Mike Hudson was an investigative journalist for the now-defunct Niagara Falls Reporter in 2014, and looked deeply into city plans to erect a monument to the largely mythological “underground railroad” of the mid-nineteenth century.
Hudson wrote in August 2014 that: “City Council approved spending $262,000 to dedicate a park and erect a statue to a woman who by all accounts never set foot in Niagara Falls, Harriet Tubman. The city’s actual role in the underground railroad movement is a speculative one. A study conducted by the city’s underground railroad commission in conjunction with Niagara University, was unable to identify a single site in the city with any indisputable connection to the underground railroad . . . Harriet Tubman’s connection to what is now the city of Niagara Falls is tenuous.”
What Hudson’s research revealed is how city and State governments often willfully engage in what is best-termed historical fraud for the purpose of attracting federal grant monies, and above all, tourists. This will not bode well for the latter misled by the inaccurate displays masquerading as “history.”
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Tubman Myth Central to DeSantis’ Plan for Future:
In one media account last week, it was reported that [city planner] Tom DeSantis would “love to have” a sculpture of Harriet Tubman standing outside the city’s new train station and Underground Railroad Interpretive Center, the latter being a monument to a “history” you can’t find in any history book. Why Harriet Tubman?
DeSantis didn’t say. But it doesn’t seem to be a big stretch to honor a history that never took place with a largely mythological figure who made her living telling tall tales about herself to gullible audiences predisposed to believe anything she said. [There] is but one reference anywhere to something allegedly happening in what is now the city of Niagara Falls.
And that one reference comes from “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman,” a brief narrative written by grade school teacher Sarah H. Bradford that is often referred to as Tubman’s “autobiography.”
According to one paragraph in “Scenes of the Life of Harriet Tubman” by children’s book author Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Tubman accompanied a relative on a train that crossed the Suspension Bridge, near where the Whirlpool Bridge stands.
[The] Niagara Falls Reporter, discovered that of the 19 former slaves Tubman may actually have assisted, there is no proof whatsoever that a single one of them went over the old bridge at what is now the site of the Whirlpool Bridge.
Tubman, of course, could not write an autobiography. An illiterate, she couldn’t even write her own name. Bradford, the author of several children’s books, found Tubman virtually homeless in 1868, took pity, and wrote the book to raise money for Tubman’s care and feeding.
When it came out in 1869, “Scene’s in the Life of Harriet Tubman” was a bestseller. The book contains numerous verifiable whoppers, including an assertion that Jefferson Davis was dead, when he was very much alive, and that Tubman had led 300 former slaves to freedom. In fact, the highest number attributed to her by modern researchers is 70 and more sober estimates are 19, mostly relatives.
[Tubman] would be largely forgotten in Niagara Falls today were it not for the efforts of a man named Kevin Cottrell. Cottrell was a State Parks employee who also owned a business called “Motherland Connextions,” that promoted fairytale, sugar-coated stories of the underground railroad here for gullible tourists. He was employed on the condition that he would not sell his tours while being paid by the city to promote underground railroad “history.”
Cottrell repeatedly told daily newspaper and television reporters that Tubman led 300 escaped slaves across the Whirlpool Bridge to freedom in Canada. The reporters didn’t bother to check his tall tale out.”
(Tubman Myth Central to DeSantis’ Plans for the Future, Mike Hudson, Niagara Falls Reporter, August 2014, excerpts)