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Traveling Exhibit Reflects On 10th Anniversary Of Storms Irene And Lee

The After the Storms exhibit opens Saturday, August 28th at the Schoharie River Center's Cultural Hall
Lucas Willard
The After the Storms exhibit opens Saturday, August 28th at the Schoharie River Center's Cultural Hall

An exhibit commemorating the 10th anniversary Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in August and September of 2011 is opening this weekend.

Just a week apart, in August and September of 2011, the twin storms brought heavy rains and sustained winds throughout the WAMC listening area.

Large rivers and small creeks alike overflowed their banks, flooding communities and destroying homes.

A new exhibit opening Saturday at the Schoharie River Center in Burtonsville, collects the stories of those affected by the dramatic flooding of the Schoharie Creek.

“As the creek began to rise, I put stuff in the car that was essential and left the house, checked on my two neighbors. As I approached the village, the water was about a foot deep.”

“The bullhorns and the firetrucks and the emergency people going through was the main way people heard about what was going on.”

“So we went outside and the water was just up to the bottom of the bridge, and normally this is a creek that is trickling. So within probably an hour or two, the entire bridge was covered with water.”

The exhibit called After the Storms: 10 Years and 36,000+ Volunteers Later is based on an oral history project begun in 2014, through a partnership between New York State Folklore, the Zadock Pratt Museum, and Schoharie Area Longterm Recovery, now called SALT Development.

Ellen McHale, Executive Director of New York State Folklore, said before interviews for the project were collected, the effort required community outreach on behalf of volunteers.

“So we started with volunteers. Because we felt they were folks who were not directly impacted on a personal level, but they had a real drive to come and be part of the solution. So we started, actually, interviewing volunteers with SALT as part of a Mr. Luther King day of service in 2014,” said McHale.

McHale explained why the oral history project began three years after the flood.

“We felt, and I felt as a folklorist, that people are picking up, they’re trying to recover, they don’t need somebody with a microphone asking them ‘How do you feel about this?’ and ‘How are you doing?’ And so that recovery period, needs to, I felt, needed to give people a break. And I think that’s the idea, was, you know, you should be coming with a hammer, not with a microphone to interview. And afterward, that’s when people have time to reflect,” said McHale.

The exhibit also features objects and interpretive panels, collecting news reports and photographs of the damage.

The first stop on the exhibit’s tour is here, inside the Schoharie River Center’s Cultural Hall, a former Methodist church built in 1857 that has undergone a renovation.

Schoharie River Center Executive Director John McKeeby, who is married to McHale, remembered Irene’s impact when communities in Epserance and Priddle Camp saw homes swept into the creek.

“That community lost, I think it was, 20 houses that just washed away. And many of those houses, or the parts of them, ended up in our nature preserve,” said McKeeby.

McKeeby said volunteers with the Schoharie River Center walked through the neighboring Schoharie Creek Preserve, collecting printed photos carried away by the flood, as families searched for lost items.

“And we picked up hundreds of photographs from all over and we had to dry them out and lay them out. And we had many people that came from Priddle Camp and other places and were picking up their family photographs,” said McKeeby.

The Schoharie River Center will host an opening reception for the After the Storms exhibit on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibit will be on view at the Cultural Hall on weekends through September.

The exhibit will then move to the Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville through October, then will remain at the New York Power Authority Visitor’s Center in North Blenheim-Gilboa from November through March. In May 2022, the exhibit will reopen at the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie.

For more information visit: https://nyfolklore.org/

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.