Underground Railroad Related Tourism Competition Healthy?

MACON, Georgia — The Tubman African American Museum opened in mid-May 2015 in spacious new 49,000-square-foot quarters in downtown Macon with classrooms, meeting spaces and exhibit galleries. In contrast the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad exhibit at the train station will be about 1/50th the size at 1100 square feet.

MACON, Georgia — The Tubman African American Museum opened in mid-May 2015 in spacious new 49,000-square-foot quarters in downtown Macon with classrooms, meeting spaces and exhibit galleries. In contrast the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad exhibit at the train station will be about 1/50th the size at 1100 square feet.

The Castellani Freedom Crossing exhibit at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and the Underground Railroad interpretive center at the new Whirlpool Street train station won’t just be competing with each other, they’ll be competing with museums all around the country designed to lure tourists interested in former slaves escaping to the north in the days prior to the Civil War.

The $110 million National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the currently the premier destination for those who wish to focus their vacations on that facet of American history. Opened in 2004, the Freedom Center is said to have the largest collection of Underground Railroad related items in the world, and is currently exhibiting the Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order Abraham Lincoln issued in 1863 to end slavery.

It is one of a new group of “museums of conscience” in the United States, along with the Museum of Tolerance, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Los Angeles and the National Civil Rights Museum. The Center “offers insight into the struggle for freedom in the past, in the present, and for the future, as it attempts to challenge visitors to contemplate the meaning of freedom in their own lives,” according to its website.

Its location recognizes the significant role of Cincinnati in the history of the Underground Railroad, as thousands of slaves escaped to freedom by crossing the Ohio River from the southern slave states. Many found refuge in the city, some staying there temporarily before heading north to gain freedom in Canada.

There are additional Underground Railroad museums in Flushing, Ohio, Chesterfield, New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Ohio, Ashtabula, Ohio, Maysville, Kentucky, Memphis, Tennessee, Detroit, Michigan, Blairsville, Pennsylvania, Burlington, New Jersey and else-where.

And, while Harriet Tubman may or may not have passed through what would much later become the city of Niagara Falls once on a passenger train, tourists wanting to learn about her life and times currently point their compasses toward Macon, Georgia, where the $18 million Tub-man African American Museum is located.

For Tubman aficionados not wishing to spend their tourism dollars in a former slave state, there are also the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Maryland, the Harriet Tubman National Monument in Delaware or the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, New York.

Some of these destinations can be reached by taking the scenic Harriet Tubman Byway, which runs through both Maryland and Delaware, or crossing the Harriet Tubman Bridge, which spans the Combahee River in South Carolina.

Of course the Tubman tourists, of which there must be dozens, can send Underground Railroad related post cards home to loved ones using any of the four postage stamps issued in her honor in recent years.

While competition is stiff in the Underground Railroad related tourism industry, Niagara Falls will be unique in one respect – It will be the only town in North America to boast two Under-ground Railroad museums, and have a statue of Harriet Tubman at the train station to boot.

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