Stage set for Tub­man honor

Dorchester Star - - Front Page - By VIC­TO­RIA WIN­GATE vwingate@ches­

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.

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