FAIRBANKS — With a chilly Fairbanks morning framed in the rec room window, seniors at the Pioneers’ Home took turns taking a trip to a sunny grassland in Africa.
There, through the lenses of a virtual reality headset donated by a family with ties to the Pioneers’ Home, the seniors laughed, gasped and smiled as a herd of elephants sauntered by in a 360-degree video.
“It just about knocked me out of the chair,” said a beaming Joe Nistler, a 90-year-old resident of the home.
Lincoln Markham, who’s 10, is the great-grandson of well-known Fairbanks miner and University of Alaska Fairbanks leader Earl Beistline, who spent his final years at the Pioneers’ Home.
Dan Markham said he and Lincoln wanted to give back to the Pioneers’ Home and perhaps inspire their nearly 4 million YouTube followers to do the same for their communities.
“The reason we thought of doing this is we were looking for an opportunity to do a Christmas video and encourage people to get out and do some service,” he said.
The two donated a Google Pixel Android phone and a Google Daydream headset to the Pioneers’ Home. Seniors were thankful about the donation and eager to give it another try.
“I’d like to go to Italy,” Nistler said. “I never made it there.”
The seniors chatted with each other, describing the details they noticed in each video.
Al Weber, 99, watched the elephant video as well as one in an underwater shark cage surrounded by sharks. He said he preferred the shark video.
“It was fantastic, really great,” he said.
Lincoln and Dan Markham found YouTube fame after Dan posted some videos from Lincoln’s second-grade science project where they cut open a baseball, golf ball, soccer ball, basketball and tennis ball to see what was inside.
“My dad just wanted the teacher to have the impression that we had a YouTube channel that was cool, so I would just get some extra bonus points,” Lincoln Markham said.
Dan Markham said he did it because he was shy growing up and wanted to help Lincoln get comfortable with public speaking. Either way, it was the start of something life-changing for the two.
The channel had just been intended for some fun videos to share with the family back in Alaska and New Mexico, but after a few months he said he noticed they earned $4 from YouTube for people watching those five videos.
But the channel took off far beyond their expectations, to the point where Dan Markham left his job to focus on producing weekly videos with his son.
Their videos include cutting open a bowling ball, light-up shoes, an Etch-A-Sketch and a genuine Olympic torch. Their most popular video is one about a rattlesnake’s rattler with an astounding 61 million viewers.
But Dan Markham said he credits the popularity not so much to the things they cut open but to the genuine relationship and fun that the father-son duo has on camera. The two have traveled the world, thrown a laptop from a helicopter and met Microsoft founder Bill Gates.