Urban history online: Retro Metro OKC, Tulsa 1927

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Oklahoma City has a new museum. Retro Metro OKC was launched recently, an online archive of Oklahoma City history, devoted to making artifacts and images of the city's past more readily accessible to the public via the Internet. Its mission statement:

Retro Metro OKC is dedicated to educating the community and its visitors about local history by collecting, preserving, displaying and interpreting materials reflecting the heritage of Oklahoma City.

And from the "about us" page:

RetroMetroOKC was started in September, 2009 by a group of history enthusiasts wishing to better promote and tell the history of the greater Oklahoma City metro and to support and work with like-minded organizations whenever possible. We are dedicated to making history fun and accessible to all. The founding group consists of historians, authors, urban planners, attorneys, real estate professionals, videographers and designers with ages ranging from 17 to 70.

I see some familiar names on the founders' roster: Oklahoman reporter and blogger Steve Lackmeyer (president of the organization), Jack Money (reporter and co-author with Lackmeyer of two books on Oklahoma City history, and co-founder of okchistory.com), Doug Loudenback (who has singlehandedly created a great web resource on Oklahoma City history), urban planner Blair Humphreys.

A Retro Metro OKC press release (via Dustbury) explains how the collection will be built:

Retro Metro OKC operates differently from other organizations in that we have no museum, we have no physical collections, and in most instances the materials we display remain in private ownership. In a typical situation our volunteer crews go to a home or business to scan an owner's collection and the owner participates in the project by sharing information about the photos and documents as they are being scanned. The materials never have to leave an owner's possession -- the owner is simply asked to sign a release that allows for the materials to be displayed online.

The owner of such materials is given a disc of the digitized images and documents -- and copies also will be given to the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Metropolitan Library System to ensure they will be preserved for future generations.

This is exciting. It's a great way to collect and display historical information, and I look forward to seeing the collection grow. I'd love to be a part of such an effort here in Tulsa. So much material is already in the possession of the Tulsa Historical Society (photographs, ephemera, and artifacts, including the massive Beryl Ford Collect), the Tulsa Library system (vertical files, old government documents), INCOG (historical aerial photos and maps), the City of Tulsa (permits, ordinances, maps) -- but it needs to be digitized, categorized, and organized online in some form. The Retro Metro OKC folks were wise enough to realize that no one person, no one organization could tackle the job alone.

Nevertheless, I'm thankful for the all the local Tulsa history that is already available online. Tulsa Gal has been posting photos and ads from the Official Book of Tulsa in Pictures, a special publication for the 1927 International Petroleum Exposition and Tulsa State Fair. Her July archive contains all six parts of her Tulsa 1927 series.

Some of the most interesting aspects of these photos are the incidental details that are captured, details that would have been routine at the time, not noteworthy, but which are fascinating today. James Lileks calls this phenomenon "inadvertent documentary." For example: Go through the Tulsa 1927 posts and count how many times you see streetcar tracks, streetcar wires, or an actual streetcar.

Tulsa Gal also posts a regular photo trivia question on the Tulsa Historical Society Facebook page.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 19, 2010 5:10 PM.

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