Archived Story

Canada invites Underground Railroad Wax Museum

Published 9:55am Friday, August 16, 2013

 

Cassopolis teacher Felomina Patton at Dowagiac Elks Lodge 889 Aug. 15 with seven of 41 Cass County Underground Railroad Wax Museum re-creators: (back) Otto Reick IV, Savage McKee and Ymani Stallworth (a descendant of Harrison Ash); and (front) Todd Bussey, Aidan Ward, Addison Ward (Bogue descendants) and Dynisha Hackworth.
Cassopolis teacher Felomina Patton at Dowagiac Elks Lodge 889 Aug. 15 with seven of 41 Cass County Underground Railroad Wax Museum re-creators: (back) Otto Reick IV, Savage McKee and Ymani Stallworth (a descendant of Harrison Ash); and (front) Todd Bussey, Aidan Ward, Addison Ward (Bogue descendants) and Dynisha Hackworth.

Now that there are 41 Cass County Underground Railroad Wax Museum figures, students at Sam Adams Elementary School in Cassopolis are getting invited places, and not just Dowagiac for Rotary Club Thursday.

Seven of the third through sixth graders who debuted Feb. 21 traveled to the Grand Old City Aug. 15 — young Abraham Lincoln, Harrison Ash, Zachariah Shugart, Lucy Blackburn, Stephen Bogue, Angelina Osborn and Hannah Bogue — but their eyes are on a more distant prize than Dowagiac.

The students, ages 9, 10 and 11, some of whom are fourth- and fifth-generation descendants of the characters they portray, have been invited to perform in Canada in July 2014, for which they will be fundraising.

Students chose their character, researched his or her life and wrote a one-minute script about the highlights to recite, though they did not require Rotarians to push a button to animate them.

All of the characters contribute to the story of the Underground Railroad in Cass County.

“People didn’t know what we were doing,” Todd said. “Some people thought we were making wax figures, but we had to be the wax people.”

“It’s amazing the places we’ve gone to perform for people we know and people we didn’t,” Savage said. “If you haven’t been to the Bonine House before, it’s quite an amazing place to go.”

“It’s been going on for almost a year now,” Ymani said, “and we’ve got to see other groups perform.”

“I think how fast we did these research papers is amazing,” Aidan said.

“My favorite part is the travel,” Addison added. “Next year we get to go to Canada!”

“As soon as you believe you know everything about the character you’re researching,” Dynisha said, “then you read a book and find out there’s a whole bunch you don’t know.”

Dynisha in May was a finalist in the Michigan History Essay Competition in Detroit.

She was one of 25 fifth or sixth grade students who qualified from 442 competitors throughout the state based on a 1,000-word essay.

Fifteen students debuted their characters at the Black History Breakfast in Cassopolis in mid-February sponsored by the Minority Coalition of Cass County.

Twenty-five performed at Community Church in Cassopolis and at Ross Beatty High School.

Fifth grade teacher Felomina Patton coordinated the undertaking along with Underground Railroad Society of Cass County (URSCC) education chair Ruth Andrews.

Community members and URSCC members volunteered to help students choose characters, write scripts and create appropriate costumes.

Mary Anne Bonine of Galesburg did meticulous research on the characters, gathering information in folders, acting as the resource for student scripts.

She donated skirts, bonnets, hats, aprons, coats, vests and suspenders.

Retired journalist Wayne Falda of Edwardsburg acted as documentarian and photographer.

Students performed at the Bonine House April 27 and during UGRR Days in July.

“It was a little hard to pull them together after the fair because they’re all scattered about on vacation,” said Patton, who spoke as the guest of retired Cassopolis educator Barbara Groner.

“I cannot think of a better way to learn history,” Groner said. “Projects move a year along and that’s what you remember.”

 

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