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Printing Press Lures Millions To Sacramento History Museum TikTok Account

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Sacramento History Museum is using a new platform to get the word out about a very old medium. The museum's demonstrations of its historic printing press have become a viral sensation on TikTok.

HOWARD HATCH: I still just don't get it. I can't think it's our scintillating comments.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's volunteer docent Howard Hatch. While he's speaking, he's spreading ink on a metal typeset, then putting it into the press and pulling a large lever. He then reveals a sheet of paper that reads Sacramento History Museum reaches 610,000 TikTok followers.

HATCH: When he said TikTok, I had to first ask, what is it?

CORNISH: A staffer at the museum, Jared Jones, had seen other museums start making videos as a way to drive visitors.

HATCH: And he explained it to me. And I got home. And I'm not supertech person, but I did find TikTok. And what did I find on it? Lots of people dancing crazy.

CORNISH: So they agreed - no dancing, just educational videos about the printing press and Sacramento history.

HATCH: And when it took off, I couldn't believe it.

SHAPIRO: After Howard retired from his job as an auto technician, a volunteer at the Sacramento History Museum asked if he knew how to fix a Linotype - that's a big machine used for printing newspapers like the Sacramento Bee. He taught himself how to do that, which eventually led to him volunteering at the museum in 1999.

HATCH: I went through the public library and read just about anything I could find that said printing, printing press, printing history, what have you. And it drew me in.

DELTA PICK MELLO: People ask us, what's the secret? We don't know, except Howard (laughter).

CORNISH: That's executive director and CEO for the museum, Delta Pick Mello.

MELLO: There's so many people, especially the demographic that watches TikTok, that have never seen a printing operation. And we're dealing out, you know, little bits of history in 59-second blocks.

CORNISH: After the pandemic forced it to close a year ago, the Sacramento History Museum has just reopened to visitors. Some say they found it on TikTok, where, by the way, it now has over 800,000 followers.

SHAPIRO: Its star docent isn't in every day, but the museum does have a new life-size cardboard cutout of Howard Hatch hot off the presses.

(SOUNDBITE OF COCABONA, SOUL FOOD HORNS, DESH'S "CYPRUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.