Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Gail Mary Killian and Stephen Desroches sound recordings, 1970-2003

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.: OHAC
Bib ID 14439340 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Killian, Gail Mary, 1953-1988 ; DesRoches, Stephen
Title Gail Mary Killian and Stephen Desroches sound recordings, 1970-2003
Physical Description 23 audiocassettes
Language(s) Collection is mostly in English with some recordings containing Polish.

Access: Open



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

Access: Open

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2018

Related Materials

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

Custodial History

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

Processing Information

Finding aid written by David A. Olson in 2020, incorporating description provided by donor Stephen Desroches.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Interviews Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Oral histories (literary works) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sound recordings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Beatles Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Depressions -- 1929 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Down syndrome -- Social aspects. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fall River (Mass.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journey (Musical group) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New Bedford (Mass.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Police -- Interviews. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Polish Americans -- Social life and customs. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Provincetown (Mass.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Rock music -- Social aspects. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Taunton (Mass.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

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.