Story Preservation Initiative®

Preserving the Stories of Our Lives by capturing the voices, words, and meanderings of artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, and eyewitnesses to history. Listen, learn, and be amazed!

Operation Valkyrie – The Plot to Assassinate Hitler

Helmuth and Jutta Cords. Used with permission

Helmuth and Jutta Cords.
Used with permission

This coming February, Claudia Cords Damon will share the captivating and true story of her parents, Helmuth and Jutta Cords.

Helmuth and Jutta, both German citizens, met during the Nazi era, fell in love, and eventually – wanting no part of Hitler’s Germany – joined the underground resistance movement and participated in Operation Valkyrie – the plot to assassinate Hitler.

Both Helmuth and Jutta were imprisoned and, somehow, miraculously survived. A love story for the ages, theirs was the first wedding in post war Berlin.

Here’s a Wikipedia overview of Operation Valkyrie:

I’ve been after Claudia for several years, hoping that she would agree to add her family story to our collection.   Finally, the answer is yes!

Poet | Educator | Oral Historian Chard deNiord

photoChard is well known for recording the personal narratives of major poets.  Now the table is turned!

Audio is up on Chard’s oral history.  To listen – click on the links below.

Chard deNiord is the author of four books of poetry with a fifth, titled Interstate, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in the summer of 2015.

He is also a member of Story Preservation’s Board of Directors, and a professor of creative writing at Providence College.  His books: The Double Truth (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), which was selected as one of the top ten books of poetry by the Boston Globe in 2011; Night Mowing (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005); Sharp Golden Thorn (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003); and Asleep in the Fire (University of Alabama Press, 1990). His book of essays and interviews with seven senior American poets (Galway Kinnell, Ruth Stone, Lucille Clifton, Donald Hall, Robert Bly, Jack Gilbert, and Maxine Kumin) titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs, Conversations and Reflections on Twentieth Century American Poets was published in December of 2011 by Marick Press. He is the co-founder of the New England College MFA Program in Poetry and Professor of English at Providence College.

About The Double Truth, Peter Campion writes: “Very few contemporary poets render, as uniquely as Chard deNiord does, the sheer wonder of being.  Our world shines up from his lines an sentences with all its original splendor and strangeness.  In deNiord’s spectacular gaze, old binaries of reality and dream, bitterness and love, joke and revelation, fuse into a beautiful whole.  DeNiord is a visionary and The Double Truth is a vital book.”

DeNiord earned a BA in religious studies from Lynchburg College, a Masters of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  He lives in Putney, Vermont with his wife Liz.


Audio is a production of Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.  

The story of New England is written in stone


Stonewalls crisscross our New Hampshire property, which at one time was a sheep farm.




The story begins with merino sheep, prized for fine wool, developed in Portugal and kept within its borders by the nobility there.

When Napoleon conquered Portugal in 1809, that restriction was lifted and the American ambassador imported 4,000 of the animals to his Vermont farm in 1810.

After the War of 1812, the United States imposed heavy tariffs on British goods—including textiles—and “sheep fever” took hold in New England. The area’s sheep population grew rapidly: in 1840 it reached a peak of 1.7 million in Vermont alone, and similar explosions happened elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of acres were cleared for sheep pasture as farmers took advantage of this burgeoning market for domestic textiles. By 1840, about 75 percent of our region’s land was in agriculture, mostly pasture.

All of these fields had to be enclosed to keep the sheep from overrunning nearby cropland. At first, New England farmers used stumps and brush from cleared land to make fences. Later, these were replaced with zigzag split-rail fencing. Eventually, though, as timber became scarce, farmers used the next material at hand: stone.

Stone fences, as they were called, soon crisscrossed the landscape, keeping sheep in the pastures and out of crops.

No official inventories were ever taken, but an 1872 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on fences suggested that in 1875 some 240,000 miles of stonewalls crisscrossed New England. Vermont writer Castle Freeman Jr. wrote more than a century later, “… if a stone wall a fraction as long as the walls of Vermont alone had been built by the order of some old king or emperor, it would be one of the wonders of the world.”

To find out more about the New England landscape, you might want to listen to Tom Wessels oral history, included in our collection (found at: ) or read his book Reading the Forested Landscape, de rigueur in classrooms across America.


Info for this post was taken from numerous sources.

