Stage set for Tubman honor
CHURCH CREEK — An open house tour was held at the newly constructed Harriet Tubman National Park Visitors Center on Friday, June 3, as part of the annual Harriet Tubman Conference.
Tubman was born in Dorchester County and lived here as a slave until she was nearly 30 years old. She escaped slavery in 1849, yet risked her life to return to the Eastern Shore many times to help others in their journey to freedom. She helped around 70 slaves escape and led them north. Some went as far north as Canada.
In 2013, President Barack Obama established the Harriet Tubman Underground
Railroad National Monument in Dorchester County, a precursor to National Historical Park designation.
In 2014, Congress passed a bill to create Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Parks.
Park Manager Dana Paterra directed tours through the space. The building is complete, but the exhibits have not yet been installed. Concept posters were displayed throughout the space, detailing what each exhibit is expected to look like when completed.
Paterra described each space and gave a bit of insight into what guided the design decisions and the symbolism throughout. The two most prominent symbolic aspects are timber throughout the building and the northward orientation of the center to emphasize the journey north to freedom.
Visitors will begin their experience with an immersive, two to three minute audio-visual theatre feature to show a day in the life of Tubman.
Upon exiting the theatre, guests will see a threedimensional reconstructed scene of a slave auction at the Dorchester County Courthouse.
“It was very important to the working group and the people involved in the exhibit designs that we show that there were not only white men in the audience, but there were also women and children,” Paterra said. “Emphasizing the point that this was not a white man’s problem, but it was society’s problem. Everybody participated in these slave auctions, and we have a mother and child that are being auctioned off in this particular scene.”
From there, the space moves toward information and representation of Tubman’s home and family life. This section also will have models showing home floor plans based on a person’s class status or role in society.
“We don’t have the big plantations here on the Eastern Shore that are typical of what you think of when you think of Charleston or Savannah,” Paterra said.
These models and other spaces will be accessible and will feature Braille for the visually impaired.
The next space touches on the interaction between the free and enslaved communities in Maryland.
Paterra said interaction created the communication network that became the foundation of success for the Underground Railroad.
Other areas in the main space provide information about her work as a slave, her experience at the Bucktown Village Store, her strong faith in God, and her liberation from slavery. Many of these exhibits will feature touch panels and sound sticks in order to provide additional information and stories.
Moving father into the center will bring visitors to a more emotive setup designed to give one an idea of what a night rescue on the UGRR might have looked like.
“Because this is a Maryland visitors center, we did choose to focus on Tubman and her work here on the Eastern Shore, Maryland’s role as a border state, and the important aspects of Maryland,” Paterra said.
The final area in the walkthrough exhibit space is one designed for visitors to sit and reflect on the wealth of information they have just learned.
Tubman researcher and author Kate Larsen was in attendance, and she said the space is amazing and aweinspiring.
“I think seeing it on paper and then standing here, it’s incredible,” Larsen said. “I’m impressed, and I’m very happy and pleased. I can’t wait until the exhibits are installed, and the public can come see, hear and learn about Harriet Tubman.”
Maintenance Supervisor Jim Creighton also touted the features of the building that conserve energy and improve the aesthetic of the exterior. To name a few, the lighting in the parking area is powered by solar energy, the lawn and plants will be irrigated with rainwater collected in barrels, and the vegetative roof provides natural insulation and a habitat for birds and other wildlife.
The grand opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center is slated for Friday, March 10, 2017, Harriet Tubman Day.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park contains properties in three counties — Dorchester, Talbot and Caroline. The National Park Service has been allowed to acquire seven noncontiguous properties that were historically significant in Tubman’s life.
The park will consist of 2,775 acres in Dorchester County, 2,200 in Caroline and 775 in Talbot.
The parcel in Dorchester County contains the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free African-American man who communicated with Tubman’s family members and allowed his house to be used as one of the first safe houses on the Underground Railroad leading out of the Eastern Shore.
Other parcels include the site of what is believed to be Tubman’s birthplace near Madison in Dorchester County, and sites of the Brodess Plantation, where she worked as a young girl, the Cook Plantation, where she worked as a seamstress; and the Poplar Neck plantation, where she escaped slavery in 1849.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced in April that the redesign of the $20 bill will feature Tubman.
The design of the bill is expected to be released publicly in 2020, just in time for the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center is slated to open May 10, 2016, on Harriet Tubman Day.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center is slated to open Friday, May 10, 2017, on Harriet Tubman Day.