residents and recorded their stories and then transcribed them into these books. It was amazing stuff – tales recorded nowhere else. One of my favorites was a letter the first employee of what was to be Link Corporation wrote to a couple inquiring about the company’s history.

first Link flight simulator

first Link flight simulator

 Edwin Link invented the first flight simulator, and his company was one of the major employers in the Binghamton area for decades. But its beginning was not auspicious. Edwin Link first decided to try his hand at skywriting advertising. He bought a plane from Albany Airlines and took to the Broome County skies, with large signs, music and a loud speaker system, advertising for clients such as the local Enna Jetticks shoes. This was in the 1920’s , before neon. He hired a man to reach out the plane door and extend the sign, but to get it back in the man had to be held by his legs while he reached precariously and rerolled the sign. It was a dangerous way to make a living. To add to the precariousness of the venture, the only music Link had was the song “How Dry I am” and residents below were starting to complain. It was shortly after that that he decided to create a flight simulator instead.

Another favorite story was an elderly resident who talked about the area’s first African-American professional photographer. The popular Arlington Hotel, a long-time downtown landmark, was the scene of a wedding. The photographer’s flashbulb malfunctioned and burned the drapes, and nearly burned down the hotel.

I realized as I read these stories that if no one had interviewed these folks neither of these stories and many others would ever have been told. For years I hoped to find a way to create my own oral history project. Yore Town will be a culmination of that dream. One I hope to find funding for, so that oral history projects such as the one in my hometown can be created throughout communities everywhere.

photos courtesy of the City of Binghamton Web site and Broome County’s Link Airport.

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