The mural painted on Mary Epperson's former piano studio in 2014 before the condemned building was demolished is a Pokestop in the popular augmented reality game Pokemon Go. The spot where the building now stood is parking of Homer Council on the Art's parking lot.

The mural painted on Mary Epperson's former piano studio in 2014 before the condemned building was demolished is a Pokestop in the popular augmented reality game Pokemon Go. The spot where the building now stood is parking of Homer Council on the Art's parking lot.

Pokemon Go provides time capsules for Homer’s past landmarks

When people in Homer play Pokemon Go — the augmented reality game that launched in the United States as a smartphone app on July 6 to mass popularity — a world in which they can catch pocket monsters isn’t the only place they are transported to. 

Players of Pokemon Go also travel back in time, inadvertently touring a Homer of the past.

Pokemon Go uses Google Maps API, which provides the game with mapping technology and the ability to pin down GPS locations. This allows the game to track players by the location of their phone and shows them Pokemon to capture, as well as Pokestops and gyms to visit, based on their actual location. Since Google has not recently updated Homer’s map information, Homer is a little out of date in the game. 

By about three to fours years.

This plays out most clearly in the game’s Pokestops, which are physical locations in the real world that players can travel to and receive items to use in the game. Other locations that share a reality with the game are marked as gyms, which are spots where players can battle Pokemon. 

Despite Homer’s small size, Pokemon Go does not overlook Homer. Just between Pioneer Avenue and the intersection of East End Road and Kachemak Drive, there are 16 Pokestops and four gyms. Another handful of gyms and Pokestops exist on the Spit. For players across the nation, the game has led them to make new discoveries in their hometowns. In Homer, players are more likely to stumble across the past. 

Some Pokestops no longer physically exist in Homer, but are preserved on the digital plane of the game in a technological time capsule.

In the augmented reality of Pokemon Go, the mural painted on the side of the late-Mary Epperson’s piano studio in 2014 to honor Epperson’s work as a music teacher and facilitator of art, is a Pokestop. In Homer’s current reality, it is a parking lot next to Homer Council of the Arts. Epperson was a popular music teacher and arts supporter who died in April.

Despite the building’s lack of physical presence, the Pokestop in the game still works, bringing players to HCOA.

“That’s why they’re confused looking,” said HCOA programs and operations assistant Kari Odden, who has noticed players standing outside. 

Though the mural has permanence in the game, its existence in Homer was always meant to be temporary. The building was condemned and the fire department planned to set it fire as a test exercise, said Jennifer Norton, who was co-artistic director of the Homer Nutcracker in 2014. Then-director of HCOA Gail Edgerly talked to Norton about doing a mural to celebrate the arts in Homer and Epperson. Norton, her mother Laura, and Judy Wynn painted piano keys on waves and a quote from late-President John F. Kennedy about music in the community. On Mary Epperson Day in June 2014, residents signed the mural.

“Before it was torn down, we wanted to celebrate Mary’s purpose. We knew (the mural) would be temporary. I know Mary was very sad when it was painted and it was going to be destroyed,” Norton said. “We provided markers for people to write messages to Mary, almost like Mavis’ burning basket.”

Approximately a month later, the building and its accompanying mural was destroyed as planned. Once Pokemon Go popped up, was the mural resurrected and visible again — just three months after Epperson died. 

“To know that its continuing on as a mystical building, you know that things are still there after they’re gone, which is symbolic of Mary who has passed,” Norton said. “It’s exciting to know that there are these things that were supposed to be a fleeting moment, but now have permanence.”

The mural painted for Epperson is not the only artistic Pokestop to have gone through a change. For those in town nostalgic for the original Heath Street mural, which was painted over last month by the Peonies on Pioneer mural project, Pokemon Go allows them to see the fishing-themed mural as it existed before the paint cracked and faded.

Another physically missing Pokestop in town was meant to stay in place, but an accident bumped it off the map. The carved fish that used to sit in front of the Homer Bookstore parking lot can be visited digitally to pick up items, but in reality it now sits in front of Homer artist Mavis Muller’s home.

Muller purchased the fish carved from Old Grove Lux Pine from Crow Creek from Anchorage-area artist Jordan Anderson, she said. 

She placed it in the bookstore parking lot for the community to enjoy, but about three years ago it was knocked over by a car and the tail broke. Muller took it home to repair, and it has been on her lawn ever since. She said she hopes to repair it soon and return the fish to its spot in front of the bookstore.

“It just requires the time and some assistance from someone who knows a little more about woodworking than I do,” Muller said. “After it’s repaired, I’d be happy to put it back there if (the bookstore) wants it.”

The fate of a different carved sculpture, however, is still a mystery. The bear that used to be placed on Pioneer Avenue in front of the Hillas building is yet another Pokestop that exists only in digital spirit. The bear sculpture, marked as “Homer Begging Bear” in the game, is not owned by the city, according to director of public works Carey Meyer. 

Neither Meyer nor business employees in the area that the Homer News asked know who owns it or where it went. Also an oddity, the bear is pictured standing in front of the shopping center’s sign where Mike’s restaurant’s clapboard now sits, but the Pokestop is accessible from the Homer Theater side of the Hillas building. If players stands where the bear is pictured, the game tells them the Pokestop is too far away.

The disappearance of Pokestop landmarks is not limited to Pioneer Avenue. The game has the location of the Mariner Park gazebo tagged in the spot it sat in before it was moved in 2012. The gazebo moved across the park, about the same time the park’s entrance was relocated, Carey said.

Further down Spit Road, the sculpture that sat on the roof of the Homer Sapiens store is a Pokestop labeled “Kitty on the Roof.” Not only is this a misnomer – the art piece by Homer metal sculpture artist Lisa Krebs is a creature called the Homer Sapien made up by storeowner Kammi Matson – but both the store and sculpture have moved. 

