Storycorps Door-to-Door had the pleasure of visiting the Erie Art Museum, one of the 2011 Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS) National Medal Award winners. In our three days of recording, participant after participant shared stories of how the museum has become a major community hub, and we quickly came to understand why the museum was honored nationally for its “significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.” The museum has a lot more than an award to be proud of, with programming that allows its patrons to truly “be moved.”
When they imagine having an impact on future generations and how they will be remembered in the future, people often think of parenting children. But as these interviews from Erie, Pennsylvania show, there are many ways to leave a legacy.
Father Bob: A True Man
Jim Murray and his son Bob Murray came to the MobileBooth to talk about Father Bob, Jim’s older brother and a devoted priest. Jim and Father Bob are the two youngest sons in an Irish-Catholic family of five boys, all with big personalities. The other brothers became engineers, attorneys, and insurance partners, but Father Bob knew from the age of nine that he’d become a priest.
Jim recalled, “He was never a pastor…He was quiet. If we were in a room, and if there were thirty people in that room, I’d go around and meet thirty people and I’d remember who they were and where they were from. But if there were two people in that room that were hurting, and one was thinking about suicide, somehow they would talk to Father Bob. And he would make them feel better about themselves.”
When Esmeraldaliz Torres was seven, she wanted to play the violin. She had signed up for classes at Erie’s Inner-City Neighborhood Art House, but the violin didn’t work out for her. Instead, they gave her a cello.
Esmeraldaliz’s mother Janet remembers the moment she first saw her daughter play. Esmeraldaliz was only seven years old, and Janet “got scared for her first performance because the actual cello was bigger than her.” They both laugh when they talk about that day. “I really didn’t know how you were supposed to play the cello, so I put a miniskirt on her, and that didn’t work because it had to go in between her legs. They ended up making a long skirt for her.”
Now eleven, Esmeraldaliz is one of the best cellists at the Inner-City Art House, and Janet is still front-and-center at her performances.
Not everything has always gone so seamlessly in the Torres family. Janet’s own mother wasn’t around when she was growing up in the Bronx. No one she knew played the cello, and few people in her family finished high school. Esmeraldaliz is an honor student, but she still struggles sometimes with math. Janet remembers working together on long division. “At the time I was still going for my GED because I was a high school dropout. But it was a pretty good process because we learned together… Once I got on that graduating stage, it was like I could to anything. All I could hear was my name being screamed. My kids and my husband.” Leaning into the mic, Esmeraldaliz imitates her family, yelling “Mom mom mom!”
At the end of their conversation, Janet looks at her daughter. She asks: “What’s the first memory you have of me?”
Esmeralda takes a moment before she replies: “The first time that I ever performed. When I saw your face.”
“And what did you think?”
“I thought you were really proud of me.”
“She was actually, like, kind of crying.”
Janet laughs. “Tears of joy, though. I was real proud. It’s like I couldn’t believe that I did such a good job that she was up there.”
Opening day in Erie, Pennsylvania was a big event! Reporters from our public broadcasting host, WQLN, were on hand to cover our arrival as were local ABC affiliate WJET-TV, NBC affiliate WICU Channel 12 and the Erie Times.
Site Supervisor Anna Walters (above) welcomed the assembled press and curious onlookers to the MobileBooth. Meanwhile, new Mobile Facilitator Lilly Sullivan facilitated our first interview in Erie, a remembrance by family members of John Kanzius. He was an inventor, radio and TV engineer, and ham radio operator in Erie. John passed away in February of this year but made headlines after he developed an innovative treatment for cancer using radio waves.