By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — So there we were again last week, standing against racism, at least this time, indoors, out of the rain, but what good does it do to say one thing, and do another, or worse, do nothing?
The public display reminded me of one project that actually got done, moving in a relatively short time from words to deeds, marking this area as a historically important place where monumental words and deeds seemed, once upon a time, to matter.
Celebrating the historical importance of the Niagara River as a gateway to freedom on the Underground Railroad during the mid-19th century, the Freedom Crossing Monument, located on the bank of the Niagara River in Lewiston, New York, dedicated on the cold, rainy night, October 14, 2009, was the first project to receive the endorsement of the Niagara River Greenway Commission; so far, despite promises to the contrary, nearly half a decade later, it remains the first and the last monument of its kind to move from words to action.
In spite of the fact that, way back on June 11, 2007, the Niagara Falls City Council passed a resolution supporting the construction of a bronze statue of Harriet Tubman near the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge abutment near Ontario and Whirlpool Streets in Niagara Falls where historians have documented that she indeed led fugitives across the bridge into Canada, so far, other than the verbal commitment to do so, neither concrete nor bronze have materialized there.
It has been well documented that the Niagara River, stretching from the banks of Lake Erie in Buffalo, New York to the mouth of Lake Ontario in Youngstown, New York served as a gateway to freedom on the Underground Railroad during the mid-19th century, yet little more than words have materialized to build what was once proposed as our version of the famed, but also unfinished Emerald Necklace, what was to be an 1,100 acre stretch of parks linked by parkways and waterways in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts.
Like the Massachusetts Frederick Law Olmsted inspired “Necklace”, ours would highlight our beautiful natural environment along with the rich historic cultural heritage of the region, punctuated with strategically placed public art to be built along the greenway.
The $230, 000 Lewiston monument, named after the children’s fictional Freedom Crossing book by Margaret Goff Clark (1913–2003) was Commissioned by the Lewiston Historical Association, funded by the Town of Lewiston with Niagara River Greenway Plan funds, the New York Power Authority, and with private support from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation and the KeyBank Foundation , designed and produced by local sculptor, Susan Geissler with help from former Niagara County Legislator, volunteer project director, Lee Simonson who championed the concept, carrying a model of the proposed monument with him wherever he went in search of support for the project.
From concept to design, permitting, approvals and fundraising, it took about three years to complete with actual construction, from start to finish, taking about nine months, which, in this business, in this place, is relatively quick, all things being considered.
As chronicled in Wikipedia, “the bronze monument pieces were cast in Loveland, Colorado, and were transported to Lewiston by truck. Once the pieces arrived, the installation was accomplished in a 12 hour period on Monday, September 28, 2009, during the worst weather day of that month.
The Village of Lewiston Public Works crew, along with volunteer architect John Giusiana, landscaper Jeff Thompson and bronze installer, Ed Darchuk, completed the work”.
Consisting of five bronze sculptures “that are 120 percent life-size, the subjects are a family of freedom seekers including a father, mother and baby, Lewiston’s Underground Railroad Station Master, Josiah Tryon, and the fictional heroine, Laura Eastman, in and around a rowboat with two of the subjects standing on rock depicting the bank of the Niagara River facing Canada.
The monument and its peaceful setting have become a favorite gathering point for tourists and local residents alike, who, like me, are reminded of what happened here.
The completed Lewiston project should serve as a model for the transition from words to deeds for Niagara Falls, even if all we manage to accomplish is the construction of another monument, at least we would be true to our words.
The monument, once built would serve as a reminder to everyone who sees it, one-hundred years or more from now, that this place still matters, not because of what we say, but because of what we do!
Let’s get started!Contact Bill Bradberry at firstname.lastname@example.org