Residents bringing Old Mystic history to life

Apr. 26—MYSTIC — Ruth W. Crocker sat down at the Old Mystic History Center this week, amid historical documents and maps of the community, to tell her story about growing up in the village.

Crocker, who was being interviewed for an oral history project, recalled the community's traditions such as a strawberry festival, playing outside in the woods and ice skating on the pond behind her house, and Old Mystic being full of kids during the years after World War II.

Crocker, 77, who grew up in Old Mystic in the late 1940s to the mid-1960s and whose family ran nursing homes, said she and her brother dressed up as Martha and George Washington for the costume contest at the annual Halloween party at the firehouse.

She remembers water came up to right above the first floor of her house during the 1954 hurricane.

She said her best memories are about how people used to help other people and were always available when someone needed something, whether it was her parents letting a family move in with them after a house fire, or the man who worked at the former gas station coming over when someone fell at the nursing home and needed help.

Crocker is involved in many community projects, served on the boards of organizations in the community, and ran the Mystic Manor nursing home for years.

Crocker, whose husband was killed in Vietnam, has written books, including the memoir "Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War." She is also a mentor and educator with the Military Writers Society of America, and is involved with the widows of the deceased classmates of her husband's West Point class of 1966, which has the highest number of soldiers killed in Vietnam. Since then many have died from Agent Orange.

Crocker's interview is part of an effort by the nonprofit Old Mystic History Center to collect residents' stories for a project entitled the "Old Mystic Oral History Project: Memory Bank."

The project will include video interviews and written transcripts of people's stories, the project leaders said. But the idea is it will get people interested about the community and its past, and it will serve as a repository where people can search for local history and learn about it.

Treasurer Bob Mohr said it is important to preserve the history, and it was time to do a new oral history project as a follow-up to ones done decades ago.

John Goodrich, volunteer with the Old Mystic History Center, said there is a difference between reading history in a book and hearing people tell their stories.

"It really humanizes it," Goodrich said, bringing history down to a personal level that makes it all the more interesting to people.

Secretary Sharon Maynard said the project is a multi-dimensional way to preserve history. Fifty years from now, people will be able to look back and hear the voices and see the body language of the interviewees.

As part of the project, older residents ― some in their 90s ― are being interviewed, representing nearly a century of local history, Maynard said.

The organization, which started in 1965 as the Indian and Colonial Research Center and re-branded several years ago as the Old Mystic History Center, houses anthropologist, archaeologist, and historian Eva Butler's research collection about local history and local Indigenous peoples, as well as additional materials and documents, according to the center's website.

Goodrich said the oral history project will not only preserve history for future generations, but the video interviews also are a way to interest younger generations in history.

The organization is looking for residents from the Groton, Mystic and Stonington area and from all walks of life and ages to be interviewed, with a focus on Old Mystic, and for volunteers to help with the project.

Crocker said stories are a way for people to find themselves and find connection.

"By being more connected to our past, I think there's more possibility for peace and for people caring about each other, because it's when you find out about how someone lived and what they dealt with and what they struggled with, that you really care about them, that you can empathize," Crocker said.

More information about the project is available at: