Campus & Community

Harvard, Allston-Brighton celebrate oral history

4 min read

Film captures unique character of the neighborhood

Perry, Mulligan, Vyosky, and
From left, John David Perry, Joseph Mulligan, Naak Vyosky, and Bill Haas talk at the premiere of the video for the Allston-Brighton Oral History Project. Perry created the project and produced the video, for which Vyosky and many others contributed their reminiscences. (Staff photo Justin Ide/Harvard News Office)

Rita DiGesse knows Allston-Brighton. She was born there 77 years ago and has lived there ever since. And now her stories of the town she knows so well will help others learn about and remember the diverse community of Allston-Brighton.

DiGesse is one of the stars of a new short documentary film on the history of Allston-Brighton that premiered to nearly a hundred people at Harvard’s Spangler Center earlier this month in celebration of the completion of the Allston-Brighton Oral History Project. The film, which was just a sampling of the final product, spotlights the history of Allston-Brighton from 1800 to the present, drawing from the stories of nearly a dozen of the 70 longtime Allston residents who were interviewed over the past three years for the Allston-Brighton Oral History Project.

“We’ve seen people come and go in our neighborhood, but I think it is important for people to know the history of Allston,” says DiGesse of the project. “Hopedale Street was once known as Homes Street. The bulls ran down the streets of Allston from the slaughter houses in Brighton. These are things that people can’t relate to unless they have seen them. We’ve seen them and now others can relate to Allston-Brighton through these stories.”

The June 15 premiere drew more than its stars and longtime neighbors. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers joined each other at the podium after the screening to underscore the importance of community.

“A community is more than just buildings, it’s about people, about traditions,” said Menino. “We don’t pay enough attention to our past.”

Menino and
Introducing Lawrence H. Summers for his final public appearance in Allston as Harvard’s president, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Harvard has done a great job working with the neighborhood. Menino presented Summers with a city of Boston street sign with the words “Summers Place.” (Staff photo Justin Ide/Harvard News Office)

Introducing Summers for his final public appearance in Allston as Harvard’s president (Summers’ tenure ended June 30), Menino said Harvard has done a great job working with the neighborhood and has been a good partner to the city, providing summer jobs and supporting after-school programs, among other things.

“Larry wasn’t just the president of Harvard, he was a president of the people,” said Menino, who presented Summers with a city of Boston street sign with the words “Summers Place.” “This guy did so much for so many in his short time here,” Menino said.

Summers, who was welcomed by the audience with a standing ovation, said, “What’s true at Harvard, within the City of Boston and Allston-Brighton, is that it’s all about people, one at a time.

“We’re proud to have been part of the telling of the history in this film.”

The oral history project is the first comprehensive multimedia oral history of the Allston neighborhood of Boston. It was conceived by residents of Allston-Brighton and funded and created by Harvard University to celebrate and preserve the rich history of the neighborhood. The project includes more than 70 interviews with longtime Allston residents, historic photographs, and other treasures. It is now housed by the Boston Public Library as part of the online Center for Neighborhood History. Those interested can access the videos at

“The oral interviews this project collected over the past three years demonstrate the vibrancy and diversity of our community, not only in past years, but today as well. They capture the incredible richness of our historical experience,” said William P. Marchione, president of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society and noted local historian.

“This project is really all about finding a way to get people to participate actively in their history and to connect people to each other and to their neighborhood through story and narrative,” said John David Perry, who created the Allston-Brighton Oral History Project and produced the video while a presidential fellow at Harvard under the guidance of Marchione. “It not only preserves Allston-Brighton’s unique history, but also connects all of us at Harvard more closely to our neighbors.”

The Allston-Brighton Oral History documentary film is available to interested residents at the Honan-Allston Branch Library, 300 North Harvard Street, Allston, and at the Brighton-Allston Local History Room at the Brighton Branch Library, 40 Academy Hill Road, Brighton.