Gutzon Borglum  The Danish-American sculptor responsible for creating Mt. Rushmore.

GB & LB in cable car


As part of Story Preservation’s Preserving a Legacy series, we will be meeting with and recording Gutzon Borglum’s granddaughter, Robin Borglum Carter later this month.



John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum liked to tinker with his own legend, subtracting a few years from his age, changing the story of his parentage. The best archival research has revealed that he was born in 1867 to one of the wives of a Danish Mormon bigamist. When his father decided to conform to societal norms that were pressing westward with the pioneers, he abandoned Gutzon’s mother, and remained married to his first wife, her sister.

In 1884, when Gutzon was sixteen, the family moved to Los Angeles. His father, unhappy in California, soon returned to Nebraska, but Gutzon stayed behind. He studied art and met Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam, a painter and divorcee eighteen years his senior. Lisa Putnam became a teacher and mentor to Gutzon, helping manage his career and advising his education. They were married in 1889. While in California, Gutzon painted a portrait of General John C. Fremont and learned the value of having a wealthy and socially connected patron. Although the general died a few years after sitting for his painting, his widow provided Borglum with contacts to men such as Leland Stanford and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Borglums traveled to Paris to work and study, and there Gutzon met sculptor Auguste Rodin. As much as he admired Rodin, more than one historian has suggested that the reason Gutzon gave up painting was to compete with his brother Solon, who had been making his name as a sculptor. Gutzon’s talent was immediately apparent and he found a few commissions (certainly the fact that Solon had already associated the name Borglum with fine sculpture didn’t hurt). At the same time, Gutzon’s marriage was falling apart. He left Paris alone in 1901 and aboard ship met Mary Montgomery, an American who had just completed her doctorate at the University of Berlin. He and Mary wed as soon as Lisa granted him a divorce. They bought a house and farm in Connecticut and named it “Borgland.”

Borglum’s major work back in America included a bust of Abraham Lincoln, which he was able to exhibit in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House. The Lincoln portrait and other much admired works gave Borglum a national reputation, and he was invited by Helen Plane of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to carve a bust of Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Borglum’s conception was bigger than Plane’s and Stone Mountain became his first mountain carving project, and where Borglum developed some of the techniques that would later be used on Rushmore.

While at Stone Mountain, Borglum became associated with the newly reborn Ku Klux Klan. Whether this accorded with a racist world view, or if it was simply one way to bond with some of his patrons on the Stone Mountain project, is unclear. Frankly, Borglum had little time for anyone, white or black, who was not a Congressman or millionaire, or happened to be in his way. There is no indication, for example, that he treated his long-suffering black chauffeur Charlie Johnson any differently than any white employee — he owed him back pay just like everyone else. Stone Mountain was not finished by Borglum, but it inspired his next job: Mount Rushmore.

When South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson read about Stone Mountain, he invited Borglum out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to create a monument there. Borglum, perhaps realizing that Stone Mountain had only regional support, immediately suggested a national subject for Rushmore: Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson were added to the program soon afterward.




Borglum had met and campaigned for Roosevelt, and by invoking that president’s acquisition of the Panama Canal and Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the Rushmore monument became a story of the expansion of the United States, the embodiment of Manifest Destiny.

Work on the mountain was not constantly supervised by Borglum. When he was at Rushmore, Borglum would be climbing all over the mountain and all over the hills, to determine the best angle for each feature, and advising the carvers on how to create the nuanced details that might not even be visible from below. But after creating the models, siting the sculpture, and developing methods for transferring the image to the mountain and carving the rock, there were long periods during which Borglum’s presence was not required. He would often leave his assistants, including his son Lincoln, to supervise the work and then travel. He would go to Washington, D.C. to lobby for more money, and he also traveled around the world, finding and completing other commissions, sculpting a Thomas Paine for Paris and a Woodrow Wilson for Poland, and meeting politicians and celebrities such as Helen Keller. (Helping her feel pieces by his old friend Rodin, he recalled her comment: “Meeting you is like a visit from the gods.” He sometimes felt the same way about himself, writing in his journal: “I must see, think, feel and draw in Thor’s dimension.”) When he returned to the Dakotas, a rock might have been roughly blasted into an egg shape and he would be back to looking over every detail.

