Whoa, this is heavy!

Users can upload vintage photos and overlay them on to Google Maps and Google Street View with Historypin

Flashback to the past: it’s 1985 and the blockbuster time-travel fantasy film which propelled Michael J. Fox into stardom is in theaters whisking audiences back to 1955. A brash teenage California skateboarder named Marty McFly is accidentally warped back in Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown’s plutonium-powered DeLorean “time machine.” Stuck in the fifties, Marty must make find a way to save the slightly wacky scientist from being gunned down and make certain his teenage parents-to-be meet and fall in love – so he can get Back to the Future

Director Robert Zemeckis’s  wittily orchestrated scenes depict the dissimilarity of life in the mid-fifties with the mid-eighties through everyday situations as when Marty tries unsuccessfully to hand-twist off the cap of a soda bottle in 1955 which actually requires a bottle opener. Remember them? More contrasts follow including cultural references to Darth Vader, Ronald Reagan, changing clothing and music styles, and others.

Your picture and story posts contribute toward a virtual global time-traveling map

Flash forward: it’s June 2010, and a new British website launches called Historypin which promises the same exhilarating time tunnel rush to history buffs by allowing users to pin vintage photographs on a huge virtual map of the world. The stated goal of its founders is for Historypin to “ become the largest user-generated archive of the world’s historical images and stories.”

This temporal experiment, however, requires no plutonium-powered DeLorean. Instead it is fueled by the posting of photographs from the global community. And images contributed by average people are just as desirable as the famous iconic photos from various image archives. Anyone can contribute, and that is the reason for this column—to convince you to contribute your historic pictures and stories, particularly those about Riverton. 

Historypin is unique from other photo sharing sites in that it matches vintage images and stories which one uploads to the site and combines them with Google Maps and Google Street View.  The result is an interactive world map which one not only navigates between the points in space, but it quite amazingly layers the antique images which are uploaded onto modern Street Views, thus providing the user with the unique ability to view places as they have changed through time—no flux capacitor required.

Contributors pin their pictures and stories to Google Map locations

The aptly named video clip, “Intro to Historypin–90 seconds of everything you need to know” will serve as a kind of Cliff’s Notes on the philosophy of Historypin and its instructional manual. A larger resolution video can be seen on YouTube

Over 31,000 photos and stories have been pinned on the site since its inception eight months ago. I was the first to upload any images for Burlington County, and that posting doubled the quantity for all of New Jersey—at least for now. Please help to better represent our geographic area to this interactive world map by contributing pictures, stories, or both to what is sure to become an invaluable historical resource. 

The members of the social movement We Are What We Do (http://www.wearewhatwedo.org/) started Historypin in order “to get different generations talking more, sharing more and spending more time together.”  Those of you who are blessed with high-speed Internet and the requisite hardware, software, and skill set with which to navigate it, might connect with someone possessed of a remarkable memory who owns an old photograph album or a shoebox of vintage postcards and collaborate with them in order to get some pictures posted. If you are one who has photos, but needs assistance with the scanning and computer aspects, please contact me and I’ll see what I can set up in order to help you.

Take a virtual drive through today's Riverton as you pause to note how places have changed thorough time

Even if you cannot post any pictures or stories, it is a cool site to browse. Those of you who have not actually seen Riverton in awhile may find a virtual drive around the borough to be… well, re-memorable, to coin a word. Once you get the knack of pointing your mouse cursor along the road and clicking to “drive,” you’ll find that you can maneuver around town, in addition to visiting locations with photos.

For example, start at the photo of Stiles Drug Store at 606 Main Street. Choose “View in Street View” and click and drag the mouse cursor so that you turn and head down Main Street. When you get to Main and Broad you may choose to continue along Main all the way toward the river, or drive toward Palmyra, or Riverside. I put photos in all three places as well as in Moorestown. Look for postings for the username JRZ_History. 

Not all roads are available to be “driven” in Street View, but your pictures can be pinned to map locations, nonetheless. So look through your old scrapbooks and please help fill in the map with more pictures and stories about the people, places, and events to which they are connected. You can upload photos from anywhere and anyplace, not just Riverton—a vacation spot, birthplace, a location shown in your grandmother’s photo album, etc. 

Although the site is still in its early days, the mind reels at the implications for the use of such a tool and its potential for bringing together people to collaborate on discovering and preserving our history from wherever they might be viewing this. To quote Marty McFly, “Whoa, this is heavy!” Let’s make some Riverton history together.—John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor

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John McCormick

Teacher at Riverton School 1974-2019, author, amateur historian, Historical Society of Riverton Board Member 2007-2023, newsletter editor 2007-2023, website editor 2011-2023

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