Have you found something that was small and unnoticeable from the outside but you find high historic value in that you want to document on it? It could be a ghost town, abandoned church, a historic bridge that is closed or even a historic site that is open but doesn’t receive enough attention to get any notice? How would you document it: in print form, video, online, or a combination of the mentioned items? History is an underrated commodity where even the most popular places are sometimes ignored and hidden jewels that have high historic value are forgotten- buried under a pile of dirt representing time, until someone discovers it and want to talk about it.
Someone like Satolli Glassmeyer, the creator of History in Your Backyard (HYB). Launched in 2014, HYB is an online portal where videos on artefacts of the past can be found, be it abandoned school houses and churches, memorials commemorating history or in this case, historic bridges, which are disappearing in vast numbers every year. Much of the coverage has been between Chicago and Cleveland, for Mr. Glassmeyer originates from Cincinnati, Ohio and spent much of his childhood visiting many spots in the vicinity (and later beyond).
But how was HYB conceived and how successful has it been since its launch? The Chronicles did an interview with Mr. Glassmeyer and found out some interesting details about HYB and the direction it’s going in the future. Here’s what I found out about him and HYB’s successes. Please note that some video examples from HYB are included for you to watch.
- I wanted to start off by asking you what motivated you to starting this video program?
This is kind of a long story but here we go….When I was a teenager back in the mid 1970s I had zero interest in history such as the War of 1812 or the Magna Carta. However I was a huge bicycle enthusiast riding my bike at least 10 miles a day and then typically doing 75-100 mile bike rides on a Saturday or Sunday. My longer weekend trips would take me through small towns where I began to fall in love with the buildings and bridges constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I was fascinated with what was built back then and with what little they had to work with compared to the modern construction equipment that we have today.
When I was 18 I bought my first car, a 1970 AMX which was also another passion of mine. About a year later I formed an AMX club in the greater Cincinnati area which eventually included 20-25 owners of these unique automobiles. We would get together once a month and have events for the club. Some of the “older guys” in their 30s and 40s taught us younger guys how to do “road rallies” which is basically a scavenger hunt using an automobile. Once again I fell in love with the road rally concept and did quite a few for the club as a hobby until I turned it into a business in the late 1990s called Scenic Road Rallies. With the rallies, I found that I was able to take my passion for fast automobiles and combine it with my passion for historic structures. In the direction packets that I handed out for each road rally event I included a few short lines about each historic building the teams would pass or each bridge they would cross over.
The teams enjoyed the short history lessons but asked for more information on these sites. Information that they could use on their own time without having to do a road rally event. So in 2011 I began producing driving booklets that I sold which were basically guided road tours spelling out in detail (With pictures) all of the historic buildings and bridges along the route. I put myself on a strict schedule of producing one driving tour booklet a month until after 2 years I had accumulated a small 24 volume library of tour guides.
Unfortunately the booklets didn’t sell as expected. A couple of friends pointed out that people don’t read much anymore and videos now seem to be the way most people get their information. I gave it some thought, then when out and bought a cheap video camera, named my new company History In Your Own Backyard and went off to document the forgotten historic structures in the region. That’s basically how we arrived at this point in time.
- How are your historic places selected? Based on personal visit, personal request or both?
Since this is a business, I typically don’t choose the site, the client makes the selection be it a church, a bridge or a cemetery. If I have time after the clients shoot, I will go out and film other obscure sites such as bridges that I’m sure no client will pay for yet needs to be documented for future generations.
- What is all involved in the filming process?
It’s a fairly involved process to film a site. I have a check list of 29 points that need to be addressed to get a video from start to finish. Beginning with discussing the potential project with the sponsor to contacting the local newspaper after the video is released so that they can write a story about the video project.
- How do you collect the information on your historic artifact?
This is basically the sponsors responsibility. However if I am doing a video on a site of my choosing, the research process can entail online searches, books, personal interviews, etc. Each project is different when it comes to an information source and history is always muddy. No matter how much research you do, once the video is produced, someone will say “you’re wrong”. So you just have to do your best and keep an open mind that not everything you read or see is accurate.
