- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Bradley Peniston might not be the first Muncie tourist to find things to do and places to see in the community through social media outlet Twitter, but his visit might be the most high-profile so far.

Peniston, who works in the Washington, D.C., area, visited Muncie for a little more than 24 hours last weekend. He and his brother, James, make an annual pilgrimage to a city they’ve never visited before. This year, their sister, St. Louis-area resident Christy Myer, accompanied them.

And this year, for the first time, Peniston passed up online research or old-school travel guides and relied on Twitter to find people to meet, places to eat and sights to see.

He found a robust Muncie community on Twitter and then found welcoming local residents who guided the visitors to places around the city, with a focus on downtown.

“It was a really warm welcome in Muncie,” Peniston told The Star Press (https://tspne.ws/1uIJGAX ) this week. “Everything was terrific. Everybody was welcoming.”

Peniston, an editor at D.C,-based Defense News, and his brother have been making “Mystery Weekend” trips for several years. They’ve visited cities big and small, ranging from San Diego to Cleveland to Kalamazoo. They pick a place they’re not familiar with and go.

In 2011, their trip included use of Twitter but was mostly limited to communicating with one resident of Kalamazoo, who arranged for a dinner with local people.

This year, because the siblings were approaching from different parts of the country, they decided to pick a city to converge on.

Why Muncie?

“Everybody’s heard of Muncie,” Peniston said. “Because of Middletown and Jim Davis and David Letterman and Ball State.” He added that their visits are generally to cities “that are part of the American story and American history, but where something is going on right now.”

Before starting out on the trip, Peniston tweeted at several local people, including members of The Star Press staff. Those initial contacts led to “crowd-sourced” - recommended by Twitter users - places for the siblings to visit locally that included the Caffeinery, ROC Architectural Salvage, Jack’s Camera Shop, Minnetrista, the Ball family mansions, Downtown Farm Stand, the Fickle Peach, Barn Brasserie, the Rose Court and the new planetarium at Ball State University.

“That’s why our Mystery Weekend is the most rewarding thing,” Peniston said. “You see something real. It’s not just a guess and it’s not just the AAA travel guide.”

Peniston built a Storify online collection of his Tweets to thank the people he met locally and offered a suggestion for people searching for things to do and see in Muncie: the hashtag #heymuncie.

His verdict on Muncie? “I’d recommend it to anybody, particularly anyone interested in downtowns and how downtowns are coming back.”


Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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