Imagine standing in the spot where an enslaved American waited for the train that would take him to freedom, while a real train rolls into the historic station. Or paying your respects at the grave of a freedom seeker who came to Jackson on the Underground Railroad, while gazing at the image of a North Star etched on her actual tombstone. Reading about these and other remnants of the Underground Railroad is enriching; but experiencing them personally stirs the soul.
That’s the goal of an exciting new app that guides users to five Jackson landmarks tied to the Underground Railroad. “Experience Jackson Tours” provides not only this sensory dimension, but guides users from point to point, thanks to an interactive map along a 3-mile route in and around downtown Jackson. The app, which can be downloaded at the Experience Jackson app store, is a great storytelling tool, complete with audio narration and imagery pertinent to each stop.
Landmarks include a park where defiant newspapers pounded out antislavery editorials; an 1850s era Romanesque Revival church founded by Underground Railroad agents; “Under the Oaks Park,” where abolitionists helped to birth a political revolution; and the oldest continuously operating train station in the nation. One of the tour’s highlights is a Michigan Historical Marker in Mt. Evergreen Cemetery honoring the burial sites of eight Jackson residents who participated in the secret system, including a freedom seeker whose head stone proclaims she and her husband came to Jackson “on the Underground Railroad.” In addition, the National Parks Service recently approved the cemetery in its “National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom,” giving the cemetery--and Jackson--national acclaim.
When I first uncovered the evidence behind these landmarks, I felt a rush of excitement to be able to shed light on a part of local history that had remained secret for over 150 years. Operatives didn’t want to be discovered, and they went to great lengths to hide their tracks! Now that their tracks have been uncovered, however, how best to share the revelation? Books and historical markers are excellent ways to get the word out, but touring landmarks personally makes history come to life!
It’s been gratifying to watch Jackson’s remembrance of the Underground Railroad progress to this point, thanks to the partners like Experience Jackson who are finding new ways to turn history into an adventure.
Author Bio: Linda Hass
Linda Hass is an author/speaker/researcher specializing in the Underground Railroad. She conducted the research for the National Parks Service designation and for two Michigan Historical markers honoring the Underground Railroad in Jackson, and she has written two books on the subject: Michigan’s Crossroads to Freedom and Hidden in Plain Sight.