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Posted on Thu. Apr. 03, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Conner Prairie leads visitors on simulated journey on Underground Railroad

Participants experience fears and joys of slaves on their way to freedom.

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Follow the North Star

What: An interactive experience in which participants experience what it's like to be a runaway slave seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad.

When: April 11-12 and 25-26; program start times are staggered between 6:30-8:30 p.m. Program is 90 minutes.

Where: Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, 13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers. From Fort Wayne, go south on Interstate 69. Exit at the 116th Street interchange and turn right. Go to Allisonville Road and turn right again. Cost: $20 per person nonmember; $17 member. Must be 12 or older. Those under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations are required; call 1-317-776-6006.

Website: www.connerprairie.org

Details: Participants relive the experience of runaway slaves and are taken in groups from house to house in the interactive history park to escape slave hunters.

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Between the years of 1830 and 1860, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 slaves escaped from their masters in the South to the free states and Canada via the Underground Railroad. There were no tracks or trains, of course, and the so-called stations were homes of abolitionists and other opponents of slavery. People leading the fugitives along the route were known as conductors.

Today, the railroad runs through Conner Prairie, the hands-on interactive history park at Fishers, April 11-12 and 25-26. The program also will be available in November. Participants can experience the fears and joys of slaves who were led from home to home in the dead of night to escape their oppressors.

The program, Follow the North Star, will take visitors in groups of about 15 by lantern light through the property and to several houses in the 1830 village. The trip covers about a mile over some rough terrain. Along the way, participants will meet freed slaves, a Quaker family and others who may or may not be of help on the road to freedom, and come face-to-face with slave hunters. Also, they will undergo being prepared for auction, hiding from those who are bent on returning them to their masters, and escaping to freedom.

It all begins at 6:30 p.m. at the welcome center where participants are briefed on what to expect during the 90-minute experience, then led outside to start the journey. Groups leave the center every 15 minutes up to 8:30 p.m. Dress for the weather because groups head out no matter what the conditions are. In fact, rain and no moonlight provided the best cover to move.

Afterward, participants can stay for a debriefing session lasting 30 minutes to an hour. Snacks, coffee, water and juice are provided, and a trained interpreter will lead discussions, answer questions and focus on how the evening's activity affected each person.

Because the journey can be intense and emotional at times, the Conner Prairie staff recommends not bringing children under the age of 12. Cost of the program is $20 per person and $17 for members. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 1-317-776-6006. Check the web site at www.connerprairie.org for more information.

Follow the North Star, which has hosted more than 65,000 people since it began in 1998, offers a great opportunity to leave the comfort of your world to learn about slavery, the plight of slaves in the South and the operation of the Underground Railroad.

features@news-sentinel.com


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