Local Underground Railroad history to be discussed

underground-railroadHistory and fiction converge during a special program exploring the Underground Railroad and Elkhart County.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 12 at the Osolo Branch, Patrick McGuire, curator of education at Elkhart County Historical Museum will speak about the Underground Railroad and its connections in Elkhart County, a program tied in with the Osolo Branch Page Turners Book Club’s reading of the fictional novel “Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead.

Reading the novel is not a requirement to attend McGuire’s presentation, however copies are available¬†at Osolo Branch¬†for checkout. The novel follows the journey of Cora as she and another slave make a desperate attempt to escape while a slave catcher is hot on their trail.

While the book is a fictionalized version of what would have happened at that time, McGuire said he will focus on the real Underground Railroad and its ties to the local area, which is tougher to pinpoint than some would think.

“We can’t prove anything and that’s the problem with the Underground Railroad,” he said.

“The question I pose in the whole talk is did the Underground Railroad come through Elkhart County? As a historian the answer is we can’t prove it, because it was illegal and the people that participated could have gone to jail if they were caught so it wasn’t documented.”

Part of his efforts have been spent debunking local lore about homes connected to the Underground Railroad.

“There are houses that have been said were stops on the Underground Railroad but in this case I’ve found that they were built after the Civil War,” he said.

McGuire said he used newspaper articles from the time that the museum has, as well as other recorded items in the collection to put together his talk. A large portion of his presentation will be about the Supreme Court case Graves et. all vs. Indiana, in which Kentucky slave catchers were arrested for causing a riot in Bristol while chasing an escaped slave.

“The program is specific to Elkhart County, we’re going to be exploring if there were people connected to it locally,” he said.

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