On Thursday, August 4, while speed-reading through all the normal, humdrum Facebook news feed posts, something caught my eye and sparked my curiosity. A childhood friend from the Union Park Gardens posted two words: “delivering newspapers” in a group called Memories in Wilmington. My mind instantly transported back to the early 1980’s when I spent many pre-dawn mornings dragging an oversized canvas bag on my shoulders, getting ink all over my fingers, and cursing my older brothers who were supposed to be delivering those News Journal papers. It made me laugh out loud in a quiet house at 10:29 p.m., just before I was planning to go to bed.
Instead of nodding off to sleep, I followed the link to Memories in Wilmington, requested to join the open group, and was approved seconds later by the creator, Joe Rykaczeski. For the next two hours, I read, typed, and laughed with other group members about things from our childhood. At the time, there were about 100 members in a group that was just hours old.
In my enthusiasm, I quickly signed up my three brothers because there were so many references they’d appreciate: Bus Zebley little league, Indian Rock, Bobby Bottles, to name a few. Given the explosive growth of the group and default email notifications with each posting and comment, they were annoyed to wake up to over 300 emails from a group that they didn’t sign up for. I’m not sure that any of the members was prepared for the phenomenon that has captured a little piece of the social network for little old Wilmington.
As of this second, there are 1,866 group members and 3,973 posts, but these numbers grow constantly, as evidenced by the little red pop-up notification on my account. This doesn’t include the comments sections, which is where the real fun takes place. One person posts a memory, and other members contribute their own perspectives, resulting in lively conversations. It’s a collective memory archive, that at times becomes repetitive as new members join and find it too daunting to wade through thousands of posts that came before. What I find truly amazing is the lack of negativity, given the high level of activity and lack of administrative oversight. Aside from the occasional complaint about the volume of emails folks have had to delete, most participants have maintained a level of respect and dignity that is rare on the Internet these days.
According to one active participant, Greg Whitcoe, “Prior to joining Memories in Wilmington, I tried to forget about my ‘bad’ childhood. “Memories in Wilmington” helped me realize that I did have fun, and it wasn’t all that bad. I now remember how much of a close-knit community Wilmington was back then, and perhaps still is today. I only know a handful of the current members from the old days, but this group makes me feel like I can consider them family. All 1800+ of them!”
The “conversations” taking place on Memories in Wilmington would seem familiar to anyone who has ever sat around a family dining room table for Sunday dinner, surrounded by folks from different generations, all telling stories from the past – funny, sad, scary, disgusting, and simply nostalgic. Only in this case, it’s a very large, very loud virtual dining room, and in some way we are all guests of the modest man behind the phenomenon: Joe Rykaczewski. Rykaczewski, a native of Hedgeville, a predominantly Polish section of Wilmington, eschews the credit for his creation claiming that he’s “just a fellow time traveler, enjoying the roller coaster ride.” Ironically enough, his inspiration for this group stemmed from his inability to figure out how to join a different Facebook group, “You know you’re from New Castle County if…” So, he took it upon himself to create Memories in Wilmington, invited a few friends and relatives, and saw it blow up to 100 members the first night. Says Rykaczewski, “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would get this big. I’m just glad that everyone is having fun and there isn’t any riff-raff on here, and really, do you notice how everybody is getting along? This blows my mind.”
I have, in fact, noticed how well everyone is getting along. Over the past six days, I’ve seen old friends and neighbors reconnect, with comments like this on every page: “Yo, Gary! I remember you from the gym at Kirkwood Fitness 14th & Market. How are you, Brother?” I’ve browsed through archival photographs not seen elsewhere, many contributed by Harry Rogerson, author of Wilmington: Picturing Change. I’ve read and contributed some pieces of local history through the perspectives of well-known family names like Tarabicos, Mealey, and Casapulla. I’ve seen requests for photographs posted by local artist, Larry Anderson and downtown memories from well-known restaurateur, Xavier Teixido. Members are painting vivid pictures of ethnic neighborhoods like Browntown and Forty Acres, laughing about Polish women scrubbing sidewalks, reminiscing about the frightening race riots in the 60’s, and trying to recall many of the bars, restaurants, and other local businesses that are no longer around. There are whole sections devoted to “best of” old Wilmington items like pizza, water ice, and bakeries. I’ve even seen more than a couple of people fess up to harmless pranks from long ago.
I know that similar Facebook groups exist for other cities and towns. My husband has his own small group from his birthplace, Croton-on-Hudson, New York. He rarely checks in with his group, which is not all that active. But I suspect that much like “real” Wilmington, this Facebook group will take on a character that you don’t find in many other places. Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent topics of conversation revolves around where you went to school. And we don’t mean college. As I noted in one of my early postings, this group is a perfect example of what my transplanted friends hate about Wilmington. But it’s one of the many things that I love about my hometown.
I’m sure that over time my enthusiasm for this group will wane a bit. Or at least I hope so because it’s been nearly impossible to get my normal stuff done. Keeping up with the volume and pace of this group has become another full-time occupation, but one that I’m greatly enjoying. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m approaching 40, or because I’ve always had a love of stories, history, and local connectedness, but whatever the reason, this group has resonated with me… and over 1800 of my closest friends.
Are you interested in being a part of Memories in Wilmington? Simply request to join and someone will let you in, but make sure your first move is to turn off email notifications! If you’ve ever had a question in your head that started out something like, “I wonder if anyone remembers…” the answer is most certainly, “yes,” and they’d love to talk about it with you. Come join the fun and help us make new memories for future generations of Wilmingtonians.
UPDATE: Since this article was written, the group has grown to 2,611 and the number of posts to 5,817.
About the Author
Erin Ford Sicuranza is a wife, a mother of three, an entrepreneur who co-founded Springboard Careers, Inc. (http://www.springboardjobs.com/), a Wilmington native, music junkie, avid reader, technology geek, and basketball player. Connect with her at www.facebook.com/erinsic, or through Memories in Wilmington.