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Bringing Dallas' Past Into the Present

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How do you acclimate the olds to Facebook and MySpace? The Dallas Historical Society is about to find out. Because for the past decade, the organization has culled written history from Dallasites who remember the city when Central Expressway was still the Houston and Texas Central tracks. Many of these folks contributed on the Society’s online message board, which provided the inspiration for the My Hometown project, a kind of local encyclopedia of Dallas' pre-strip mall era. But now, with more than 70,000 posts on the outdated system, the message board may collapse before DHS staff can turn the wealth of information into a book or an electronic collection.

To fix the problem, Dealy Campbell, the society’s Education and Public Programming Coordinator, recently created accounts on Facebook and MySpace, urging her most robust contributors to post on the networking sites their children and grandchildren use.

“We are in this no man’s land, and we need get them used to using a new form,” Campbell tells Unfair Park. But the going hasn’t been easy.

The two sites are, after all, populated by whippersnappers with little, if any, historical memory of Dallas. Still, she’s managed to amass 13 touching stories from the elderly on the Facebook site, including gems like this:

Born at Baylor Hospital in Dallas December 5,1923, my earliest recollection is living at 3302 So. Harwood (a dirt street) across from Colonial Hill Elementary School. The school kindergarten was a free-standing 1-story building across the street from our home. Our phone number was 4-7070.

In the summer there were free outdoor movies on the school grounds in the evening. My favorite was a cartoon where a little character jumped out of an ink bottle at the beginning and returned to the bottle at the end. Also , during election times , political campaigners would hold rallies on the school grounds and give out free watermelon or ice cream.

A railroad was right in our back yard (now known as Central Expressway). Kids entertained themselves sliding on the railroad’s embankment on flattened cardboard boxes.

And this:

Growing up in Dallas in the fifties was a carefree time. My family lived in the apartments and duplexes on Hudnall and Hedgerow near Lemmon and Inwood.

We spent Saturday afternoons at the Delmann Theater kid show. I would walk alone with no fear on Lemmon towards King's Ave where the theater was located. The now historic Prince of Hamburgers stood alone across Lemmon Avenue. There was a rose garden with plaques in braille, and I would slide my fingers over the Braille and try to imagine what it would be like to only smell, not see the flowers. I never rushed nor looked over my shoulder.

Campbell says that the Dallas Historical Society will create a new Web site in November, with plenty of space for the message board devotees to continue posting as she figures out what form the My Hometown project should take. Until then, she encourages everyone to continue posting on Facebook and MySpace. This way, Dallas' history won’t disappear -- into cyberspace, anyway. --Naomi Zeveloff

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