Norma Berke seemingly comes to life, reading a newscast through a new augmented reality poster created for Litchfield’s Heritage Preservation committee.

Litchfield’s unique 19th-century downtown aesthetic recently received a 21st-century update with the integration of augmented reality, QR codes and real-time history lessons all available from a smartphone. In May 2018, the Heritage Preservation Committee received a Legacy History grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to create a downtown walking tour guide. Darlene Kotelnicki, HPC chair, said the HPC has basically three functions under the city’s ordinance and were the reasons why it applied to the grant.

“One is regulatory which includes reviewing applications for any changes to properties on the National Register of Historic Places,” Kotelnicki said. “The second function is promotion of our city’s historic resources, and the third is public education about those resources. This grant, which is federal money from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, is part promotion and part education.”

Through the grant, Dan Hoisington, owner of Hoisington Preservation Consultants, created a brochure with listings of Litchfield’s historic sites and videos for all 28 locations. The brochure has a QR code on the back that anyone can scan to see a video of each historic site. Kotelnicki said Litchfield’s use of history and technology is unique.

“A very few cities have video tours, and no one else has the augmented reality that we used,” she said. “We are the first historic group to use this in Minnesota.”

Hoisington, who has worked as a historian for more than 40 years, said he enjoyed Litchfield’s two to three block stretch of historic downtown buildings. To start, Hoisington worked with the HPC.

“I like telling real stories, so I started research all of the buildings,” Hoisington said. “I wanted to tell stories of these buildings and not list a bunch of facts. Each building has an interesting story to tell.”

Hoisington said he then created 28 Ken Burns style mini documentaries for each location.

“We made a DVD of them all then we created the brochure,” he said. “I like to think of this project as a museum without walls.”

To Hoisington, telling history is more than just reading facts about a place — it’s all about how the story is told. He created a podcast series called Pastcast, which can be viewed online, of unique historic places around Minnesota and Wisconsin. From this series, Hoisington developed the mini documentary series used in Litchfield’s downtown walking tour.

Hoisington said he always looks for new and unique ways to talk about history.

“We did the Pastcast series and that’s when I started to do a few video tours,” he said. “10 years ago, we didn’t have smartphones, but I’m going to try different ways to look at history with all of the new technology.”

Along with the video series, Hoisington created four posters of famous past Litchfield residents that use augmented reality to “come to life” when they are scanned by the Zappar app. Norma Berke, Ole “Music” Olson, a Civil War soldier and Peter E. Hanson.

Mayor Keith Johnson played Olson for the augmented reality poster, lending his voice and likeness to create a life-like Olson.

Johnson said he has played Olson before and also portrayed him in a play.

“His experience back then was like mine now,” Johnson said. “He was in the community 60 years, and I’ve been here for 55. I hope I can keep going a few more years.”

Cole Lawrence played the Civil War soldier, Sue Berg played Berke and Hoisington played Hanson. Through the app, the characters of Litchfield’s past come to life through claymation video and the voices of those who played each character to bring a 3-D image of each to life.

All of the videos and AR posters are available to view online without scanning the QR codes by going to pastcasts.com/?p=566.

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