Geneva’s History On Facebook

August 23rd, 2013

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

Last fall we claimed a Facebook page for ourselves and I began posting old photos of Geneva. It started off slowly – the key to building a following is posting something every day – but at this writing we have 724 “likes” and have an average of 4,000 unique visits a week.

It’s a lot of work to gather information about people who visit our museum, but with social media, the work is done for us. Facebook tracks statistics on all the people who visit our page (and this is why many people are uncomfortable with the Internet).

We have more women than men, about 65% to 35%. Agewise, it’s a classic bell curve with 45 to 54-year-olds in the center. The next two largest groups are 35 to 44-year-olds, and 55 to 64-year-olds. Our biggest audiences are in Geneva and surrounding towns and cities, but we also have followers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy, Turkey, and India.

I don’t have a system for selecting photographs. I began with images that were already scanned and on my computer. While many were from the 1870s, I included scenes from the 1940s and 50s. I also recognized that not everyone has the same interests and tried to appeal to a wide audience. And I’ve resorted to letting my nine year old son pick photos (more on that in a moment).

Facebook is like high school: if you become a little popular, you want to become more popular. At first I was thrilled with 200 people clicking on a photo, then I wanted more numbers. People liked photos of bars (Cosie’s) and bands (Wilmer and the Dukes, the Echomen). They also like food; the lunch counter at McCurdy’s, and Pronti’s restaurant each had well over 2,000 views.

My son came to work with me recently and wanted a project. I handed him a three-ring binder full of slides and told him to pick some that I should post. He chose Kmart and Pudgie’s Pizza. I didn’t think they were special but, humoring the lad, I put them on. Kmart generated over 2,500 views, 150 likes, and about 50 comments; Pudgies Pizza did almost as well.

After a few months, people began writing me with requests, which I fill if I can. A “white whale” is a bar owned by the Venuti family on the corner of Railroad Place and Wadsworth Street known as “the Old Man’s.” I’ve had many requests but can’t find an image. One woman pointed out the lack of people of color in my photos, and I’ve addressed that, although they are underrepresented in our collection. Another said she was born in 1970 and, while she enjoyed all the photos, she’d like to see more when she was growing up. Apparently she wasn’t alone, as shown by the thousands of people who remember Kmart and Pudgies’ in the 1970s.

A group of boys sitting on steps wearing caps and holding mitts, a bucket and a bat.

Baseball club from the High Street neighborhood

Posting these photos achieve several things at once. It gets our collection out into the world. It creates interest in the historical society. It also starts conversations and connects people. The best photos are the ones that make people share memories, then they go off-topic (which is a good thing), then they see that a high school friend left a comment and begin reminiscing with each other.

We all have aspects of our jobs that aren’t what we signed up for, such as paperwork or committee meetings. Selecting a Facebook photo is the best ten minutes of my day because it’s exactly why I wanted to work in a museum – to make history accessible and personal and to spark conversation.

If you, or a family member, have a Facebook account, search on Historic Geneva to find our page. You can see everything we have posted so far, and click “Like” to receive updates.

Tagged With: