Have a question about Arizona history? Ask Marshall Shore. The 48-year-old Phoenix resident has immersed himself in Grand Canyon State days of yore since he arrived in the Valley more than 15 years ago, and he is a public speaker educating various groups around the state on what makes Arizona so special. Shore is known throughout the Valley as “Arizona’s Official Hipstorian,” as he blogs for the Arizona Oddities website, leads tours in various cities as a representative of organizations such as Arizona Humanities Council, sits on the board for historical cemetery Pioneer Cemetery, and hosts events such as the Underground History night every second Sunday at 7 p.m. at Valley Bar in Phoenix.
When he’s not schooling the state on Arizona history, you can meet Shore behind the bar at Café Tranquilo at The Clarendon. Catch him hosting a trivia night this Thursday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Changing Hands Bookstore, and head to Grand Avenue in Phoenix Friday, September 4 to visit art shows he helped curate: Hot Summer Nights at Chartreuse (1301 N.W. Grand Avenue) and the 10th Annual Grid Show: Art About Art at The Trunk Space.
Keep reading to gain Shore’s insight into Arizona history and to watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in Arizona in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I moved from New York City to Phoenix about 16 years ago. My partner and I had sort of a slumlord for a landlord, there was a rat in the apartment, and then there was a fire. It was time to move, and we chose an adventure.
For our current home, we wound up buying a 1950s Phoenix ranch. That was one of the goals and perks of moving to Arizona: we could get a mid-’50s ranch. The criteria is that it had to be as original as possible, close to the light rail. We wound up in the area just south of Camelback on 19th Avenue.
I was born in Indiana, in a small farm town of about 25 people, called Odell, with two roads and one stop sign. I realized at an early age it wasn’t where I wanted to grow up. As soon as I could, I got myself through college and then moved to New York City, as a librarian with the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library for about a decade, before coming to Arizona. I did my undergraduate at Purdue in communications and my masters in library science at Indiana University.
What got you interested in studying library science?
I had some friends who were in the library program at IU, and I thought it was really neat, so I started out as a children’s librarian in New York City, as well as worked with people with disabilities. Moving to Arizona, I knew the library I was going to be working at had 95 percent Hispanic patrons, and I was scared because I didn’t speak any Spanish, but it was great because people who go to the library just want information that is accessible.
What has your career evolution been like since you moved to Arizona?
I started out working for the City of Phoenix in south Phoenix. Almost from the moment I got here, I started becoming educated about south Phoenix, where I would hear stories
about what the community has gone through and changes that have come up. I had heard there was no history here in the Valley, and people started saying I knew more about their hometown than they did.
I then jumped to the county, where I worked with libraries around Maricopa County, and we did a project out in Gilbert, where I led a team where we dumped the Dewey Decimal System in the library. We made the library look more like a bookstore and made it much more user-friendly.
About six years ago, I left libraries to pursue library consulting. The economy tanked, and the handful of libraries who said they were going to work with me no longer had funds to bring on a consultant. It was a chance for me to regroup and think about what my passions are, which are community building, information and theater. If you ball them all together and think about what they look like, it became what I’m doing now, a position that didn’t exist before.
Being a historian is all about connecting people to place. That’s my journey — why am I in Phoenix? It’s been fun finding out what makes this place unique.
What’s your typical week like?
Tomorrow I’m doing an educational presentation for Central Arizona Project, which works with water in the state. I’m going to talk to the organization about the history of signage in Arizona.
I’m part of Arizona Humanities Council, where I do presentations and am set to do one on neon, Route 66 in Arizona, and ghost towns. I travel around the state to places like Tucson, Clifton, and Bisbee where I’m a sponsored speaker, as well.
I try to make history relevant to people. It’s so interesting to learn all about what makes our state so rich in history. For example, there was a comedian here in the Valley named Rusty Warren who did a song called “Knockers Up!” and traveled the country doing this song and had 16 albums. She’s now in Palm Springs [California] finishing up her paperwork for the Library of Congress, and she is billed with being the mother of the sexual revolution for work she did here in Phoenix. I found her by flipping through albums at a thrift store when I saw this album that was recorded live in Phoenix, and there was a way to contact her. I did, and now we’ve been chatting for the past five years. I’m getting ready to go to Palm Springs next month to see her.
What have been some of the most surprising things you’ve learned about Arizona?
In some ways, just like Phoenix is a big town, it’s also a small town. There is all this fun stuff, and plus, there’s the gorgeous scenery. On a road trip I went on, I saw this big saguaro cactus with these knotted arms and went up and looked at it. They’re so solid, but they gently vacillate in the breeze, which is incredible and something I could watch
and soak in for an hour. The state is so diverse.
What are your typical resources for learning about Arizona history?
The best resource I have is people. They will talk about things that newspapers may not have mentioned and start connecting things where, if it wasn’t a headline, it might not have been cataloged by anyone.
I take things people tell me and look for other sources that corroborate that or give me more information about it.
What time period of Arizona history would you say is your specialty?
My specialty is ʾ50s/ʾ60s, but when the car got to Arizona, that’s when all the fun really happened, because people were able to get around faster, drive longer distances, and experience Arizona in a different way.
The whole preservation of Route 66 started here in Arizona with the town of Seligman. There was a family who saw their whole life going away on I-40, so they started this whole nostalgia movement for Route 66. Today, it’s interesting, because a lot of that nostalgia is not just from U.S. citizens, but actually from French and German tourists from across the globe.
What do you think is happening now in the state that will be in history books in the future?
I think a lot of it is that we’re able to preserve some of the history and dig up things that are unknown. We’re now getting recognized in the state for architecture. Tucson was in The New York Times a few weeks ago in a story about the preservation of mid-century modern architecture. In Phoenix, we’re also working to preserve signage and architecture.
Why do you think preserving history is important?
People need to have a connection to place. It’s about what makes the place unique. They can see a building, but finding out the story behind that building makes everything much more intriguing. It’s that mystery.
There are a lot of people who have been here and who are here. It’s telling those stories. Preserving history gives us pride to where we are and helps us understand that we aren’t the only ones who are here. Part of our goal should be to be stewards for the next crop.
What are your goals?
I want to put out some sort of publication, in whatever form that is. I want to do more tours, from talking about signage to talking about movie history in Arizona.
Learn more about The Trunk Space co-owner Steph Carrico here on Phoenix People.