“That’s the magic of the Internet. Something that appears there can be anywhere. It’s funny they call it a kitty because it was fun to see what people thought the Homer Sapien was,” Matson said.

Homer Sapiens went to online sales only after the store closed in August 2015. Matson said she would like to find a new public home for the Homer Sapien sculpture so it can be displayed for the public again.

“It would be nice to have a home for it,” Matson said. “It was a local landmark when it was above my shop.”

Homer News intern Mattea Peters and reporter Michael Armstrong contributed to this story. Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

Pokestops coincide with landmarks or distinct physical locations within an area, so it is little surprise that the eclectically decorated Cafe Cups building is marked as a stop in Pokemon Go.

Pokestops coincide with landmarks or distinct physical locations within an area, so it is little surprise that the eclectically decorated Cafe Cups building is marked as a stop in Pokemon Go.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church sign still exists as shown in the Pokestop, though the lettering has changed. The sign in the photo for the Pokestop reads, "Tune in to AM 1618. God Bless: Worship Serv Sat 3:00."

The Seventh Day Adventist Church sign still exists as shown in the Pokestop, though the lettering has changed. The sign in the photo for the Pokestop reads, “Tune in to AM 1618. God Bless: Worship Serv Sat 3:00.”

Fireweed Art Gallery is part of a cluster of Pokestops located close together in the center of town.

Fireweed Art Gallery is part of a cluster of Pokestops located close together in the center of town.

The Pokestop at Homer City Hall is located at the sign in front of the building.

The Pokestop at Homer City Hall is located at the sign in front of the building.

Pioneer Hall is one of two Pokestops on Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, which is mistitled "Kachemak Bay College" in Pokemon Go.

Pioneer Hall is one of two Pokestops on Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, which is mistitled “Kachemak Bay College” in Pokemon Go.

Kachemak Bay Campus' gray whale skull is a Pokestop, located just across from the Pioneer Hall stop.

Kachemak Bay Campus’ gray whale skull is a Pokestop, located just across from the Pioneer Hall stop.

The gazebo at WKFL Park, located next to Homer Jeans, is a shady place to battle Pokemon at the gym placed there by Pokemon Go.

The gazebo at WKFL Park, located next to Homer Jeans, is a shady place to battle Pokemon at the gym placed there by Pokemon Go.

The former sign for Homer United Methodist Church shows up on the Pokestop. At least three of Homer's churchs are Pokestop locations in Pokemon Go.

The former sign for Homer United Methodist Church shows up on the Pokestop. At least three of Homer’s churchs are Pokestop locations in Pokemon Go.

The Homer Christian Church sign is another Pokestop along Pioneer Avenue.

The Homer Christian Church sign is another Pokestop along Pioneer Avenue.

Pokemon Go players should take care not to stand in the drive-thru lane of Killick's Coffee when playing at the gym located at the copper fish statue near Kachemak Gear Shed on East End Road.

Pokemon Go players should take care not to stand in the drive-thru lane of Killick’s Coffee when playing at the gym located at the copper fish statue near Kachemak Gear Shed on East End Road.

The mural on the side of Healing Hands Massage off East End Road is located conveniently next to a gym.

The mural on the side of Healing Hands Massage off East End Road is located conveniently next to a gym.

Ben Walters Memorial Park's sign is the location of a Pokestop in the newly launched game Pokemon Go. To collect items from a Pokestop, players must be within a small physical location surrounding the GPS marked Pokestop.

Ben Walters Memorial Park’s sign is the location of a Pokestop in the newly launched game Pokemon Go. To collect items from a Pokestop, players must be within a small physical location surrounding the GPS marked Pokestop.

The British-style police box, known as a TARDIS to fans of science-fiction show Doctor Who, located next to HomeRun Oil is a Pokestop labeled as "The Doctor is In."

The British-style police box, known as a TARDIS to fans of science-fiction show Doctor Who, located next to HomeRun Oil is a Pokestop labeled as “The Doctor is In.”

More in News

The 2021 elections will be held Oct. 5.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board Q&A

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

The 2021 elections will be held Oct. 5.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Q&A

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

The 2021 elections will be held Oct. 5.
Homer City Council candidate Q&A

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

Traffic moves north along the Sterling Highway shortly after a fatal crash closed the highway for several hours Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. The state is seeking federal funding for a project aimed at improving safety along the Sterling Highway between mileposts 82.5 to 94, or between Sterling and Soldotna. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
State looks to federal funding for Sterling Highway project

The project is aimed at improving highway safety between Sterling and Soldotna.

Ethan Benton (left) and Laura Walters of Kodiak win the vaccine lottery for the Alaska Chamber's week one vaccine lottery giveaway "Give AK a Shot." (Screenshot)
State names winners in 1st vaccine lottery

A Valdez and Kodiak resident took home checks for $49,000 each.

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion
A podium marks the beginning of a StoryWalk at Soldotna Creek Park on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. The project was discontinued in August due to vandalism.
Vandalism ends Soldotna library program

The StoryWalk was made possible by a $2,500 donation from the Soldotna Library Friends.

Juneau Empire file
The Coast Guard medevaced a 90-year-old suffering stroke-like symptoms near Ketchikan aboard a 45-foot response boat-medium like this one, seen in Juneau, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.
Coast Guard medevacs man from yacht near Ketchikan

The 90-year-old suffered symptoms of a stroke.

James Varsos, also known as “Hobo Jim,” poses for a photo during the August 2016, Funny River Festival in Funny River, Alaska, in August 2016. (Peninsula Clarion file)
‘Hobo Jim’ opens up about recent terminal cancer diagnosis

Varsos was named Alaska’s official “state balladeer” in 1994.

Most Read