Abraham Cooper has spent more than 16 years conducting meticulous archival research on a site in Tucson known as the Wishing Shrine (El Tiradito), significant for its role in local Mexican folklore. The majority of his research draws from archival materials at the Arizona Historical Society and UA Special Collections where he gained foundational knowledge about library science. Through the course of his investigation, Abraham has worked with all forms of ephemera including vast photographic collections, historic manuscripts, zoning records, transcripts, maps, personal diaries, private letters, court documents, city planning minutes, newspaper articles, pamphlets, as well as audio and video recordings.
His work on El Tiradito has been published in Zocalo Magazine and was featured on Untold Arizona–a radio series produced by the Fronteras Desk project. He has also given television interviews for Univision, as well as public lectures on this subject and was nominated as the keynote speaker for Pima Community College’s 2018 Student Research Symposium where he presented his work. Abraham has set out to answer two fundamental questions: is the legend central to the shrine's history rooted in actual events and is it possible to trace the legend's evolution through time?
The Wishing Shrine is an adobe structure located in Barrio Viejo, near downtown Tucson. The shrine embodies the rich and complex folklore of Tucson's Mexican community. It remains a significant spiritual site as it is believed by many to be the place where a Mexican man was murdered during the 1870s. According to local legend, the slain man's spirit has the power to grant wishes; a belief that has attracted visitors for more than 140 years. The shrine was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The Virtual Ritual (VR) Project endeavors to create a high resolution, digital 3D model of the Wishing Shrine using a process called photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is a method by which an object, structure or space is photographed from multiple angles. When these images are overlapped, the points at which they intersect provide spatial data that can then be used to produce a scaled, 3D model of the subject, as seen in the demo above. Such digital assets may be manipulated, hosted, embedded, and archived in any number of creative ways. 
Ideological and economic support for cultural preservation has always faced challenges. Not all believe that preserving the past has value. Consequently, protection for cultural sites has often languished. Although classification under the NRHP provides historical sites with some degree of protection, the VR Project confronts the reality that cultural assets such as the Wishing Shrine remain vulnerable to neglect, damage or total erasure. Photogrammetry is an approach to preserving such assets, when other efforts fail.
This project not only demonstrates how cultural treasures such as the shrine can be preserved through digital mapping, it also seeks to explore the implications of community participation in ritual activity, within a virtual setting. Can digitally replicated spaces such as the shrine still provide a meaningful outlet for expression? This project proposes that they can and do.
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