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Kentucky by Heart: ‘Old Photos’ Facebook pages offer nostalgic look back at people and places

A while back, I came across a cool Facebook group page called Old Photos of Northern Kentucky. I immediately got hooked and now visit the site frequently, often posting, my columns there. I see it as an especially “cool” and enjoyable site because the nostalgic images, captions, and individual postings are remembrances of growing up in the area in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s. Community mixtures of the urban, like Covington and Newport, and small towns like Alexandria, Cold Spring or rural scenes from the area are the norm on Old Photos.

Summit Hills Country Club in Crestview Hills circa 1929 (Photo from Chuck Eilerman)

Just recently, for example, a posting transported me back to visions of the carnage of the 1968 Falmouth tornado, where houses in various parts of Pendleton County were leveled and four people died. I recall our family making a quick 30-minute trip from our Claryville home to survey the damage, as we had friends there and were quite familiar with the area. The photos were vivid remembrances.

Often, places like Burlington, near where I was a YMCA counselor at Camp Ernst, or the old Lookout House, where I attended my first Campbell County High School prom, are brought alive as they appear on the site. These examples and hundreds of others help me relive stirring episodes from my long ago past… and fortunately, most are met with an enjoyable grin rather than a sense of trauma.

I’m not the only person who enjoys the Old Photos group site. It has more than 22,000 members and only started back in 2014. That fact spurred me to contact Eddie Donlin, of Southgate, who started the venture, and his mother, Billie Donlin, Florence, who is the current administrator. We met at Skyline Chili on Carothers Road, in Newport, just a few hundred yards away from the old Newport Shopping Center, a frequent subject of postings and a place my family often patronized in the 1960s.

Henry Strebel Farm in Foster circa 1909 (Photo from Kenton County Public Library)

“I started working on my genealogy because I didn’t really know who my family was, and I had all these photos and didn’t know where they were from,” said Eddie, who is an employee of Ohio National Financial Services. He knew his family was from the northern Kentucky and Cincinnati area, so he posted them on Facebook hoping to get some useful feedback about their locations. He received an amazing response, both in volume and quality. Many were detailed remembrances, and obviously heartfelt.

At that, Old Photos of Northern Kentucky was started; it was to be a social media spot that, according to Eddie, he hoped would be illuminating, enjoyable, and serve to “bring people together” in good conversation about, for example, “places people went to eat in the ‘60s” and the like. Membership soon grew by thousands, and for the reasons he figured. But human nature has its edgy side, and some posters used it as a forum for political rants, foul language, and personal attacks. “People would go nuts, and I had to block people. All it takes is one bad comment to derail a great conversation,” he noted.

Learning by looking at other similar sites, he soon developed page guidelines for acceptable behavior, and that helped a lot. Then, because Eddie had a huge number of Cincinnati images, he started another group called Old Photos of Cincinnati. Today, the Cincinnati site has north of 75,000 members.

Billie and Eddie Donlin (Photo provided)

When spare time diminished because of family obligations, Eddie handed off the administrator responsibilities for the Northern Kentucky site to his mother. A friend now administers the Cincinnati. Billie, who now also handles the happy chore of babysitting granddaughter Emily, had a nice jump start way of moving the site forward: “I started posting things from the Kenton County Library,” she said. “that made things easier. Old Photos of Northern Kentucky is a really positive site, and people tell me ‘Thank you for bringing back memories that I haven’t had forever.’ I don’t have to do a lot of posting anymore because people are (already) posting.”

I asked Eddie for some pointers for others who’d like to form a similar site on social media. He emphasized the need to first get some original photos to post and to start slowly. “Don’t post all at once,” he said. “Put one out there and invite people…then, a few days later, post another.” It’s also important to “keep the pictures relevant,” meaning that you might share them more than once or twice…”even though it’s boring to you.” That’s because not all viewers, depending on when they look at the site, will see particular enticing images unless they recycled some. “Make rules from the beginning about what they talk about,” he said.

Besides the two Old Photos pages, Eddie started three others that are still running, specifically related to his love of genealogy. They are: U R Cuzin; Tristate Genealogy Connection; and Cincinnati Area Cemeteries.

Billie sees the endeavor as one that helps brings special people of many years past to renewed interest. “I posted a picture of a man in Covington who owned a ‘dime store,’” she said, “and every time I post it (again), I get 300 ‘likes’ immediately.”

Both Eddie and Billie especially liked a video sent their way that shows a woman in the 1980s narrating a roll of camera film shot in 1926 that a family connection. Here it is for your enjoyment. Those were the days, weren’t they?

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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