The way it works is to choose a highway and watch for marker signs along the side of the road. A state highway is usually much more interesting than an interstate, and turnpikes are dismal for finding historical markers. Many of the markers are right off the road. You pull to the side, read the marker, take a picture, then pull back onto the road again. Those are okay, but my absolute favorites are the signs that say "Historical Marker" and then point down a side road. Those markers might be miles from the highway tucked into the corner of a farmer's field. You never know how long you should keep looking for the marker or give up and go back to the highway. It's easy to get lost, and you'll often find yourself on a gravel or dirt road before you've found a marker.
It was on this kind of explorations that I discovered the hidden power of Pokemon Go. It's not just a game, it's a high-powered research tool!
Don't laugh. I'm dead serious. I'm a trained professional historian, remember.
You've probably heard of Pokemon Go if you were alive during the summer of 2016. It's based on the Nintendo Pokemon games that were all the craze with the primary school set in the 1990s and early 2000s. The basic premise of the game is that your character walks around towns and fields and villages looking for little critters called Pokemon. You catch as many as you can, nurture them, and train them to battle each other at places called gyms. Pokemon Go takes the game into the real world, which means that you find Pokemon, gyms, and things called Pokestops (where you get the stuff you need to play the game) everywhere around you. It's a cross between the old Pokemon game and a fun geocaching tool. The interface looks like this:
All of those square pins are Pokestops, and the big red and white platform is a gym. The map is much like any standard GPS software. The streets are all there, buildings are shaded, and your character moves along the map in real-time. It's the real world overlaid by the Pokemon world.
Here's the kicker: Pokestops and gyms tend to be placed at interesting and unusual locations. One of the first apps Niantic created, long before Pokemon Go, was called Field Trip. It notifies you whenever you're near a historic landmark or interesting site. Another game that was influential to the Pokemon Go setup was called Ingress. Both of these games used real-life places of interest and incorporated them into the gameplay. When Niantic put together the map for Pokemon Go, they used the places that had been marked by Ingress players and Field Trip. You'll find Pokestops and gyms at almost any kind of statue, unusual building, plaque, mural, or other site of interest.
Now, historical marker hunting is exciting when you're hot on the trail of a hidden marker, it's plain boring most of the time. On our first trip out this summer, Maryanne had her phone with her and she was playing with the Pokemon Go world while we drove along the highway looking for marker signs. I found a sign and pulled onto a two-lane road into nowhere and started to scan the horizon when Maryanne laughed. She knew right where the monument was and she could tell me how to get there turn-by-turn. It was a Pokestop! We found more markers that afternoon than we ever would have found without this silly game. We never got lost. We even knew where the marker was supposed to be if it wasn't still standing.
Pokemon Go is the best historical marker and monument tool I've ever used. Who knew?