March 10, 2014

Carbondale’s oral histories project is online

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill.  -- There’s nothing quite like experiencing history through the voices of those who lived it and some of those special voices and stories are now available online to everyone courtesy of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

The Carbondale Remembered Oral History Project, a collaboration between SIU’s  Special Collections Research Center and the Carbondale, Illinois Preservation Commission, is an ongoing project featuring dozens of oral history interviews with Carbondale area residents. The interviews are accessible online to anyone who wants to hear them for research purposes or just to experience the past as lived by local residents. 

Dorothy “Dede” Lingle Ittner, SIU alumnus, historian and secretary of the SIU Alumni Association Board of Directors, primarily conducted the interviews.  Originally recorded on audiocassettes, the interviews are digitalized and available as mp3 files at  The collection also features written transcriptions for some of the interviews and some photographs. 

The memories and experiences represented in the collection are an eclectic mix, including recollections from the late Mary Ellen Curd Simon about the “mean-looking” sky on a March day in 1925 as she walked home from grade school at “The Normal,” now SIU Carbondale.  That mean sky held what became known as the F-5 “Tri-State Tornado” that killed 234 and injured thousands in Murphysboro.  The tornado also resulted in 33 deaths at the De Soto School and many more in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana while crushing 15,000 homes and injuring thousands. 

“It was a scarring memory on my mind,” recalls Simon, who was 91 years old at the time of the interview.  

She relates how her father Harlan Curd, a pharmacist, telephoned his wife, Margaret Porter Curd, and had her come to assist at Holden Hospital where there simply weren’t enough staff to treat the many burned and badly injured tornado victims. 

Bill Schwegman, of Carbondale, assisted with the project by interviewing C. Gene Seibert, longtime former manager of the Southern Illinois Airport.  Seibert provides a historical account of local airports, particularly the one he managed.   

And Robert James, also of Carbondale, recalls how he first got hired on the grounds crew at Southern Illinois Normal University, now SIU Carbondale.  

“I gave a fellow a letter to take to show whoever they met “ about me wanting a job. ”Then all of a sudden, I got a letter from Springfield and this is what Governor (Adlai) Stevenson wrote on that letter.  He says, ‘You are hired, you are welcome to the family of Southern Illinois Normal University’,” James recalls.  

The oral histories focus on the Carbondale era in the 20th century, with an emphasis on political history, architecture and education.  The topics include African-American history, university history, The Great Depression, natural disasters, business history, World War II and the Vietnam War. The collection now has 37 oral interviews and others will be added as they become available. 

In addition to online access available through the website, people can find the histories at the Special Collections Research Center in Morris Library or at the Carbondale Public Library.  

For more information about the Carbondale Remembered Oral History Project, look online at, email or call 618/453-2516.