|Oral History Archives at Columbia|
At a Glance
The collection is arranged in two series. The series are based on the provenance of the interviews. Within each series, recordings are arranged chronologically.
Scope and Contents
The majority of the collection's interviews were taken by Gail Mary Killian and document her life in the 1970s-1980s as a woman living with Down syndrome in Eastern Massachusetts. Killian recorded her birthday starting in 1970, and many recordings capture the conversations that took place at these celebrations, which were attended by family members and neighbors. Topics discussed at these parties include music-related gifts received by Killian; rock music and Polish folk music; television shows and movies; employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the region; work at the United States Postal Service (her father's employer); and happenings in their local community. The family also sings together, both in English and Polish. Also included are recordings made by Killian during her daily life. Killian was an avid music fan, and she records thoughts on rock bands such as the Beatles, Journey, and Van Halen. Portions of the local New Bedford, MA radio program "Polish Happy Hour" are captured on tape.
The collection also contains three oral history interviews by Killian's nephew Stephen Desroches, who donated all tapes. One interview is with Desroches' grandfather Stanley Killian, taken in 1991. This interview documents Killian's experiences in World War II. A second interview was taken in 2003 with three relatives of Desroches: Stanley Killian (grandfather), Eugene Killian (great-uncle), and Helen Killian (grandmother). This interview covers the experiences of their immigrant parents, the Great Depression, World War II, and their thoughts on politics and social issues at the time of the interview. Desroches also interviews Schuyler "Ted" Meyer, the police chief of Provincetown, MA, about Meyer's experiences in law enforcement in an artistic Cape Cod town.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Conditions Governing Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2018
The item "Diary and notebook of Gail Mary Killian" (GDP / 165) is found in the Great Diary Project of the Archives of the Bishopgate Institute, London, United Kingdom
Stephen Desroches was immediate source of acquisition for all tapes. They were gifted to the Oral History Archives at Columbia in 2018. Desroches is the nephew of Gail Mary Killian. Eighteen tapes were created by Killian and five were created by Desroches
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Finding aid written by David A. Olson in 2020, incorporating description provided by donor Stephen Desroches.
2020-12-04 Links to digitized material added. kws
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Gail Mary Killian (March 30, 1953-August 11, 1988) was a recording enthusiast with Down syndrome who lived in Eastern Massachusetts. She received a tape recorder for her birthday in 1970. Recording her birthday each year became an annual tradition from 1970-1984. She also recorded daily life and visits from friends and neighbors, including her best friend Denise. Killian was an avid music fan, who enjoyed rock and roll and traditional Polish music. Her interest in documenting her life and the world around her extended to other media as well. She retained every greeting card that she ever received, kept a diary, and recorded every movie and television show that she saw by annotating TV Guide.
Stephen Desroches has worked as a journalist in Provincetown, MA on Cape Cod. He received a degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2002. Desroches has worked to preserve and document his family's history, both by interviewing older relatives and by stewarding the tapes and diary of his aunt Gail Mary Killian until their donation to archives.