CASPER — When Roy Barnes left Casper at age 16, he didn’t look back.
His family moved in around 1977, when he was just 10 years old, he said. The next six years weren’t exactly easy.
Barnes was bright — a straight-A student — but inside, he was troubled. He had a hard time making and keeping friends, and struggled with his self-image.
Much later, Barnes would be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, he said. But in the ’70s and early ’80s, barely anyone had heard of it. He spent much of his teenage years feeling alienated and misunderstood.
So when Barnes moved to Cheyenne in 1983, he was ready to leave Casper behind him.
“I was basically glad to be done with it,” he said.
More than 35 years later, he stumbled across a curious online community that gave him a second look: a Facebook group called “If you grew up in Casper, WY you remember....”.
The historical research group is a catch-all discussion page for people to reminisce about Casper. Barnes wasn’t sure what to think at first, but sent a request to join.
He’s been an active contributor ever since.
Today, the group boasts over 16,000 members, making it one of the city’s most popular Facebook communities. Anyone who’s ever lived in or visited Casper can request to join.
Barnes and other members said it’s been a valuable window into Casper’s past, helping them develop a deeper appreciation for the city and the people who call it home.
The Facebook group was founded by Casper native Michael Brown in 2011.
At the time, Brown was living in Bradenton, Florida. One day, he noticed an online community for locals to discuss Bradenton history, so he thought it’d be fun to make one for Casper.
It didn’t take long for the group to grow, however. Within a day or so, over a hundred people had joined, he said.
“It was really miraculous how many people gravitated toward it,” Brown said.
Members can share most anything Casper-related, within reason, but typical posts are scans of old pictures, books and newspaper clippings.
Some depict Casper landmarks or headline-worthy events, while others capture more modest slice-of-life scenes.
It’s not uncommon for members to show off something obscure they dug up at the library. Sometimes they just want to indulge in a trip down memory lane, though.
“Imagine you are a kid again growing up in Casper,” Barnes posted recently. You find $5 on the sidewalk. How do you spend it?
Other members quickly chimed in: Candy and comics at Grant Street Grocery, or The Blue Bird. Roller skating at Wagon Wheel.
Dean Mahaffey is the group’s administrator, and another one of its most active posters. He can talk in detail about lesser-known aspects of Casper trivia — the steam tunnels under the city, or the now-blocked-off cave system beneath Casper Mountain, for example.
Mahaffey’s interest in history started early, he said. He was raised by his grandparents, and grew up hearing them and their friends recount tales from Casper’s past.
“I’ve always loved to listen to my elderly tell stories of years gone by, and how things have changed,” he said.
At more than a decade old, the community is still going strong. About 180 posts have been added in the past month.
A mix of nostalgia fever and small-town pride could explain its popularity, said Leigh Flack, a moderator for the group.
Every city has its own unique culture — an experience only shared by the people who were there. There’s something special about having a space where you can bond over that common culture, she said.
It’s a platform where members help reunite childhood friends, jog memories, celebrate and commiserate.
And you never know who will show up in posts.
“It’s fun to see these people that you lost track of, and where they end up,” she said.
Barnes is still one of the group’s regulars. Sometimes, his posts are more academic — detailing the origins of street names, for example. Other times, he shares personal stories from his childhood.
The chance to reflect on his years in Casper has been freeing, he said — therapeutic, even. It’s helped him put his life in perspective, and to appreciate the deep connection he still has to the city.
His time in Casper was tough, but some of the most formative years of his life, he said.
Looking back, he’s especially thankful to the community members who believed in and supported him as a kid. He often posts tributes to teachers and former peers who had a positive influence on him, he said.
“I just want people to know how much the city means to me,” he said.
And by the looks of it, thousands of other Casperites feel the same way, he said. The size of the group speaks for itself.