How an octogenarian’s TikTok movies struck social media gold for Sacramento Historical past Museum
When the pandemic forced the Sacramento Museum of History to close its doors in March 2020, staff were looking for a way to stay relevant.
Inspired by the work of other museums, employee Jared Jones suggested trying something that many of his colleagues had never heard of: TikTok.
“Most of us at the meeting thought, well, this is just for dancing and you’re crazy,” said Delta Pick Mello, the museum’s executive director and CEO. “The sound of rolling your eyes was loud.”
But the staff decided to give it a try.
Within a year, the museum had more than a million followers.
Jones, who has since taken on the role of digital content coordinator, is the mastermind behind the channel. Initially, his videos were humble. Then came Howard Hatch, or as he is known to his legion of fans, simply “Howard”.
Hatch is an eighty-year-old lecturer who has volunteered at the museum for 22 years. In a few short videos, he became a world-famous TikTok star and the museum’s not-so-secret weapon.
In front of the camera, Hatch wears a jeans apron adorned with a “CA Grown” pin, thin, wiry glasses and a gentleman appearance. He emerges as a clear outsider, and his own disbelief in the station’s success could be his greatest appeal.
In the videos, Hatch generally begins by hand rolling a Brayer printing tool over blobs of sticky, jet black ink and walking viewers through the process of using a printing machine as they pass on tidbits of the story. These videos routinely collect millions of hits.
His catchphrase: “I just don’t get it!”
But whether Hatch “gets” it or not, his viewers sure do it.
Through a perfect algorithmic storm, @SacHistoryMuseum has drawn more than 1.6 million followers – roughly the population of Sacramento County – and its videos collectively received 18 million likes and 108 million views.
Hatch’s appeal is reflected in the channel’s most popular video, which has more than 25 million views and which Jones credits with making the account really viral. In the video, Hatch repeats his slogan (“I still don’t get it!”) While using the museum’s 170-year-old press to print a newspaper front page.
At the end, he holds up the finished product, which reads: “Sacramento History Museum Reaches 610,000 TikTok Followers”. He averts his gaze from the camera and gives off an embarrassed smile. A star Is Born.
To date, the channel has produced over 300 videos, most of which feature Hatch demonstrating the museum’s exquisitely preserved pieces and explaining their historical significance. Unlike many popular TikToks, these clips rarely contain popular sounds, hysterics, or mainstream trends.
Rather, they are a mix of the relaxing feeling known as ASMR, information, and character. You are #asmr; they are #strange satisfactory, they are #edu-tainment. They combine everything that the TikTok algorithm loves: esoteric information, concisely conveyed by a lovable face.
Before the pandemic, Hatch spent his time at the museum giving presentations in the print shop. When Jones proposed the TikTok idea, Howard had a simple question.
“‘What is TikTok?’ Those were the first words out of his mouth, ”said Jones. “And I said to him, ‘For my life, Howard, don’t go home and go on TikTok’. And what did he do when he got home? “
“I went home and installed … TikTok on my computer,” recalls Howard. “And I have a bunch of crazy people dancing and spinning around!”
Hatch initially refused to attend. But with some flattery, Jones convinced him to break his 30-minute presentation into 32-second, scroll-friendly pieces. It quickly became clear that they had a hit on their hands.
“We shot and posted a few things and all of a sudden … I think the term is, we have traction or something,” said Hatch.
Jones, who has appeared on several TikToks himself, clearly understands the pull of his lead actor.
“I mean, you can’t hate Howard. He’s probably the healthiest person you’ve ever met, ”said Jones. “He arrives here at 7:30 in the morning and is out at 11am so he can go home and have lunch with his wife. It’s just his routine in his retirement. “
Hatch ended up at the Sacramento History Museum after working at Aerojet and later repairing cars. (“The Reader’s Digest version is, I started my life as a rocket scientist and then became an auto mechanic,” explains Hatch). After his retirement – and his wife’s gentle suggestion “go out and do something” – a friend introduced him to the museum and suggested that he use his mechanical skills to repair the museum’s Linotype machine.
Hatch says there was a steep learning curve. But after borrowing a book from the Sacramento Public Library, he was able to teach himself to use the ancient technology, fix the machine, and begin his teaching career. After volunteering his community for decades, he found that the TikTok channel offers a bigger classroom than he could ever have imagined.
Hatch sums up his feelings about his newfound fame with a signature vintage saying: “I like to say, ‘I still pull my pants up on one leg and my hat is still on my head like it should'”.
Unsurprisingly, Hatch isn’t a TikTok user. In fact, his clamshell phone wouldn’t even support the app. He prides itself on creating content that differs from the usual for-you-page plan, the “crazy people dancing and circling” that terrified him when he first looked at the platform.
“I think we’re really contrasting with the typical TikTok,” he said. “We are very direct. Very family-friendly. “
When he feels like checking into the TikToks, Hatch accesses the museum’s website via a bookmark on his home desktop computer. Even then, he avoids the comments. It’s Jones’s job to wade through this section, where most of the comments are from young fans confessing “how much they love Howard, or that they would die for Howard, that we should protect Howard at all costs. . “
“Yeah, well, taste can’t be explained,” said Hatch.
His fame has helped the museum get back to normal life and is now getting a lot of visitors, many of whom ask about the famous instructor. Some are stunned when they see him. When he’s not there (“I don’t live down here, although some people think so,” said Hatch), visitors are greeted by a larger than life “flat Howard” made of cardboard. And when it’s inside, visitors often don’t know what to do with themselves.
How does Hatch feel about his success?
“He’s pleased,” said Mello. “But he’s also very, very careful. He doesn’t want to be a gimmick. He believes in what he does. He doesn’t want to come across as ridiculous or stupid or something like that. “
Hatch seems comfortable with, or at least tolerating, all of the attention – as long as the views result from his serious efforts to bring knowledge to the TikTok community. And it looks like that is exactly the case.
“The irony of all of this is the fact that we are projecting a hundred-year-old communication medium onto a whole new platform,” said Mello. “We’re bringing in an older man who brings this topic closer to a younger generation … In our opinion, this comparison is an essential part of the formula for success.”
“It’s like the Trifecta,” agreed Jones. “You have Howard, an older man with an app that is usually for young people … and he uses really old equipment … to print something for a modern platform.”
Hatch’s videos are almost always without music, a rarity for an app that relies on the use of a constant treadmill of trending audio. But Hatch doesn’t. And by avoiding these traditional attempts at virality, the videos achieve a kind of elegance: Hatch doesn’t really seem viral. And that nonchalance makes the videos stand out on a platform where so many are desperately crying out for attention.
Only 65% of the museum’s supporters are from the United States. Ten percent are Europeans, the rest is scattered all over the world.
“We’re reaching people who can never see our museum in person,” said Jones. “We reach people wherever they are and share the story – not just the printing, but the history of Sacramento and what makes our city great. And Howard is the person who helped put our museum on the map. ”- The Sacramento Bee / Tribune News Service