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Learning from @ahistorygeek

Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer relives history in spare time.


NEWS-TIMES/TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove Fire & Rescue's public information officer Dave Nemeyer with his son, Ben. Nemeyer has gained a loyal following on Instagram, where he posts  interesting historical facts and photos.A passion for reading about historical events through the lens of those who’ve experienced it firsthand has always been a passion for

Dave Nemeyer.

His father, a Vietnam-era veteran, kept a collection of military memorabilia. On rainy weekends, a young Nemeyer stayed indoors and spent his time flipping through books, wondering what the soldiers were feeling and what thoughts pervaded their minds during such intense conflict.

“By junior high, I was reading stories written by veterans, and it gave me this entirely new perspective on military history,” Nemeyer said.

To Nemeyer, and many others, those deeply personal stories were lost through lessons in school — they seemed to lose their way through the words of textbooks. He believed they weren’t told often enough.

Nemeyer works at Forest Grove Fire & Rescue as a division chief and the city’s fire marshal. He’s tasked with dealing with issues of teaching community safety, preventing incidents and administering the department’s Facebook and Twitter pages. But for the last two years, in his spare time, he’s been managing an entirely different social media page as a hobby.

“I got on Instagram, and I started sharing a lot pictures of plastic models I built — tanks, planes, you name it,” he said.

According to Nemeyer, there’s a tremendous amount of World War II history on the popular app. Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos and share them either publicly or privately with others.

His first post, dated Oct. 11, 2013, received 20 likes and three comments from others. Nearly three years and more than 3,000 posts later, Nemeyer’s Instagram page, @ahistorygeek, has a whopping 49,100 followers.  INSTAGRAM - Dave Nemeyer enjoys sharing bits of history with this Instagram followers.

“I post about historical stuff I think is interesting. I choose which facts I want to talk about,” he said.

Although the page originally started out featuring planes and tanks, Nemeyer expanded his topics and themes. For example, for the entire month of October — as a nod to Halloween — he’s dedicated his posts to horrific and spooky happenings.

One post this month details discoveries from archeological sites from long ago. People dug up skeletons with large stones stuffed in their mouths, which, according to Nemeyer, signified accusations of witchcraft from those who buried the bodies. On Labor Day, he posted historical pictures of people hard at work. INSTAGRAM - Dave Nemeyer enjoys sharing bits of history with this Instagram followers.

Nemeyer and his family — wife Aimee and their four sons — sometimes take field trips to graveyards and wander around the stones, examining them and trying to learn more about the people six feet under.

“I like old graveyards,” he said. “There’s value in the death story.”

Nemeyer loves writing, and most of his posts have fun and cool facts accompanying the pictures posted — things people normally wouldn’t go out of their way to find.

“I remember listening to my grandfather tell stories about working in mines, or my grandmother talking about seeing Babe Ruth on television,” Nemeyer said. “To be able to share and have conversations about history with people on this application is an incredible experience.”

It helps that he tries to spark conversation with strangers, a tactic he also uses on the fire department’s Facebook pages.

“We want to talk to people like they’re people. We’ve got a garden out front of the (fire) department, people can stop by for a cup of coffee. We try to make our social media presence community driven,” he said. “What good is a page like that if you’re not interacting?”

A connection to the stories

Sometimes, in education, students don’t necessarily get the full scoop. They’re fed statistics, grand events are condensed into a few chapters and personalized stories can get lost, Nemeyer said. He recalls holding the Purple Heart award of his great-uncle, who was killed in Guam in 1944 during the Pacific campaign. Soon, he was neck-deep in books from Amazon and Powell’s.

“It’s a lot like when people do their research on their own genealogies,” he said. “It’s like, you have an awareness of the stories, but after you look deep into these things, you have connections to them.”

Nemeyer tries to post to his followers once a day — and sometimes three or four times depending on the day (a holiday, for example, may net his followers some interesting stuff related to the event being observed). He tries to find things that are odd or unique, and he scours and cross-references information from databases, books and pictures to tell an accurate and engaging story.

He typically receives around 1,000 likes on a well-written one.

“With history, there are millions of things you can be interested in,” he said. “And you can be amazed at all the history you can find around you on a regular day.”

Nemeyer recently watched an old Western film featuring Woody Strode. He decided to look deeper into the actor’s background and found that Strode was one of the first African-Americans to play in the National Football League and that he married a descendant of Lili’uokalani, the last queen of Hawai’i before the violent overthrow by the United States in 1959 that led to the annexation of the independent nation.

“I want people to hop into these posts that I put up,” Nemeyer said. “I want them to discuss and converse, like they’re at a bar or sitting around a campfire.”INSTAGRAM - Screen grabs from Dave Nemeyers Instagram account, @ahistorygeek, range from military history to interesting facts about Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler.