BERLIN — Shirley Hailey came out of her back gate to find a small group of people wandering around in her side yard looking for a rain tree. She was sad to report the landmark tree had been taken away.
She and her husband Rex engaged a tree company to come by and take down a tree that was leaning precariously over their neighbor’s home and, for reasons that are still a little unclear, the tree people removed the golden rain tree instead.
After making her report Hailey headed ran back inside to fetch Rex who, she thought, could help find a similar tree on the Taylor House Museum property just across the street. While one of the party called upon museum curator Susan Taylor for help, Rex told the story of the twin trees.
The non-native trees were brought in from the Midwest as a present from Calvin B. Taylor, who at the time owned much of the land surrounding the museum, to his wife.
They were imported and planted near one another — it turned out they were just one road-width apart — and grew for decades before a careless chainsaw removed one of them.
Karen Muth, one of the people in the side yard made a note about the story. She, along with Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger, Berlin Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day, Berlin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Olive Mawyer, was in the process of editing the Berlin Walking Tour for reproduction and re-recording.
The group decided the best way to see what was accurate and what was less so was to take the tour and check the description against the experience.
The Berlin Walking Tour was initially and last recorded for use with the Sony Walkman. It contains phrases such as “Stop the tape here” and “To your left you will see a fine example of the Golden Rain tree in the side yard of number Two West Street”.
Since that initial recording, there have been several attempts to resurrect the tour that have met with limited success. When Jennifer Dawicki re-opened the Globe she invested in a couple of iPods, which were practically a brand new technology at the time, and uploaded the recording onto them.
More recently, an entrepreneur thought of combining the walking tour with even newer technology — the Segway personal transportation device — but the tours weren’t as successful as they might have been and the business folded.
The last 18 months, however have seen a significant increase in the number of people carrying iPod technology, including smart phones capable of playing digital audio files and even downloading or live streaming those files without having to be near a computer.
It seemed appropriate, then, that the files be made available for easier use but making a dated, inaccurate tour easier to access would do little to serve the town or its tourism interests.
When Muth approached Mawyer about making a walking tour for the town, she had no idea that one already existed. Maywer was open to the idea of having a tour professionally produced and got Challenger and Day involved, both of whom were excited at the prospect.
The tour, initially and still predominantly concerned with the town’s architecture was written by Ed Tourart, one of the region’s most respected historical architects. While the examples of architecture haven’t changed, many of the markers for them have. Trees have come down, local businesses have changed names or closed up altogether.
In addition to the logistics of the tour — whether “north” is a more appropriate description than “right” for example — Muth was concerned with color.
What she expects to bring to the Berlin Waling Tour is a level of professionalism worthy of the text. To that end, Muth will have other voice actors playing parts along the tour, reading facts and telling anecdotes in character in an effort to better bring Touart’s text to life.
Challenger said she hopes to have the tour ready for available download before the next tourist season and some of the finer points of the tour remain to be decided. Given the wide availability of technology and its potential for integration, there may be multiple options for download, from an audio-only file to one that includes photos, maps and other interactivity that takes advantage of the fact that both the town and the tour have come a long way since the days of the Walkman.