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 Since Google has not recently updated Homer’s map information, Homer is a little out of date in the game.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.”