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Sharing Stories of Durham

Each with their own project, Duke employees highlight Durham people, places

In a city of about 250,000, full of restaurants, museums and local landmarks, Duke’s faculty and staff have a unique way of seeing Durham through its people and places. 

Many employees find reasons to immerse themselves in the Bull City during their afterhours, finding ways to share a unique point of view of how they see and celebrate Durham. 

“There’s something about listening to a person’s story from a community that makes that world real and valid,” said Jenny Morgan, senior program coordinator for communications with the Office of Durham and Regional Affairs and co-founder of Audio Under the Stars, a summer-long audio festival that highlights stories of Durham and its people. “It’s a way to say ‘we’re all part of this community.’”

Of course, Morgan isn’t the only one working to highlight Durham.

Low Bridge, Everybody Down

Jurgen Henn poses in front of the bridge he's made famous by filming trucks who don't obey the traffic signs. Photo courtesy of Jurgen Henn.

Each video Jurgen Henn posts online starts the same. It’s a shot of the bridge hanging over the intersection at West Peabody and South Gregson streets. Cars pass underneath. Tension builds. The camera zooms in.

Then the top of a truck – industrial, flatbeds and even ones used for moving – slams into a trestle crash beam hanging 11 feet and 8 inches above the pavement, often sheering off the top of the vehicle, leaving drivers embarrassed, but unharmed, Henn said.

Listen closely and you’re bound to hear passersby gasp in disbelief. 

“There are so many people engaged with this project,” said Henn, an IT manager at the School of Medicine who runs, a website where he’s archived all 104 collisions at the bridge over seven years. “There’s a community aspect to it.” 

The videos have amassed millions of views and even drawn attention from The Wall Street journal and CNN. Henn started the project as a way to collect data on crashes to share with the city and state Department of Transportation, but quickly found a wide audience around the country and world. He captures footage from a camera, which overlooks the bridge, and a secondary camera at Morgan Imports.

“I wouldn’t say the work is important,” Henn admitted with a chuckle. “It’s something that happened to put Durham on the map in a unique way,”

Showcasing ‘Inseparable’ Communities

Eighth graders from Durham Public Schools visit Duke campus during the annual School Days event. Photo courtesy of David Stein.

When it comes to celebrating the people of Durham, David Stein likes to make a connection between local residents and Duke.

Stein, the senior educational and PepsiCo program coordinator for the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, helps lead an annual event known as “School Days,” which brings 300 eighth graders from Durham Public Schools to Duke campus each November, immersing young students in the college experience. It’s a way to not only share Duke with local youth, but also introduce students, faculty and staff to community members they’d otherwise not have the chance to meet. 

“Duke and Durham are inseparable – we’re one community,” Stein said. “We should make it the norm and not the exception to find ways to cross over between the two.”

It’s an effort Stein has helped push for 16 years, trying to create strong relationships between the people he serves at Duke and the city he loves in Durham. Stein finds other ways to share Durham. For example, last year, Stein helped organize an effort Durham Public School students to write and self-publish a book about former Duke profession and historian John Hope Franklin.

“This kind of interaction enriches all our lives,” Stein said. “When you share these stories of the city and its people, it enriches us all.”

Listening and Learning

Duke and Durham community members gather for an Audio Under the Stars listening session. Photo courtesy of Jenny Morgan.

Of course, telling the stories of Durham comes in all forms, which is what led Morgan, the senior program coordinator for communications with the Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, to launch Audio Under the Stars in 2014. Now in its third year, the seasonal program uses audio stories to highlight topics like love or scary stories.

At each event, listeners gather at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, where they listen to recorded stories from local residents, recorded by residents and sometimes Duke employees who volunteer as oral historians at the Museum of Durham History.

“It can be a neat way to uncover some of Durham’s history and think about what it used to be like,” Morgan said. “It gives context that may not be inherently apparent in if you live in Durham now.” 

This summer, listeners will get to hear local residents tell stories about unexpected journeys, tales of mischief and misfortune and labor and leisure. Each piece is no longer than eight minutes and offers a range of emotions.

“There’s a lot of value in knowing the background and people of the place you’re living,” Morgan said. “Collecting these stories and sharing them offers a way to connect.”