- Many videos on bridges are between a half hour and an hour. Yours are between 3-5 minutes on average, with some being only 10 minutes. Why so short?
Good question! My video style is much different from traditional videos.
Everyday around the world we lose historic buildings and bridges to fire, flood, storms, neglect, progress, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, etc. Nothing lasts forever and it’s important to me to document these structures as quickly as possible before they are lost forever. My goal is to produce 10,000 documentaries before I die. Right now I have about 420 documentaries completed which means even if I produce a documentary every day from here on out, I still have over 26 years of work ahead of me. I’m 62 now so I’m basically running out of time here.
I produce short documentaries for a couple of reasons:
One is that statistically speaking most people who watch a video on YouTube (Where all of my videos are featured) only watch about 4 minutes of a video before they click off and move on to the next selection. If you produce a relatively short video you have a better chance of having the video completely viewed to the end and a better chance of having the viewer share that video with their friends and family. Longer videos are rarely watched completely and it’s even rarer for them to be shared. The whole idea behind my project is to get as many eyes on these videos as possible so that people will sit up and take notice of these structures and possibly save them for future generations. My videos are not designed to be entertainment but rather peak peoples interest so that they get in their car and go out to look at the site.
Video production isn’t cheap and is very time consuming. When it comes to my videos, for every one minute of video you see, it takes about 1 hour of research, shooting video and editing to complete the job. So a 5 minute video may take about 5 hours while a 30 minute video could take 30 hours or more.
Secondly, I’m trying to do this project as cheaply as possible so that anyone who wants a video can afford it. I produce these videos at about 1/3 the going rate of a typical video production company. Mainly because I have very little overhead, a small crew and I’m pretty damn good at keeping costs down. I charge between $399.00 and $1899.00 to produce a video depending on the site, location and needs of the client.
A 50 minute long documentary you might see on PBS can take years to produce using an army of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know someone that produced a documentary for PBS using just grants. The documentary turned out great but took 5 years to make and over $120,000.00. I personally don’t have the time to mess around for 3, 4 or 5 years to produce one indepth video.
I know of a tourism bureau who had a local TV station produce a 60 second video on the sights and sounds of their town. The project cost them $6,000.00 ($100.00 per second) and all they received was a DVD of the project. It was never shown on TV. It was for their own personal use. Not many of my clients have $6,000.00 to spend on a 60 second video so that’s where I come into play with a decent quality video at a very reasonable price which will be viewed by thousands of people.
- Aside from Youtube, how are your videos published?
Yes, my videos can be found on YouTube under the History In Your Own Backyard channel. All of those videos are linked to my website database where the videos are broken down by State/County/Town and also include a map to show the location of the site. (By clicking onto the two highlighted links, you will be redirected to their respective sites) All of the schools in the county where the video was shot and all of the schools in the surrounding counties are sent a link to the video so that the history teachers can share it with their students. All of the mayors and council members in the county where the video was shot and all of the council members in the surrounding counties are sent a link to the video so that they can share it with their residents. The video is placed on a Google Maps page where you can click on any of the 420+ pinpoints to see a video in that exact location. Eventually all of the videos will be archived in the state libraries where they were shot so that future generations can look back to see what existed in 2019. I did contact the Library of Congress regarding these videos being archived but that was very early on in the project. I was asked to contact the department later after I had a substantial number of videos produced. When I hit the 500 mark next year, I’ll reach back out to them.
- How many people are on your staff?
My direct staff is just me and the two cats. However I do have a couple of interviewers that work for me directly on the videos shoots. So in a nutshell, I do just about everything, sales, research, shooting video, editing video and the archiving process.
- Give me your top three favorite historic bridges that you’ve filmed?
