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Marshall Shore, Phoenix New Times’ 2011 Best Unofficial Phoenix Historian, said his house is maxed out with antiques. He tries to keep the home as vintage as possible, even using a 1962 vacuum cleaner. However, modern possessions are permitted if they have one thing — Hello Kitty.
“My own rationale is in a lot of ways it’s like the ’50s,” Shore said. “It’s overdesigned and mass-produced, but it’s super darn cute. How could you say no?”
Shore’s passion for the old is seen in his retro wardrobe. For the past three years he has been using “edutainment,” a mix of education and entertainment, to teach people about Arizona’s history.
“We tend to like to knock our history down and pave over it and forget about it. But I think you have to remember where you came from in order to go where you are going,” Shore said. “I’m really trying to connect people to this place in a completely different way than they’ve been connecting before.”
Shore’s show Retro Spectacular, now in its third season, occurs monthly with an average of 15 attendees who listen to whatever topic Shore is researching at the time. The talk, at Phoenix Metro Retro, features slideshows, music and guest speakers to keep it interesting, which makes it “edutainment.”
Heidi Abrahamson, owner of Phoenix Metro Retro, said Shore encourages audience participation by asking them to tell stories or say if he missed anything.
“It’s wonderful to have someone like Marshall with all this information. It takes a generous person who wants to share and teach all of it,” Abrahamson said. “People love him … Everyone laughs and has a good time.”
Shore said perspective is important when observing places in Phoenix. He brings it up in conversations, especially if someone says Phoenix has no history. He will ask them where they’ve been, and when they answer, he proceeds to tell them the history they have missed. If someone says they passed the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, he tells them it was formerly Carver High School, a segregated school in the 1920s.
“I’m trying to find things in their own area that they can grasp onto, so it’s not talking about distance and remote to them but maybe they drive by a building every day and didn’t realize what happened there,” Shore said.
Shore also created his own tours: Haunted Phoenix, Christmas Lights and the Winnie Ruth Judd Bus Tour. Shore rents a late 1990s school bus, but he said he hopes to purchase a mid-’60s school bus for the full retro experience. A guitar player sits in the back and plays music that accompanies the theme and era of the tour. Audience members are given kazoos and encouraged to join in.
“He makes the talks more powerful, more human, more entertaining and definitely more humorous than their last history experience,” said Alison King, owner of Modern Phoenix, an art and architecture network Shore has worked with.
While he formerly kept the information in his head, Shore said he and a friend are starting a wiki page to keep track of connections.
With all of his shows, Shore makes sure he is dressed the part in his own style.
“This? This is kind of an everyday thing,” Shore said, pointing down to his vertically striped shirt, with a purple sleeve, a green sleeve, a yellow collar and the torso separated into blue and red stripes. The shirt was paired with grey and black plaid pants and a green and yellow plaid tie.
“Today was all about the pattern,” Shore said. “I don’t care about the color, as long as there are stripes in it, then it’s good. Some days I’ll do color, some days I’ll do pattern, some days I didn’t know what, so there you go, you get polka dots and stripes.”
Shore is currently working with The Big Read project by the West Valley Art Council, which promotes and celebrates a book throughout the month. Shore had Phoenix artist Hugo Medina paint a jacket to go with his Route 66 lecture to accompany John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” as he travels to 10 different libraries across the state.
Shore gave Medina 50 images to choose from, and at least 10 are on the front of the jacket. The pictures range from the Twin Arrows to the Hashknife sign, the oldest line of the Pony Express. The back of the jacket is a large painting of the highway disappearing into a sunset.
Besides his clothing, Shore said he does little things at each event to engage the audience. When he did the Route 66 talk at the State Library on Jan. 7, Shore said he brought a belly dancer because camels were used to travel across that path in the 1850s.
“I like to bring the unexpected,” Shore said. “Even the belly dancer was like, ‘Why am I here again?’”
Shore and his partner moved to Arizona from New York in 2000 to be closer to Shore’s parents. When a job opening landed him in Phoenix, they drove their belongings in an orange U-Haul to their 700 sq. ft. ranch house in south Phoenix.
He realized few told stories about their town’s history in the Valley. Shore said it was natural for him to sit and listen to anyone’s story, even a person’s daily life while sitting on a bus.
“Almost the moment I got here, I was listening to people’s stories and telling folks,” Shore said. “So I quickly had residents who grew up here telling me that I knew more about their hometown than they did.”
Shore said he left the Maricopa County Library District three years ago when he felt like something larger was calling him. He decided to take a risk in order to avoid looking back later and regretting not following his instinct.
“When I first started, I was scared to death,” Shore said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t quite know what I was doing.”
Abrahamson, also Shore’s friend of seven years, offered the furniture store as a venue for Shore’s aspiring history show, now Retro Spectacular.
Abrahamson said everyone enjoys Shore’s shows, and she has never heard a negative comment about him.
“Phoenix is lucky to have him here,” Abrahamson said. “He cares about the history, cares about the old architecture and old signs. He’s a super sweet guy with a great sense of humor.”
Shore said this season will end with the Feb. 14 event at Phoenix Metro Retro, located at 708 W. Hazelwood St., at 7 p.m. because of his busy schedule.
With the Retro Spectacular’s growing attendance, Shore began doing shows with other partners, such as Modern Phoenix, and helping with conferences, like the Arizona Historic Preservation Conference.
Shore said after performing a presentation on Statehood Day at the Capitol for Arizona’s centennial in 2012, someone described him in an email as “the hip historian.” Shore liked the name and kept it. He put the nickname on his blog and logo, made by graphic designer and Arizona State Sen. Steve Farley. Friends also call him “the hipstorian,” saying the double ‘h’ was difficult to pronounce.
Shore said he thought it made sense and was funny that he was becoming an unofficial historian and hipstorian because of his nontraditional techniques he uses to tell stories.
“It’s about letting people know there have been people before them. There are going to be people after them,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is to be good stewards and carry on the city and leave it in good shape for the next batch of folks.”
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: Jan. 18, 2013
In a previous version of this article, the photo caption incorrectly said Marshall Shore was a New York native. Shore is originally from Indiana.