Niagara Gazette

March 12, 2013

BRADBERRY: Commemorating 100 years, Tubman train has left the station

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Throughout 2013, special events around the country, especially on Maryland's Eastern Shore where Tubman grew up, worked, and worshipped, will commemorate her passing 100 years ago on March 10, 1913 by honoring her life and legacy; there is no good reason why Niagara Falls should not get on board.

The biggest weekend, March 8-10, 2013, included exhibits, artwork, banquets in her honor, and musical performances inspired by Tubman's life, but many more events are scheduled throughout the year.

Near Cambridge, Maryland where she grew up, plans are under way to create the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center and State Park. A groundbreaking was held Saturday, March 9, 2013 for a state park, which, according to their website (www.harriettubmanbyway.org), “will include a 15,000 square foot Visitor Center, exhibit hall and theater, memorial garden and trails, a picnic pavilion and restroom and administrative offices.”

The park’s 17 acres adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge will offer a distinctive landscape of marshes, woodlands and fields that are reminiscent of the backdrop for Harriet Tubman’s early life on the Eastern Shore.

Plans for a byway include the installation of 20 new wayside signs to better tell the stories of Tubman and the Underground Railroad along the 125-mile self-guided driving tour in Dorchester and Caroline Counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Also in the works are a new audio guide (with commentary featuring Tubman relatives and historians) and an updated map and guide for visitors along the byway.

Meanwhile, just across the bridge in Canada Harriet Tubman Day arrived in St. Catharines last Thursday as dignitaries gathered at the Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church to honor her legacy.

Kathleen Powell, curator of the St. Catharines Museum reminded the gathered guests, "Harriet Tubman was here. She sat in the pews," she said. But she pointed out that “for all that Tubman achieved - she freed countless slaves from the U.S. through the Underground Railroad - she was at heart the same as anyone else.”Harriet Tubman was a person just like the rest of us. Granted, she did a lot more than that." Mayor Brian McMullan, it was reported by the St Catharines Standard, told the gathering at the chapel he's looking to tie the city to more Tubman sites. He said he's in talks with two U.S. municipalities to become sister cities, and the connection between the three is Tubman.

"That dialogue is beginning," he said before anticipating more updates next Harriet Tubman Day. A recent National Park Service Special Resource Study concluded that two parks should be established: one located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to include large sections of landscapes that are evocative of Tubman’s life as a slave and the conductor of the Underground Railroad, and the second, located in Auburn, NY to focus on her later years where she was active in the women’s suffrage movement and in providing for the welfare of aged African Americans.

The Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks Act (S.247), a bill sponsored by Senators Cardin and Mikulski of Maryland, and Schumer and Gillibrand of New York closely observes the recommendations of the Special Resource Study and, if it ever gets out of committee and is signed into law, would establish the two National Historical Parks.

Meanwhile, here, well on its way to it is completion, the Niagara Falls, New York Underground Railroad Interpretive Center will help connect the Maryland and Auburn Parks to St. Catherines as well as to other sites in and around the Niagara and Erie County Region and the United States.

Once completed, the Center will be able to accommodate students, tourists, history buffs and the inquisitive from across the country and around the world who are interested in American/Canadian history, especially the Underground Railroad.

Promoters and tourist travel operators are already planning bus and train trips between and amongst the regions from the Eastern Shores to Toronto with layovers in Washington, Rochester, Buffalo/Niagara and just about every place in between that has Underground Railroad significance.

One such adventure designed to commemorate the 100 years since Tubman died is set to depart from Severna Park, Maryland, headed to Niagara Falls, Ontario on September 16-21, 2013 according to Ms. Vivian Mack-Boston (vmackbos@verison.net) who invites everyone to join her on the Freedom Trail Tour of Harriet Tubman, Josiah Henson & Frederick Douglass.

Hopefully, Niagara Falls, New York will keep its act on track and get on board before this type of grand opportunity to cash in on cultural heritage tourism leaves the station.

All aboard?

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com