On February 28th I had the pleasure of conducting a phone interview with Mona Murphy whose house boasts the word “Library.” Less about creating new connections (due to location of the word, she hazarded), it is a way for her to remember and reflect on the importance of books in her life, her late mother’s life, and that of her kids. Transcript is below.** Thanks, Mona!
CB: I’m here with Mona Murphy as part of the River of Words Oral History Project. The date is February 28, 2015. So thanks so much for sharing your time with me.
CB: What I have been doing is starting with some demographic questions. One of my questions is just about kind of the diversity of participants, so if you could provide me with your name, address, your age, your marital status, the race you identify with, that would be great.
M: Ok. I’m Mona Murphy. Live at 2210 Perrysville Avenue. I’m married, to Tom Murphy, and I…lets see. I am 70 years old, just turned 70 two weeks ago, and the word we have on our house is “Library.”
CB: So what race or ethnicity do you identify as?
M: I am white and Irish.
CB: Right, Murphy is quite Irish. So the word on your house is “library.” Does your house fall within the historic district, do you know?
M: No, it does not.
CB: And how long have you lived in the North Side?
M: We moved into our house in 1974…no 1973.
CB: And how long have you lived in Pittsburgh?
M: 1973 actually. Well, we moved back to Pittsburgh, my husband and I were married in 1969 and we lived in Pittsburgh until we went in the Peace Corps. And, so we came back to Pittsburgh, we moved to the North Side.
CB: Cool, great. Where did you go for the Peace Corps?
M: We were in Paraguay.
CB: Cool. OK. So I’m going to turn now to the River of words Project. If you could tell me about, you know, how you found out about it, what your experience was like, any kind of stories that you feel comfortable sharing, that would be great.
M: Well, my son works for Sampsonia [City of Asylum] and he was the one who asked if we would take a world. And we chose the word “library” because our house is like a library, and every room in our house has a book case, and lots of them are two or three deep with books [laughs]. So, we never met a book we didn’t like. My mother, who just died at the age of 99, very influential in my love of books because she was a big book lover, and the hardest thing for her was when her eyesight started to go as she got into her nineties, and she could read as much as she wanted to.
CB: Wow. What was it like working with the artist after you chose your word?
M: Um, we didn’t work with any artists after we chose our word, they just came and put the word on our house when we weren’t even home, so…We didn’t, I didn’t realize that was part of the project.
CB: By that I kind of just mean what the interactions with the artists were like.
M: Oh, ok, well we didn’t have any interactions! So I guess you don’t need my interview, right?
CB: No, no, I do. I still do. So my next question is actually about what its been like having the word on your house; if you’ve had new conversations, met new people, things like that.
M: You know what, we haven’t, and one of the reasons I think is that they put it on our porch and we are on Perrysville Avenue, way up on the terrace, and it’s not…people don’t see it from the road. So they are not as likely to stop. I wanted them to put it down at the bottom, but, my son was afraid someone would steal it because of our neighborhood! So they put it where it just wasn’t visible enough to make people come and see it.
CB: Has the meaning of the word to you, has it changed over time since you’ve had it put on the house. So, library does it mean something different since the summer.
M: No, it doesn’t. Its always been an important part of our life experience, even when our kids were small, when we went out for the day, we went to the library. Its always been a big part of our lives.
CB: My next question is about the historic review commission discussions happening now. So my question for you is how much do you know about the relationship of the HRC to the project, and if you have any opinion on the conversations taking place?
M: Unfortunately…I really don’t know enough about it to comment on that. I feel terrible, I’ve just ruined your interview. I just don’t have enough to say that is worth your while!
CB: No you are totally fine. OK. So the last thing I want to ask about is your thoughts about the importance of public art in the North Side, and in Pittsburgh more generally.
M: I think its absolutely necessary. I just think it improves everything, and so much…even, I don’t know, I guess it is art, the new stuff they put in along 28 you know, the highway, it just does something different, and I have been pushing for years to have groups put art underneath the on the pileups on the bridges, because we have all these, now that we view the races, you know the crew races and things like that? I just think it would be so cool to have them go under the bridges and have all this beautiful stuff that they are seeing.
CB: That’s a good idea.
M: …anything anybody wants to do. So, I love it, I love seeing all the things that people do, even the graffiti. We were instrumental in getting kids to do stuff on walls in the North Side that were done by the kids, and it was amazing to me that nothing ever happened to it, nobody ever defaced it because, they did it. They were not likely to paint over it or do something bad to it. And I do think it makes a difference in a neighborhood. The gardens make a huge difference, I think, and I think as soon as you start beautifying a place people are less likely to mess it up.
CB: And so the mural project you just described with the youth in the North Side, were you part of that project, is that right?
CB: What’s the name of it?
M: My husband was really active in making it happen.
CB: What’s the name of the mural, or what street is it on?
M: You know what, its gone now, it just wore off! Forty years ago, or thirty something years ago. It’s long gone now.
CB: OK. Well, that’s all the questions I have. Is there anything else that you would like to say?
M: I can’t think of anything. I just think that what is happening, what Sampsonia is working on in bringing art and music, and poetry and everything to the neighborhood makes a big difference. It just does. So many people say they are afraid to go to the North Side, but we get people from all over, even the suburbs, who come to the projects that are done there, and they come because Sampsonia is presenting all this art, and they want to see it and be part of it, so it changes peoples’ view of our neighborhood.
CB: Well, thank you so much for your time, and if you have any questions for me, I think your son has my contact information so you should feel free to write or email. Thank you! Have fun in Florida!
M: You too, have a nice day.
CB= Caitlin Bruce