Sunday, February 8, 2004

"Part of our racism, all of our racism, manages to grow in the fertile field of denial. If the world does not see things like this slave pen, we have a harder time admitting things that happened. And the purpose of the Freedom Center is to help people learn what is rooted in truth, not myth."
Carl Westmoreland, historian and curator of the slave pen

The slave pen's journey
When the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center discovered that Capt. John W. Anderson's former slave jail was still standing inside a barn in Mason County, they set about the intricate job of disassembling and transporting the artifact to its new home. The reassembled slave pen will stand as the center's signature exhibit.
Barn used for tobacco

1. Discovery: In the mid-1970s Ray Evers, a retired steel contractor, and his wife, Mary, bought a farm in Mason County (Ky.), near Germantown. Over the years, Mary collected information about a log "jail cell" on the property. A barn had been built around the jail at the turn of the 20th century, which helped preserve it. In 1998, the couple learned of plans for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Cincinnati's riverfront. Ray Evers contacted center officials, invited them to see the 20-by-30 foot slave pen, and eventually agreed to donate the building in exchange for a replacement barn. Historians and archaeologists then verified the 170-year-old pen's original purpose: a holding cell for slaves who were transported South and sold.


2. Disassembly: Workers first shored up the two-story slave pen so it would not collapse when the exterior barn was removed. Once the barn was torn away, a forklift took apart the pen, one log at a time. Workers nailed two brass tags (in case one fell off) to each log for future identification. One log - partially rotted - broke during disassembly, but workers were able to reattach the pieces so that the break is undetectable. Disassembly began Aug. 19, 2002, and was complete 11 days later. The logs filled two tractor-trailers.

3. The move: To protect the logs as they traveled inside the tractor-trailers, workers created cradles from pieces of the old barn that had surrounded the slave pen. The timbers were first transported to Indianapolis, where, still in the trailers, they were fumigated to kill insects. The pieces then were driven to a secure (and still secret) location and placed in storage, where they remained for more than a year. The tractor-trailers returned to Indianapolis for a final fumigation before arriving at the Freedom Center.

4. Reassembly: In November a forklift deposited the logs on the still-unenclosed second floor of the Freedom Center. Workers loaded the logs on dollies, pushed them across the floor to their new home, then relied on the brass tags to ensure that pieces were fitted together in proper order. Reassembly, which took two months, was more time consuming than disassembly, because the seasoned logs had changed shape slightly. Workers used cables and hoists to fit the pieces together and square up the building. A blacksmith has fashioned an angled steel arbor to remind visitors of the chimney, which was removed from the pen sometime in the past 150 years.

For a more detailed graphic explaining the slave pen's move, view a PDF version.

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Slave pen now holds history
Slave pen's journey
History of slavery in America starts in 15th century Europe

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