Westerville residents will have the opportunity to step back into history when the city's parks and recreation department, the library and the historical society present the Freedom Trail, a firsthand Underground Railroad experience.

Westerville residents will have the opportunity to step back into history when the city's parks and recreation department, the library and the historical society present the Freedom Trail, a firsthand Underground Railroad experience.

Sessions are planned Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 at Heritage Park. Participants will be "sold" into slavery, then steal away along the Underground Railroad, meeting conductors and abolitionists along the way.

"They'll be 'sold' individually, and then they'll travel on the Underground Railroad as they try to escape," said local history coordinator Beth Weinhardt. "It allows people to experience it in a way you wouldn't if you were reading about it or watching it on TV."

The Freedom Trail will highlight the role central Ohio and Westerville played in the Underground Railroad, with about half of the 16 re-enactors playing the roles of central Ohio abolitionists or Underground Railroad conductors.

"We tried to bring in real people, not just characters," Weinhardt said. "We tried to be authentic in this."

She said historians know Westerville residents helped people along the Underground Railroad and that there were stops in the city, but she said it's impossible to know how many former slaves passed through or how many residents were involved because of the secretive nature of the railroad.

"No one really wrote about what they were doing; it was so dangerous," she said. "It's hard to document because it was such a secretive thing."

The Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation, the Westerville Library and the Westerville Historical Society have been working on the concept of the Freedom Trail for about five years, Weinhardt said, but plans had to be put on hold for the city's 150th anniversary celebration last year.

Organizers decided they had to proceed this year because the Underground Railroad and abolition are a key part of the city's past.

"This is a really important part of Westerville history," Weinhardt said. "It tells us something about the people who lived here before us."

There will be 11 Freedom Trail presentations during the three days, with shows at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 2 and 3, and shows at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Oct. 4. Each session will begin at the Antrim Shelter in Heritage Park, 60 N. Cleveland Ave.

The Freedom Trail is recommended for people ages 12 and older. There is a registration fee of $10 per person.

Each time slot is restricted to 25 participants so organizers recommend that those interested register in advance at the Westerville Community Center or by calling the community center at (614) 901-6500.

The Freedom Trail is not handicap-accessible, and participants are asked to dress according to the weather and to wear sturdy walking shoes.

jnesbitt@

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