Jeanine Bobenmoyer">

A Surreal Experience: Follow the North Star at Conner Prairie

I was ordered not to look up. Marched in a line of others I couldn’t identify because my eyes were cast at my feet. Called names I couldn’t believe. Humiliated when I couldn’t remember the ingredients for a simple pie crust. And I was doing all of this voluntarily – in fact I’d paid $20.
The year was 1836 and no, I wasn’t hallucinating. I was playing the part of a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad, and Conner Prairie ‘Interactive Historic Park’ was about to live up to its name.
Follow The North Star program at Conner Prairie was just that – interactive – and also terrifying, powerful, engaging and and and… My decision to sign up my history-buff mom and I to willingly stand in for runaway slaves with a bunch of strangers was quickly waning. But we wanted our freedom.
The journey began inside an auditorium where one of Conner Prairie’s workers explained what laid ahead: My owner had brought me to Indiana to be sold. With the southern states behind me, I and a group of slaves decide to escape and make our way north to freedom. So after this mini-orientation, we were ordered to remain quiet and shuffled onto a tram. The 10-minute ride to our first stop was almost unbearable, clinging to white bands we’ve been given to use as our ‘mercy’ flag, should we need them.
 Follow The North Star - Conner Prairie
Exiting the tram, a guide told us to stand against the wall of a small house, look down, and whatever we do, not to disobey. Our master appeared and immediately put us in our place before marching us off. We were put through an auction where I was ordered not to lie about my work abilities. Was I a chef? A housemaid? A farmhand?
The escape began shortly after and our group encountered a number of different points along our journey: 
  • – A mother and daughters unwilling to help but wanting us off their property immediately.
  • – A freed slave returning to the south to search for his wife and son.
  • – The capture of one of our group members by slave-catchers. A gunshot ringing out to indicate a permanent loss.
  • – A kind Quaker family who took us in and provided cornbread crumbs.
  • – Another freed slave who reminded us that anyone could take her papers at a moment’s notice.
It was a powerful program. It was challenging. I was sweaty. And the 90 minute experience felt like a lifetime, a small feat once we learned that some slaves spent a literal lifetime running for their lives.
Plenty of other posts will give you a fully detailed account of the Follow The North Star program {like this one here}. I’ll simply tell you this: It’s a harrowing journey but an immersive and dramatic experience worth every minute you give it.

MORE INFO:

Advanced registration is required and tickets are available for participants ages 12+. Due to the nature of this program, it is not open to kids ages 11 and under. Cost: $17 members; $20 non-members.

Dates: November 2-4, 9-11 and 16-18. Find more details at their website.

Location: Conner Prairie is located at 13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers. Call {317} 776-6000 with questions. 

 

{Photos credits: Conner Prairie}

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