Borglum’s stubborn insistence on having things done his way led to numerous confrontations with John Boland, who chaired the executive committee of the Mount Rushmore Commission. His temper and perfectionism caused him to fire his best workmen (who then had to be hired back by Borglum’s son Lincoln). Borglum’s ambition and hubris motivated him to recreate a landscape in his image (a tableau of prominent white men) rather than for the Native Americans who held the Black Hills sacred. Borglum was stubborn, insistent, temperamental, perfectionist, high-reaching, and proud — but these were also the characteristics that were required to carve a mountain. Big, brash, almost larger than life, only a man like Gutzon Borglum could have conceived of and created the monument on Mount Rushmore.

On March 6, 1941, Borglum died, following complications after surgery. His son finished another season at Rushmore, but left the monument largely in the state of completion it had reached under his father’s direction.

Photos are courtesy of Robin Borglum Carter.


Some Fun Facts!

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SPI posts have been read and audio listened to more than 20,000 x by folks from 102 different countries, ranging from the US to Mongolia, and from Fiji to Macedonia!


Our Learning Lab project will focus on New Hampshire – but we’ll keep our blog up and running for all of our friends from around the world!

Rounding out the learning … with images, lesson plans, and more

As we upload material to the Learning Lab website, we’re including images and documents that correspond with the audio, as well as info graphics, lesson plans and links of interest.





Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist, Jonathan McDowell’s narrative allows us … and the students who will be listening to the recording … to delve into the rich collections of photographs available on NASA websites.  



SPI’s Learning Lab – Getting Ready to Launch!



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Here’s a screen shot of our Learning Lab website, now in development.  Photographs accompany each audio track, there’s a full transcription, lesson plans, links of interest, and a forum for teachers to share outcomes and experiences.

The website will be ready to go and available to teachers in early December.




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SPI was at an educational conference in the White Mountains in early October, meeting and beginning to collaborate with NH public school teachers for Story Preservation’s Learning Lab project.




We’re initiating the project in our home state – with plans to expand to schools outside of New Hampshire in late 2015.

The Singing Life of Birds  A Conversation with Don Kroodsma

Don Kroodsma

Don Kroodsma has studied birdsong for 45 years.

Audio UP!  


He has listened to and recorded bird songs from the East Coast to the West, and constantly adds to his birdsong library back home in Massachusetts, where he’s professor emeritus of biology at the University of Massachusetts.

His book The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong won the 2006 John Burroughs Medal “for outstanding natural history writing” and the American Birding Association’s Robert Ridgeway Award “for excellence in publications in field ornithology.”

Kroodsma explores the mysteries of birdsong — how birds learn to sing, why some sing and some don’t, and why songs vary from bird to bird and even from place to place. “Birds have song dialects just like we humans have dialects,” he says.

On his travels, Kroodsma enjoys listening, knowing that where a bird learned a song is just as important as a bird’s genealogy. He noticed in his travels that birds of the same species but in different states sang the same song, but with their own unique “accents.”

His field of study may be unique, but the way he goes about his research is equally unique — Kroodsma tours the continent on his bicycle, collecting bird songs along the way. He biked completely across the nation once in 2003, and in 2004 biked from the Atlantic shore to the Mississippi, lugging his recording equipment with him.

“There is no better way to hear a continent sing than by bicycle,” Kroodsma says. “You can read the minds of these birds if you simply listen… Riding a bike is just a great way to hear birds.”


“There’s this wonderful Zen parable,” he says. “If you listen to the thrush and hear a thrush, you’ve not really heard the thrush. But if you listen to a thrush and hear a miracle, then you’ve heard the thrush.”

Don’s new book tentatively titled “Listening to a Continent Sing.  Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” is soon to be released from Princeton University Press.

A fun site:

Check out Don’s website at

To Listen to Don’s recording, click on links below.



Audio copyright Story Preservation Initiative 2014.  All rights reserved.

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Stories Matter

Working to Create an Educational Laboratory  Introducing SPI’s Learning Lab

SPI_logo_LearningLab copy was not available when we started this blog back some four years ago.   It is now a domain name that we own and we will be developing it as a separate website to house all the educational material for our Learning Lab initiative, the Uncommon School, and information on Story’s library archive.

We’ll keep this site up and running for all who enjoy reading our blog posts.



Think of the Learning Lab as an educational laboratory where we will be creating and testing unique and flexible teaching and learning opportunities.



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