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Underground Railroad museum highlights hardship, courage

For the first half of the 19th century, crossing the Ohio River into Cincinnati meant freedom for fleeing slaves. Now visitors can re-enact those adventure-filled journeys at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and learn about the network of fearless free blacks and whites who helped thousands secure their liberty.

An estimated 100,000 slaves sought their freedom through the Underground Railroad. They headed first for Ohio; after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, fleeing slaves needed to enter Canada to be free.

Opened in 2004, the Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati uses displays, video presentation and guided tours to show the hardships the runaways endured and the courage demonstrated by the slaves and so-called "conductors" who helped them escape to freedom.

An exhibit called The Struggle Continues also traces modern-day slavery, which is making a comeback in many parts of the world.

Visitors can enter a painstakingly rebuilt slave pen that housed slaves being shipped for auction in New Orleans and Natchez, Miss. The pen was first built in 1830 in Mason County, Ky., by Revolutionary War captain turned slave trader, John Anderson. The two-story, 21-by-30-foot log structure — now located on the museum's second-floor atrium — has eight tiny windows, a stone floor and a row of wrought-iron rings to which the slaves would have been chained. Men were kept on the second floor, while women would have had the first floor and been forced to cook. Slaves would have remained in the pen for days or even months, awaiting a rise in slave prices.

Other exhibits highlight conductors (particularly John Parker and the Reverend John Rankin, both of Ripley, Ohio), abolitionists from across the country, President Abraham Lincoln and many previously unsung heroes.

Tickets to the center are $12 for adults; $10 for those 60 or older and for college students or educators with an ID; $8 for children 6 to 12, and free for those younger than 6 with a paid adult.

The Freedom Center is handicapped accessible. Call (513) 333–7504  for details.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is also a popular destination for school field trips, which are  scheduled for 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., Tuesday through Friday. The museum presents five different two-hour school tours. Each tour is led by a trained interpreter, and the presentations are aligned with curriculum standards in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Costs are $6 per child; one chaperone per every 10 students gets in free.

Teachers can register for a field trip online or by calling (513) 333–7737. Teachers must register at least two weeks before their proposed visit; however, the Freedom Center recommends that trips be scheduled four to six weeks in advance.

Posted on December 13, 2009 by Ivonne Rovira
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National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 East Freedom Way
Cincinnati, OH

(877) 648-4838


Adults, $12; seniors, college students or teacher

$4.50 cash in Central Riverfront Parking Garage

Tuesday - Saturday 11 a.m.- 5p.m.
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