How One Okla­homan Gave Us Back Our His­to­ry

CL HARMON

History Lesson

I have this vivid mem­o­ry while in junior high school of sit­ting in a class­room with oth­er stu­dents my age and feel­ing the bore­dom in that room as being suf­fo­cat­ing. Or maybe I was hop­ing that some­one would put a pil­low over my head and suf­fo­cate me to end the bore­dom. Either way, you get my point…It was a snooze fest! Back to my mem­o­ry though, this old man, who must have been in his six­ties, was ram­bling on about some world his­to­ry event in a monot­o­ne voice out of a big text­book. I don’t recall what it was, but I do remem­ber think­ing why is this old guy read­ing that from the book. I mean, hell he is old enough, Why not just tell us about his life in his own words? So I thought at the time any­way. But, I was onto some­thing. As I grew old­er, I did cul­ti­vate a love of his­to­ry and remem­bered lat­er as an adult how fas­ci­nat­ing it would have been if that old man had told his class about his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ences through­out his own life. Or at least weaved the his­to­ry he was a part of into the his­to­ry that he wasn’t involved. If my math is cor­rect as to his age, this means that he would have been a child dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, prob­a­bly fought in WWII, wit­nessed the Kore­an and Viet­nam Wars, the tumul­tuous six­ties gen­er­a­tion and its Civ­il Rights Move­ment, JFK assas­si­na­tion and the Nixon res­ig­na­tion, among count­less oth­er his­tor­i­cal events. Why was this foun­tain of his­to­ry spout­ing out bor­ing bits of infor­ma­tion from a book when he could have been shar­ing real-life his­tor­i­cal accounts?

Pho­tos from For­got­ten Okla­homa Group on Face­book

Find­ing Fla­vor In Tech­nol­o­gy

I would ven­ture to guess that there were oth­ers like me who thought the same, many of whom left high school with dis­taste for his­to­ry. For­tu­nate­ly though and as tech­nol­o­gy advanced, his­to­ri­ans began to rec­og­nize a need to record his­to­ry from the peo­ple who lived it through doc­u­men­taries. This renewed inter­est as peo­ple was able to hear real-life accounts of actu­al bat­tles, human expe­ri­ences of pain and tri­umph and become emo­tion­al­ly involved in the expe­ri­ence. As tech­nol­o­gy pro­gressed even fur­ther into the social media soci­ety of today, peo­ple like Amy Hedges of Cleve­land, Okla­homa got involved. Not only did she just get involved, but she has also brought 60,000 oth­ers along with her to be a part of it as well.

I remem­ber when I got my first 500 likes, I freaked out! Holy cow there are 500 peo­ple who like what I am doing,”

Hedges said. She was refer­ring to her Face­book page For­got­ten Okla­homa. Like many of us, she was dis­en­chant­ed with her expe­ri­ences in his­to­ry class­es and did not ini­tial­ly have a great inter­est in the sub­ject. What she did have though was a love of pho­tog­ra­phy and old hous­es. These inter­ests cul­mi­nat­ed in a large col­lec­tion of pho­tos of old homes through­out Okla­homa; her father con­vinced her to post them on Face­book. Appre­hen­sive at first think­ing no one else would be inter­est­ed, she final­ly set up the page and began post­ing.

Getting History Rolling

Fol­low­ing this mile­stone, Don Tay­lor of Ral­ston joined in and began post­ing too. He is a Pawnee Coun­ty his­to­ry enthu­si­ast and has a large col­lec­tion of state his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ra­bil­ia which he felt fit nice­ly with what Hedges was doing. Tay­lor had set in motion a prac­tice of vol­un­tary sub­mis­sions into play, and sud­den­ly they were com­ing in from all over the state. Hedges explained that it was ini­tial­ly only aban­doned hous­es, but when Tay­lor began post­ing old pho­tos of oth­er objects and peo­ple, it start­ed to take on a life of its own.

We were real­ly rolling on this deal! Word got out, and more peo­ple were send­ing in pho­tos want­i­ng me to repost them. I had so many that it was out of con­trol,” Hedges said. She had struck a vein and hit a gush­er it seemed. Try­ing to keep up was becom­ing a full-time job. She want­ed everyone’s sub­mis­sions to get expo­sure, but it was over­whelm­ing to keep up with the flow. She thought chang­ing the page into a group would help. At this point, she had 20,000 peo­ple on her page. She said many peo­ple were con­tact­ing her by mes­sen­ger ask­ing why their pho­tos had not been shared. She had a year back­log and was work­ing to get post­ed.

The group idea seemed like less work because peo­ple could post their own pho­tos and mem­o­ries. As with most things in life, it was, and it wasn’t. New prob­lems arose such as peo­ple want­i­ng to post entire fam­i­ly pho­to albums or just pho­tos of the state with no his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. This led to the need for more new rules, guide­lines and page admin­is­tra­tors. How­ev­er, Hedges dealt with each new issue, and the group con­tin­ued grow­ing. In fact, she even expand­ed out­side of cyber­space and orga­nized “group meet-ups” every few months which are field trips to his­tor­i­cal places. These meets give mem­bers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet and share per­son­al his­to­ries.

Also, the group sells mer­chan­dise, sell­ing t‑shirts and cal­en­dars and then donates part of the pro­ceeds to muse­ums in need of repairs.

I am still flab­ber­gast­ed every day. It’s crazy! I nev­er imag­ined that it would get so big.

From Snooze To Schmooze

I am still flab­ber­gast­ed every day. It’s crazy! I nev­er imag­ined that it would get so big. And hon­est­ly, we are grow­ing so fast that we have almost one hun­dred requests per day to join. And our engage­ment lev­el in the group is so high, it’s unbe­liev­able. When I checked recent­ly, we had 253,000 engaged,” Hedges said. She also receives fan mail. She said that peo­ple mail her cards telling her how much the site has touched their lives and the dif­fer­ence she is mak­ing. In some cas­es, mem­bers have even con­nect­ed with fam­i­ly mem­bers they didn’t even know they had. She is in awe as to how many peo­ple have con­nect­ed through the group and became friends. Many of these peo­ple have become such good friends that they take “For­got­ten Okla­homa vaca­tions” where they trav­el and take pho­tos for the site, she said.

Hedges said what she loves most about the group is that it gets peo­ple excit­ed about his­to­ry and com­pels them to research their own fam­i­ly his­to­ries. It encour­ages them to take the bore­dom out of his­to­ry and brings the old mun­dane pages of a text­book to a liv­ing breath­ing his­to­ry. Hedges and her group mem­bers have tak­en the next step in the evo­lu­tion of learn­ing his­to­ry. They have tak­en the tra­di­tion­al snooze­fest of old and turned it into a vibrant schmooze­fest for any­one who wish­es to under­stand the peo­ple who made Okla­homa his­to­ry. So for­get about the Okla­homa class that killed off your inter­est in his­to­ry and become revived with the For­got­ten Okla­homa that has brought the sub­ject back to life.

Check it out Here

Pho­to from For­got­ten Okla­homa Group on Face­book

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