New Media for Preservationists: STELLER

As preservationists, as people, sharing stories, photographs, and memories is an important part of how we communicate, commemorate, and connect. We seek to reach family members, friends, colleagues, strangers, and more. Living in the digital (or internet) age, we have so many options for sharing: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, cloud streaming, digital publications – it’s endless, really, and incredibly exciting. There is always something new right around the corner.

The newest story/photo sharing app is called STELLER. In a nutshell, you create mini-books with photos, text, and videos and then share them with the world. It reminds me of Instagram, but in a more published feeling. And the best part of this is that viewers do not need the app. You can send your story link to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, email or a text message. (Right now, this app is only available for Apple devices, so you can only make a STELLER story with the app on your Apple device. Hopefully that changes soon.)

My introduction to STELLER is entirely credited to Raina (@rainaregan on Twitter or @raiosunshine on Instagram). We love to talk social media and preservation and cats, and started to discuss the potential does an app like this hold for historic preservation?

A picture is worth 1,000 words, so they say; seeing is believing and understanding the words of preservation. An app that shares photographs is fun and connects people to one another socially, professionally, near and far. What can STELLER do? Education guides, travel guides, themes, marketing, just to name a few. Or, on a personal level, it can create memory books and offer stories and collections of a trip, an event, a day. Since it’s a brand new app, we’re just experimenting with it.

My first STELLER story is a collection of Vermont winter photos. Click here or on the image below.


And check out Raina’s first story about Indiana Courthouses. (She’s also one of the best Instagrammers out there, so follow her @raiosunshine.)


What do you think? Are you on STELLER? Is this just another social media photo fad, or do you see its potential? 

My Road to Preservation

Recently a reader asked me about the path that led me to historic preservation academically and professionally; how did I know that preservation was my calling? It’s an excellent question, I think. Typically, historic preservationist is not something you write for “When I grow up, I want to be _________.” Normally, it’s something more tangible to kids like a doctor, a teacher, a fireman, a baseball player, a singer, etc. While I do know a handful of people who declared “historic preservationist” early in their childhood or young adult life, I was not one of them by definition. So I thought for today I would share part of my path to preservation. Readers, please share your experiences in the comments or send a post to me.


Throughout elementary school, middle school, and much of high school, I wanted to be a writer; writing was what I truly loved and I planned to study creative writing or journalism in college. United States History claimed a close second in terms of favorites to my poetry and journalism classes. Until junior year of high school, my vocabulary did not include “historic preservation,” and yet (as cliché as sounds), when my mom came across the term “historic preservation” and showed it to me, something clicked in my head. Although I really didn’t know what it meant, historic preservation just sounded perfect. As I learned more about the Mary Washington program, I knew preservation and I fit together. Suddenly my constant questions about the history of buildings and towns and roads that we passed on our travels made sense; I would be able to study, investigate, and write about history and communities.

So that’s the very short version as to how I found myself stepping into the field of historic preservation (I could delve into childhood memories, but I’ll save it for another time). I never looked back. Why did I stay? How did I know it was meant for me, or rather, I was meant for it? Most importantly, I always believe in the ethics and the potential of historic preservation. For me, preservation is a way of life, a way of thinking, a code of social ethics and responsibility; it is not just my profession or my academic background.

More specifically, I think I have stuck with preservation due to the variety and range of applicability to so many fields. I have found myself working in the restoration department at Kenmore Plantation, conducting a three-year oral history project of Overhills, and currently working in the regulatory world. All facets of preservation stem from the same core values and lessons of historic preservation, with an underlying goal of improving quality of life by incorporating the past into the present and the future. Just look at recent changes in the approach to studying and applying historic preservation: the environment and local economies are very important allies. And by protecting and caring for community, regional, and cultural resources, the emphasis can be traced to the desire to not create Anywhere, USA.

Historic preservation is never boring; it is a field of hard work, discipline, thoroughness, communication, compromise, and optimism with a dash of reality. It is a field that allows us to research, write, and communicate about the important places and events, and how to incorporate those tangible and intangible elements into our lives.

Not everyone thinks about preservation or understands its meaning or benefits, but (based on my own observations) people seem inherently happier when they experience a subconscious feeling of history. Maybe it’s the architecture scale and massing or maybe it’s a sense of belonging and comfort, knowing that their surroundings have been shared with so many generations and people. Whatever the reason, a subliminal connection to the past goes a long way. Yet, historic preservation is not here to stop progress or to recreate the past, but instead it means to shape a better, brighter future and to save us from our quick-paced, of-the-moment society (which is nothing new).

This is why I am a preservationist: because I care to think like this. There will always be people who dismiss historic preservation and cannot recognize the field’s good work, but that is alright. Not all of us crunch complicated mathematical equations or cook a gourmet meal or cure illnesses, but we are all connected and can benefit from one another in some way. Being a historic preservationist is my contribution to this world, no matter which avenue of preservation work I travel.

