UP & DOWN THE RIVER: Michigan getting shout-outs on Twitter

By Kathleen Leavey

(The following is a reprint of an article originally published in the Lansing State Journal.)

On a recent morning, the photos posted on the Twitter feed Michigan’s Past included a moody, rainy take on Lansing’s Allegan Street, circa 1948, and a postcard from the early 1900s featuring gigantic winter squash.

Mason Christensen, its creator, has shared 14,000+ posts with the Twitter-verse over the past year.  Also among them: beautiful black-and-white pictures from the early 1940s of Michigan farm life, a news clipping from the defunct Kalamazoo Telegraph detailing the sad story of a boy who died after somehow being impaled by a cornstalk, and a nifty photo of a long-gone lumber mill on the Flint River.

Christensen, 27, who has a master’s degree in history, started his eclectic feed of photos and new tidbits last January because, well, no one else has one.  “There are these awesome Twitter feeds for other states,” Christensen said.  “I thought, ‘I can create a really great Twitter feed for Michigan.’”

The first week, he amassed about 100 followers.  Shout-outs from people across the Twitter-sphere helped boost that number quickly.  Michigan’s Past now has more than 6,000 followers and an average of 10 to 20 posts a day.  What Christensen posts depends on how he’s feeling.  “It really started as a kind of entertainment thing,” he said. “Whatever entertains me goes up.”

Christensen grew up in Delta Township and graduated in 2006 from Grand Ledge High School.  He received an undergraduate degree in history and geography at Pennsylvania State University.  He started a master’s degree in history at Western Michigan University, finishing it at Middle Tennessee State University last year.  His master’s thesis: a look at Nashville’s saloon history.

Christensen keeps Michigan’s Past vibrant by trying to fulfill content requests, theming content on certain days (for example, he recently highlighted Washtenaw County) and by seeking new sources of photos and clippings as he goes along.

Not all of these photo sources are based in Michigan.  For example, he has found a trove of Marquette-area mining pictures in an online archive created by the Colorado School of Mines, and Michigan resort photos and letters to Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb in a digital archive at the University of Alabama.

Asked how much time he spends on Michigan’s past, he chuckles. “Too much,” he replies.  “I spend a fair number of evenings on it.”

Michigan’s Past is on Twitter.com @MichiganHist and on Tumblr at michiganpast.tumblr.com.  Or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichiganPast.

Up and Down the River is sponsored by Artworks, a project partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities through Michigan Humanities Council. 

The Artworks office is located at 106 N. Michigan Ave., in Big Rapids. President is Alice Bandstra; Jennifer Locke, executive director; Pat Heeter, gallery team leader; and Cathy Johnson,
editor.

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