For Generations To Enjoy: Life Of Newtown Historian Daniel Cruson Recorded In Oral History Book
Over the last few decades, Newtown Historian Daniel “Dan” Cruson has devoted much of his time, attention, and care into discovering and preserving all things Newtown.
Many residents know Cruson as the go-to source if they have a question about any historic person, place, or event, because of his superhero-like knowledge and ability to recollect facts at the drop of a hat.
While he has written countless books, essays, and pamphlets; led many historical home tours; and researched a vast number of items, he has never been the focal point of a project — until now.
Newtown Remembered: An Oral History [of] Town Historian Daniel Cruson was published in 2019 to chronicle the compelling life of Cruson and his ongoing admiration for history.
Newtown resident Andrea Zimmermann spearheaded the venture after a good friend of hers asked if a book had ever been done about Cruson.
“I knew the answer was ‘no,’ and I felt an urgency to correct that oversight,” Zimmermann revealed. “I doggedly pursued the idea.”
Zimmermann conducted in-person interviews with Cruson over three sessions, a familiar scene as Zimmermann consulted Cruson on numerous occasions in the past while working as a features reporter at The Newtown Bee and later for the three local history books she penned.
The timeline for oral history meetings just so happened to see Cruson through a pivotal transitional period in his career as historian; he moved from his longtime office in Edmond Town Hall to a smaller room in the Municipal Center.
Zimmermann edited the interview material with Virginia resident Mary Maki, both of whom had worked together with Cruson before on the Newtown Oral History Project’s three previous volumes.
“Years ago, and independent of one another, Dan and I came up with the idea to do an oral history project in town. We teamed up with [former Newtown resident] Mary Maki, who transcribed the interviews, typed changes, created an index, and kept us organized and on track during that decade-long endeavor,” Zimmermann said. “Dan researched and added footnotes.”
Each time they wrapped up a volume, they would inevitably discover a new, fascinating person from town to interview that had not been featured. Lo and behold, that cycle would prove to happen once more; this time to highlight Cruson for a special fourth volume, where he was the sole subject.
“This oral history highlights Dan’s extraordinary contributions to our community as well as his views about the role history can play in each of our lives. It really is quite extraordinary,” Zimmermann details. “I feel privileged to have interviewed Dan and to once again have worked with Mary Maki to bring another oral history to the public in a highly readable format.”
She added, “Unlike the other oral histories, we decided to include my interview questions in the final presentation because they set up the framework for Dan’s responses.”
‘Lightning Rod’ For History
When Zimmermann initially approached Cruson to see if he would be interested in embarking on this project centered around him, he was not expecting it.
“[I was] very surprised — a little shocked even,” Cruson said in a phone interview with The Newtown Bee on March 18. “It never even occurred to me the possibility of doing that.”
In Newtown Remembered: An Oral History [of] Town Historian Daniel Cruson, he talks in-depth about how his interest in history, specifically archaeology, started from a very young age.
“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in history,” Cruson recalled, on page 22.
His father researched family genealogy and brought Cruson to visit archaeological sites with him as a boy.
When Cruson became a high school teacher, he wound up creating and teaching history and anthropology classes. He even got to bring students on real archaeological investigations for hands-on field experience.
His enthusiasm for history proved to spark his students’ own passions for the subject, and Zimmerman reported that more than two dozen of Cruson’s students went on to become professional archaeologists and professors of archaeology.
A self-proclaimed “lightning rod” for historical information, Cruson grew up in Easton and became vice president of the Easton Historical Society.
After moving to Newtown in 1970, he joined the Newtown Historical Society, where he has been a member for almost half a century. He was president for five years in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
Cruson came into the position of official town historian for Newtown in 1994 and had an office for many years in the Edmond Town Hall, with a large vault for his ever-growing collection of Newtown antiques and artifacts.
In the summer of 2018, Cruson had to move into his new office in the Municipal Center at the Fairfield Hills campus.
Throughout his tenure as official Newtown Historian — a title only he and Ezra Johnson (born 1832; died 1917) can claim — Cruson has gone as far as to purchase materials out of pocket to ensure items are properly archived. He understands the importance of preserving items he has helped recover, so future generations can enjoy and learn from them.
Cruson continues to remain active, working on historical projects, but admits that age has slowed him down some.
“I need to go into negotiations with God to let me finish my job here before I die,” Cruson said in the oral history, page 41.
Ultimately, even though he does not think someone will be stepping forward to fill both his and his predecessor Ezra Johnson’s shoes as official town historian anytime soon, he would like people to do their part to contribute however they can.
He hopes individuals will become historians of their own homes by investigating the buildings’ pasts and the people who lived there. To get started, he says, people can review the land records and pick up a pamphlet at the Town Clerk’s office that he made, which gives advice for researching information.
“My overall goal is to pass the burden onto someone else,” Cruson said with his usual deadpan humor. “My son [Benjamin] has taken a real interest in history and has been helping me up [at the office] with projects and writing. I’m hoping he’ll pick up part of the burden.”
All three of his children have been able to receive bound copies of Newtown Remembered: An Oral History [of] Town Historian Daniel Cruson as a personal memento of their father.
In its historic capacity, Cruson is happy to have the information he discussed written down and be available for people in the future to access.
“I have often looked at the first historian, sat down, and wondered who the guy was and tried to get to know more of him…” Cruson said about Ezra Johnson. “One of my hopes is, I guess, that for someone reading this many years down the road would simply look up and wonder, ‘Who is this guy?’”
While the book holds many answers to that question, Cruson ends his conversation with The Newtown Bee with words he wants people to take seriously: stop the development in town.
As Newtown historian, the constant changes have impeded on his ability to archive valuable information for generations to come.
Hand painted murals have been demolished, buildings have been torn down, items have been auctioned off, etc, — all before he could see them in person and do his due diligence to record them.
Cruson requests people contact him before these major changes, so he can do his part to preserve its history before it is gone forever.
Where To Read It
Newtown Remembered: An Oral History [of] Town Historian Daniel Cruson was a privately funded endeavor, according to Zimmermann.
It is comprised of an introduction, biography, interview, bibliography, and index, as well illustrated with photographs.
While there are no copies to be sold and no upcoming author programs planned, the full-copy can be accessed through the Newtown Historical Society’s website at http://newtownhistory.org/pdf/dan_cruson_oral_history_full.pdf.
A bound, hard-copy has been donated to the C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street, and will be available for the public to enjoy when the building is reopened. The town library is currently closed to the public to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, that has been reported globally and in Newtown.
Daniel Cruson currently does not have regular office hours at the Municipal Center, but appointments to meet with him can be made by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and providing a phone number.