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The Waukesha County Museum is commemorating that slice of the area’s heritage through the traveling exhibit, “Passage to Freedom, Secrets of the Underground Railroad.” The display runs through June 14 at the museum, 101 W. Main St., Waukesha.
“There were a lot of vocal abolitionist groups around the areas that are now Waukesha and Walworth counties,” said Elisabeth Engel, director of museum collections and exhibitions. “The exhibit displays their lives on the Underground Railroad and what their lives became in Canada.”
The exhibit will take viewers back to the 1800s to learn about slavery, escape routes and difficulties freedom seekers faced in journeying to the “promised land” of Canada as well as their resettlement north of the United States, according to the exhibit.
In the 1850s, about 40,000 black refugees entered Canada with the help of such famous Underground Railroad “conductors” as Harriet Tubman. Lyman Goodnow, a local conductor, helped Quarles achieve her freedom. His efforts are well documented in local and state historical societies.
The exhibit originates from the Welland Historical Museum in Welland, Ontario, and is presented in three parts:
• Slavery -- stories of capture and life as a slave
• Escape --illustrations and narratives about the dangers of escape; signs, codes and symbols; messages in spiritual songs; the importance of the stars; inventive escape methods, including a box like the one used by Henry “Box” Brown to mail himself to freedom.
• Freedom --stories from former slaves and their descendants who found both freedom and prosperity in Canada; and those who found discrimination, racism and even lynching there.
The exhibit will coordinate with the museum’s permanent display that chronicles the area’s ties to the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad through illustrations and exhibits featuring Quarles and Goodnow. Based on Goodnow’s memoirs, historians wrote:
“With bounty hunters closing in, Goodnow and Quarles traveled by horse and wagon from the Prairieville area into the Spring Prairie area near Burlington where she was hidden for several days. They resumed their journey by horse and buggy through Illinois, Indiana and into Michigan where Caroline was taken across the Detroit River to Sandwich, Ontario, where Quarles lived the rest of her life.”