Tough question Jason! In no particular order:
The Triple Whipple Bridge near Aurora, Indiana is high on my list. As someone else said, she’s the Queen Mary of all bridges! Beautiful, tall, restored and the only one of it’s kind still standing. The bridge is only about 15 miles from my home so I get to see her fairly often.
Film on the bridge:
The Dresden Suspension Bridge in Dresden, Ohio is a favorite that we just covered this year with the Ohio Historic Bridge Association. A beautiful bridge that is easily viewed.
Film on the bridge:
Finally the Crosley Bridge in Jennings County, Indiana. A private steel truss bridge built by Powel Crosley, the bridge is extremely narrow and hidden deep in the woods via a dirt road.
Film on the bridge:
- What historic bridge do you regret seeing demolished?
Definitely it was the Cedar Grove Bridge in Cedar Grove, Indiana. Long story short, I was part of a group who tried to save this bridge from demolition. The State of Indiana offered to give our group the money they would pay for the demolition if we could find a local government entity who would take ownership of the bridge for 30 seconds while signing the bridge over to us where it would be refurbished and turned into a park for the locals. Unfortunately the town council in Cedar Grove and the Franklin County Commissioners had zero interest in seeing the bridge survive. After a 2+ year fight to save the bridge, when it became apparent that all of the government entities and the locals themselves had zero interest in the structure, we abandoned our cause and the bridge was demolished via the State of Indiana on February 17, 2016.
Film on the bridge’s demise:
- Complete this sentence: A historic bridge in your opinion……..
A historic bridge in my opinion is a mix of style, engineering and quality from an era that we will never see again. It was a different breed of men that built bridges in the 1800s and early 1900s.
- What is important for keeping the historic bridge “historic” instead of neglecting it to a point of demolition?
Once these bridges are gone, they are gone forever. Bridges are probably the most used structure no matter where they were built. Some bridges only see 5 or 10 crossing per day while others literally see tens of thousands of crossings if not more. It’s hard to think of another item produced by man that gets this much usage and can last for 100 or more years. Holding on to these structures for future generations is important not only for educational purposes but for general enjoyment as well.
- What are your future plans for HYB? What bridges are on your agenda?
Right now as I think I mentioned earlier, I have over 420 videos produced and hope to add at least 100 more documentary videos in 2020. I have about 20 bridge videos that have been shot and are awaiting the editing process. They are scattered throughout Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia & West Virginia. Hopefully I can get those finished over the Winter.
- If a person has a historic bridge that needs to be filmed, like for example Kern Bridge in Minnesota or the Bridgeport Bridge in Michigan, who to contact?
It’s simple, just give me (Satolli Glassmeyer) a call at 812-623-5727 between 8:00 am and 9:00 pm. If I don’t answer, leave a message. Or if you like, send an email to Info@HistoryInYourOwnBackyard.com. We can discuss your needs and wants for the video project while I guide you to the best option to preserve that bridge on video now and in the future.
A closing thought……Statistically speaking, over the next 100 years we will lose 50% of the historic bridges currently standing due to fire, flood, storms, neglect, progress, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, etc. 99% of those historic bridges will disappear over the next 200 years for the same reasons and eventually all will disappear. Nothing lasts forever. At some point down the road, we’ll no longer need bridges and this project will at least preserve the memory of when we used these engineering marvels to cross vast expanses of water or terrain
Thank you for your time and interview at the Chronicles and wishing you all the best in your career.
Just recently, HYB got its 1 millionth view on YouTube on its page. It currently has over 3900 viewers with just as many (if not more) visitors daily, which makes it one of the most popular short-film documentaries in the US. A video on that can be found here:
HYB provides people with a short glimpse of some of the historic artefacts that people can see while they are in the area, let alone should see before they are gone. Sometimes less means more- the most basic means the more interest in seeing the places in person. So as Satolli would say: Travel Slowly, Stop Often. 🙂
Author’s Note: Some of HYB’s bridges will also appear on this page from time to time, to encourage people to watch them and eventually visit them.