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A modern homage to history; Past presidents are popping up on social media sites -- if, sometimes, in a tongue-in-cheek way -- and some cultural groups embrace the trend

Some boast Facebook pages listing hobbies such as attending Ford's Theater and interests ranging from log cabins to Texas Hold 'Em poker.

Others are the subject of interactive websites, complete with lively blogs and Twitter accounts.

Still others have turned into the object of geo-cache quests.

Being a U.S. president -- even a long-dead one -- no longer means being out of touch with the latest in modern technology.

In fact, some presidents from the 18th and 19th centuries are quite popular these days on social media sites and beyond.

For instance, on Facebook:

*A page devoted to George Washington lists his relationship status as "complicated" and offers this personal credo: "Homies before chicks no matter what."

*A page for Thomas Jefferson gives this pithy summary of his politics: "Government governs best when it governs least."

*And a page for Abraham Lincoln says the former president enjoys hobbies including "reading, walking, music and watching plays at theaters."

There's more.

In an effort to reach new audiences -- or just to keep pace with the changing virtual environment -- some of the country's more traditional historical sites related to former U.S. presidents are using technology to create interest in fresh ways.

That includes geo-caching -- a popular game in which people use GPS devices to hunt for hidden troves around the world.

"I'm a geo-cacher, and I have a whole series of geo-caches that teach people about history. So of course I am going to put one at the Millard Fillmore House -- that's dear to my heart," said Rachelle Francis, a docent at the Millard Fillmore House historic site in East Aurora.

Some argue that traditional history should be left to expert historians.

But others -- including Millard Fillmore's fans in East Aurora -- think otherwise.

If technology makes people stop and think about a figure such as Fillmore, they said, it's worth it.

"The beauty of it was, we got so many people who said, 'I didn't even know this was here in Western New York,' " Francis said.

And Fillmore himself?

"I think," she said, "he'd probably appreciate us keeping his name alive."

>Making history fun

Technology allows people to play with history in new ways.

Take a recent example. In a Lincoln-themed project held in Chicago, people were invited to "Lincolnize" themselves by cropping their own photos onto one of the 16th president's iconic portraits.

Other museums and historic sites have built blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for their subjects.

In California, a director who has won praise for driving up attendance at Santa Cruz's museum of art and history through public participation in history-themed events said that such approaches are the way of the future.

"It's important to me that people not see history as something on a wall," said Nina Simon, executive director of the Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center, who blogs about participatory history at museumtwo.blogspot.com.

"History is a part of life. History is a part of everyone's lives. Having that kind of empathy through history helps people make a better connection," she said.

The Lincoln project in Chicago, Simon said, was a good example of stretching the public's imagination of how history is relevant and meaningful.

"It was fun, but it was also about seeing yourself as part of Lincoln's story," Simon said. "That kind of thing, even if it's a silly little project, can be very powerful."

But what about limits and propriety?

Some Facebook pages set up to showcase former presidents offer these nuggets:

*A page for Millard Fillmore proclaims the 13th president's interests to be bonfires, Texas Hold 'Em Poker and the National Civil War Museum -- an irony, given that Fillmore is often criticized for signing controversial legislation designed to stave off war between the states.

*A page dedicated to Grover Cleveland calls the man who was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States "way cooler than any furry blue puppet." One fan who wrote on the page had this to reveal, in jest: "I was thinking about President Cleveland on two non-consecutive days last week."

*A page for Abraham Lincoln proclaims the president's friendship with George Washington, lists his reading material as the tragic play "Hamlet" and describes his education as "self-taught." The page describes Lincoln as "the father of separating racial conflicts in America and later creating National Unity -- but I was assassinated at Ford's Theater while watching a play with my wife Mary Todd Lincoln."

*A page set up by a faux Franklin Delano Roosevelt offers this thought of the day: "Happy Birthday to General Eisenhower. I think that young man is going places."

*A page for Thomas Jefferson says the third president's friends include Howard Dean, Fred Thompson, Bill O'Reilly, Al Gore, Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann -- and the Amish, in general. The former Virginian is also a fan of the University of Virginia, the page states. As for politics, it says Jefferson belongs to no political party.

It adds this: "Sorry, I don't do endorsements."

>Embracing technology

In Buffalo, at sites dedicated to some of the region's brushes with the presidency, curators and educators said they are looking to gradually push the boundaries of how their material is presented.

At the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, a website for the Delaware Avenue history museum -- www.trsite.org -- presents Roosevelt's story in an interactive, user-friendly way. That website was unveiled about three years ago, said Keith Krummel, facilities manager at the site. Since then, the inaugural site has debuted a Facebook page, which Krummel maintains.

"Facebook is our first foray into this sort of thing," Krummel said.

A major challenge for the Roosevelt museum has been attracting new audiences with the kind of restraint and gravity necessary in any presentation of a historical attraction connected with the assassination of one president and the inauguration of another, said Mark H. Lozo, education director and chief of interpretation at the site.

"Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what material is appropriate for new media," Lozo said. "There are certainly places where you can cross the line, when discussing presidential history."

The website aims to convey approachability and gravitas, said Lozo.

"To be too lighthearted would be a mistake for a museum with our particular mission," Lozo said. "It was a very low-key and somber occasion in 1901. It was not a cheery event. At the same time, we didn't want our website to be too much of a downer."

At the Millard Fillmore House, a national historic landmark, curator Kathy Frost said the site is always looking for new ways to attract interest in the "Honeymoon Cottage," the property where Millard Fillmore, then a country lawyer, lived with his wife for four years after they were married.

That is why the Fillmore history buffs in East Aurora were open to the idea of geo-cachers finding their way to the property through GPS devices, she said.

"Because Millard Fillmore is kind of an obscure president -- and people don't know much about him -- the more people can learn and hear about him, the happier we are," Frost said. "So we are pretty open to teaching and sharing about Millard Fillmore."

email: cvogel@buffnews.com