This past Friday night we prayed for clear skies so that we could really enjoy the third honor roll party of the year, an adventurous and educational Underground Railroad Party.
The students arrived to a deserted school and parking lot. Only one teacher dressed in period attire holding a lantern was visible. The parents drove into the portico where “RUN AWAY!” and “$600 REWARD” posters hung with their children’s names on them. After being asked how many “hams” they were delivering, they were instructed to drive to the rear of the parking lot to the “safe house” where we had had a mini barn delivered. It had dark curtains on the windows and an underground railroad quilt hanging outside.
The students ran inside the “safe house” and were given large coffee bean sacks compliments of Java Taza coffee (my personal favorite flavor is San Jorge) to use for hiding in or under. Then we waited for our ride to take us to the next stop on the Underground Railroad.
A tractor arrived pulling a wagon full of hay and potatoes. The students piled into it and covered up with their sacks. We headed up the gravel road to a farm behind the school. On the way, slave catchers stopped us and asked us what we were doing. The teachers told them that we were delivering potatoes to the farm. After a brief inspection they let us go.
The tractor stopped in front of an empty grain bin and we quickly crawled inside. One of the youth from our church was our “guide” for the next part. We hid inside the grain bin while the slave catchers yelled and hollered outside, and even banged loudly on the grain bin. The door to the bin kept banging open, so our guide had to close it, locking us inside. It really was a little scary. We sang scripture songs once the slave catchers had left and that calmed our nerves a bit.
Once it had gotten dark, we put the students into pairs with an older one helping a younger one along, and two by two, following our guide, we headed out across a moonlit field with our lanterns. It was surreal. Halfway across the field we heard cries as the slave catchers had snuck up behind us and captured two of the older boys. We had warned them ahead of time that this might happen. We had also instructed any of those who were caught to be non-resistant and to witness to their captors. One student was heard loudly quoting from Job, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” as he was carried off.
The rest of us ran and hid behind small bushes in the field, covering ourselves with the burlap sacks. We could see the flickering lanterns of the slave catchers walking off with their captured slaves in the distance. Once it quieted down again we headed across the field, through a barbed wire gate, and across another pasture. We then walked along a fence and crawled through another barbed wire fence that had boards attached to the top and bottom for safe passage. Next we walked along a trail into the woods. We stayed in our lines in order to make sure that all the students were safe. (The teachers had also gone all along the trail the night before with our “guides” so that we knew exactly what to expect.)
Eventually we saw a campfire in the distance and were welcomed to the next safe spot to rest. We each spread our sacks on the ground and sat down, resting our tired legs and enjoying the warm fire as the night had gotten rather chilly, especially with the wind blowing as it was.
Our hosts at this campsite, two of the parents, gave each of the students a bandana which had a tin cup inside. Inside the cup was a corn muffin and a piece of beef jerky. They poured cold water into our cups and passed out potato pancakes. After a while we heard the slave catchers in the woods and dogs barking off in the distance and decided to get moving again.
We lined up in order again, and our guide lead us through the woods. We had to run at one point as the slave catchers were close behind us. We reached the next camp where “Jonathan Walker” (a man from our church) welcomed us around his campfire, fed us peanuts, crackers and jerky, and listened to hymns played softly by one of the church grandpas on a harmonica. He told us that at one point in his life he would have turned us in, but that once he realized that, “If the Son shall make ye free, ye are free indeed!” he now instead helps slaves reach freedom.
He led us to the “Ohio River” where a canoe awaited us. We stepped from a landing into the canoe in groups as he ferried us across the river and helped us safely up on the other shore. While my group was waiting for the canoe to take us across, one of the students excitedly stated, “I can almost feel what it was like to be a slave trying to escape to freedom!”
Once the group was all together again, we headed for “Canada”. It was a rather long trek through the woods and then across another field. We finally reached “Canada”, a church family’s house that is adjacent to the church and school property. A large “WELCOME TO CANADA” sign awaited us along with a big Canadian flag that the teachers had sewn.
A homeschooling family had asked to help us with this party, and along with a few other helpers they fed us ham, beans, corn bread with sorghum, turnip greens, lemonade, and molasses cookies. It was delicious.
The whole “trip” had taken us longer than we expected, and the parents were already beginning to arrive. After eating around another campfire, the students thanked us for a fun evening and headed home, hopefully with good memories and a better understanding of part of history.
To see more honor roll party ideas click HERE.
To see more honor roll party ideas click HERE.
How We Pulled This One Off
Two weeks ahead of time- teachers met with the homeschool family helping us. The husband was in charge of getting together a band of “slave catchers” while the wife was in charge of the food.
The week of the party
Monday- the two lady teachers went shopping for hats for the men, all the tin camping cups, bandanas, beef jerky, ham, sheets we cut up for shawls and the Canadian flag, and lanterns.
Thursday - teachers stayed after school to dig through all the bins and get what we needed from those, and to make the “Runaway” posters by making overhead copies and projecting them onto the wall. Also, all of the “guides” met and took the teachers through the whole escape route.
Friday - Everyone involved met at 6:30 to go over the whole plan and path one more time. The teachers made the bandana-cup-muffin-jerky packages, tied them up, and placed them in baskets for the parents at the camp. Then we all got dressed, lit the lanterns, and awaited our “slaves” to arrive.