Underground Railroad exhibit opens Saturday
CAMBRIDGE — The Choptank River Lighthouse was not standing at Long Wharf on the waterfront in Cambridge during the middle years of the 1800s, but the views that the lighthouse offers to visitors today give a commanding introduction to the stories of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad nonetheless.
That is the driving idea behind a new exhibit opening at the lighthouse on Saturday, June 24. Titled “View from the Lighthouse: The Underground Railroad,” the exhibit will run through the end of October and be housed on two large walls of the upstairs section of the lighthouse. It is the first such temporary exhibit in the history of the Lighthouse, which has been open since 2012.
“With the Lighthouse celebrating its fifth birthday this year, we wanted to try and add something new and different for our visitors, local residents and tourists alike,” said Cassie Burton, the president of the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation, a community nonprofit that manages the visitor experience at the city-owned facility. “This exhibit is all about tying our beautiful waterfront in with the incredible stories our community has to tell.”
Burton said in May, visitation to the lighthouse was up more than 20 percent compared with the same month in 2016.
One goal of the new exhibit is to keep building on that progress so that the lighthouse can play an even larger role going forward in helping to draw new visitors to Dorchester County and connecting those visitors with the businesses and destinations that make the community such a unique and special place.
During an opening day reception from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., there will be light refreshments available at the lighthouse. The foundation’s executive director, Jim Duffy, will be on hand to answer questions and discuss the exhibit with visitors.
Duffy is the author of a book that will be coming out later this summer, “The Tubman Travel Companion: 32 Underground Railroad Journeys on Delmarva,” and he played a key role in developing the exhibit materials.
Those materials walk visitors around the lighthouse, taking in four different views they can enjoy from the deck and explaining how each view speaks to the landscape and stories of Underground Railroad times. • Downriver, toward the Chesapeake Bay, is the story of Harriet Tubman’s family roots and her grandmother’s arrival on these shores from Africa. • Upriver, beyond the Frederick Malkus Bridge, the banks of the Choptank River run along one of the most popular routes taken by slaves striving to reach freedom in the north along the Underground Railroad. • Into Cambridge along High Street is the site of the first escape Tubman ever helped to orchestrate after making her own run to freedom in 1849. • Across the river, in Talbot County, is the story another fascinating escapee, Moses Viney, who made his run to freedom from a farm near Trappe. Talbot County is also the birthplace of the famed abolitionist orator and writer Frederick Douglass. The opening of “View from the Lighthouse: The Underground Railroad” has been scheduled in cooperation with the nearby Richardson Maritime Museum in downtown Cambridge at 401 High Street.
At 1 p.m. on June 24, the museum will be presenting a talk titled, “Amazing Grace: Sailing into Slavery, Sailing onto Freedom,” by John H. Miller, a professor of literature who has taught at Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Virginia, and other institutions.
The volunteer-run Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center at 424 Race Street, which is just a couple of blocks from the Richardson Museum in downtown Cambridge, will be open to visitors that day as well. So, too, will the new Harriet Underground Railroad Visitor Center outside of town at 4068 Golden Hill Road, near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
“This is going to be a day full of opportunities to explore our heritage, and the Lighthouse is proud to be working in partnership with the Richard Museum and others to help make it happen,” Burton said.
The lighthouse is open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., through the end of October. The upstairs area with the new exhibit will be open those same hours. Admission to the Lighthouse is always free. Donations are accepted. Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation volunteers are on hand to greet visitors and answer their questions on Friday afternoons, Saturdays, and Sundays.
The exhibit is a grassroots affair, financed through the generosity of donors from the local community and beyond who contribute to the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation during its annual giving campaign and by supporting its other fundraising efforts. For more information, visit ChoptankRiverLighthouse.org and Facebook.com/ChoptankRiverLighthouse. The Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation can also be reached at ChoptankLighthouse@gmail.com and 410.463.2653.
“View from the Lighthouse: The Underground Railroad” opens at the Choptank River Lighthouse in Cambridge on Sat., June 24 and runs through the end of October.