Now, readers, why are you preservationists? How did you decide on the field? Did you find preservation or did it find you? Please share for those readers who may not be so sure. Perhaps your answers are more specific than mine.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of My Road to Preservation — next time talking about going the route of graduate school.

Spooky Neighborhood Folklore

Children tend to create stories in their social circles, often stories intended to scare their friends before daring them to touch the haunted house or look in  that window. Every group (whether societal or cultural) shares familiar stories, experiences, riddles, etc. – what we might call folklore. According to The American Folklore Society, folklore is defined as: the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. Many more definitions can be found on the website, with varying definitions that all add further depth the study of folklore.

Halloween seems like an appropriate holiday on which to discuss folklore, even though folklore goes far and beyond shared spooky tales of children.  Yet, the antics of children are included, so I’m going to share some of the tales from my neighborhood when I was in elementary and middle school.

The Witch’s House

A brown, dreary looking ranch house, just two houses past mine, had been unoccupied for a few months and it was starting to look rather creepy.  My good friend Sara and I would routinely sit on the edge of my neighbor’s property and peer through the hedges just to get a glimpse at the house. We wanted to get as close as possible without actually crossing the property line.

One gloomy, cloudy day, Sara and I decided to walk past the house.  She stopped me in the middle of the street and swore that she saw someone’s hand on the window sill. And then she saw something move!  Always easily scared, I believed her and we ran back to my house.  We were convinced that a witch lived in the house.

Sara had likely imagined her vision and exaggerated it because she knew that I would believe her, but I avoided that house thereafter.  This is the same friend who later told me she saw a ghost in my other neighbor’s window.

The Woods behind Norwood Avenue

Now the property is a gated community of town houses and swimming pools, but 15 years ago, the woods behind my elementary school yard were filled with garbage and the creepiest thing imaginable to my nine-year-old self.  These woods scared me so much that if I was at the school yard on a weekend with my sisters and we were swinging on the swings, I wouldn’t face my back to the woods.

Two of my friends, Elisabet and Amy, and I always played together at recess and we would often talk about how scary the woods were.  One day the girls told me that one of their brothers had actually gone into the woods.  And he saw all sorts of garbage.  But then, he saw a gun leaning against a tree and he was chased out of the woods!

The story has since faded from my memory (i.e. I’m finally over it), so the details are fuzzy, but the images of a gun and a psycho killer living in the woods hung in my imagination for a long time and I wished that I had never heard the story. I would never walk near the fence separating the school yard and the woods.

Elisabet and Amy either also found me very gullible or their brothers passed along an exaggerated, scary story to a couple of fourth graders.

Gun Shots

One winter afternoon, Sara and I were playing outside in the big maple tree in front of my house, which was a common activity for us. We heard noises that sounded like gun shots from far away.  (Of course, I didn’t really know what gun shots sounded like since I was growing up in a house full of girls who didn’t watch such things on television.  Regardless, we assumed the sounds were gun shots.)

We froze. Sara and I looked around, wondering what was happening.  Suddenly, Sara told me that she saw someone in a car parked on the side of the street.  And she said that she saw a gun.  (Sara had a wild imagination.)  So we didn’t move.  It felt like forever. We thought that if we just pretended to be part of the tree, then no one would see us. However, there were not any leaves on the trees and we probably had on brilliantly colored early 1990s jackets.

I think we spent most of our afternoon frozen in the tree.  I don’t remember how we finally convinced ourselves to go inside.

Sara was not an evil friend, just to clarify this. I think she just liked to pretend.  It’s probably caused some damage and can attributing to my distaste for scary movies, but it was always an adventure with Sara.

The Old Man’s House

Around the bend in my street, there is a house that has always been a mystery to my sisters and me.  It’s a large lot, mostly hidden by tall maple trees and large shrubbery, and barricaded from the public by a four foot chain link fence and a really tall mailbox. For the longest time, there was a hole in the roof and cats would come and go as they pleased, through the hole.  It often smelled like cat urine around that bend.  Occasionally I’d see a light through the window or the front door would be open just a crack.

Needless to say, it was spooky. Probably after years of gazing at the house as I passed on my bike or in the car, I finally saw a tall, skinny old man who lived there.  I asked my mom many questions. But what did he do? Where did he go?  Did he ever leave the house? Why did he have so many cats?

This man and this house is still a mystery to us, but the roof has since been replaced, following the tarp that protected it for a while.  However, it’s still a dark and hidden house with cats all around.

These stories are vaguely tied to folklore, but I do think it’s interesting to hear the stories that children tell each other and how these stories affect what they do.  I think it can be categorized as folklore because it can help to define a certain group (in this case children of one neighborhood) by how they play and what they believe.  I wonder if children younger than my friends and I believed the same stories, years later.

What do you think about the folklore of children? Should it be studied? Can it be studied? (Or has it been?)  Or am I off the mark? Please feel free to share your thoughts.

I’m still easily scared.

Happy Halloween!