Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pennsylvania and the Underground Railroad


We ate Thanksgiving lunch at Alfanos At The Quail in Washington, PA. It is a beautiful old 1837 plantation mansion originally built by David Quail, and was one of the Underground Railroad Waystations. The Quail family lived in the house for almost 100 years. The mansion has been elegantly redecorated, and is awesome to behold. The proprietors, the Marc and Christina Alfanos, are beautiful people. Christina met us as we came through the doorway, and was very sweet. She remembered John and Suzan by name, and later, took us on a tour of the beautiful house. The company was great, and the food was delectable. We had traditional Thanksgiving fare – but I’ve heard the food any other day is amazing.

See this little hole? This is so the slaves could see out of the closet.

This is the stairwell above the "hold".
You can see the lookout hole better now at the bottom of the stairwell.

And this…is the closet, stashed under the stairwell. It is tiny. I am standing up, and shooting the picture down into the closet. I can’t imagine anyone staying here for long, but the runaway slaves did. And they waited to be moved to the next safe house.

Makes my heart hurt.

Scott and I were raised with a black lady always present in our house. We called her Momma Jean. She was a huge part of our lives, and loved us with a passion. We loved her, too, loved her kids and her family. I don’t know how long she worked for our family, but she was never a slave. She went home to her family and kids every night. We grew up with her kids, who attended the same school as we did. As a result, we grew up without prejudice.

I was unaware, until just a few years ago, that at the same time we were all growing up together in Big Spring, that most black people couldn’t go some of the same places my family went, just because they were black. I had no idea, that in my home town, things like that were going on. I don’t know if I had my head up my butt, or what, but I was clueless. And when one of my friends, who happens to be black, told me that she and her family had to go eat in the kitchen of some of the same restaurants we frequented back then, I was shocked. She is the same age as I, and it had to be happening when I was growing up in the same town as she. Once I realized she had to be telling the truth, I was mortified and felt somewhat culpable. So, when I see places like where the Underground Railroad operated, it hits me hard.
I hope every slave who came to the Quail House made it to freedom.

12 comments:

Jeff said...

Janie, what a wonderful stay - dinner and more! I'm jotting down that place's name for the next time my family takes a trip 'back east.'

Long before the Civil War broke out, Pennsylvania had a long tradition of pro-abolition sentiment ... dating back to old William, himself. One of my Keystone State ancestors - a great(x4)-grand-uncle was a doctor and an officer in the Union Army, appointed by the Governor of Pennsylvania to oversee the medical portion of efforts to enlist blacks in the army ... all part of the same tradition as the Quail Plantation.

You and YLH have a great stay!

Gretchen said...

That's one place we haven't visited yet. Will have to get that on our list for the summer travel season.

Makes me proud of the State. :)

Junosmom said...

Interesting blog, and reflection on your childhood.

Karen said...

I grew up the same way, Janie. In Shreveport, we had our wonderful Hilda and when she decided to go to nursing school we were blessed with Bea. Both fine, strong black women who took very good care of us and were truly a part of our family. Because of them I am without ugly prejudice, too. I am so thankful.

Vodka Mom said...

That was SO cool! I just love stuff like that!!

Denise said...

I love learning about history....so thanks for posting this and for showing the pictures. I also wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog to say Happy Bday to me. I really appreciate it!

Trying to Stay Calm! said...

I am new here! What a great blog! ♥ Hugs!

jill jill bo bill said...

That is amazing!!!! So glad you got to spend the holidays with the man.

Stu Pidasso said...

that is a wonderful story of our country's past. And as much as it makes my heart hurt too that we as a nation could do those things and countless others to so many people over the hundreds of years we have existed, it would hurt more if our kids did not learn from our mistakes.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by your statement that because you grew up with a black servant you are without prejudice. Slave owners in the South had their slaves care for their white children and allowed them to play alongside the slave children, but you could not say those white children grew up without prejudice. Perhaps you could say you grew up without prejudice if your white mother went off to work everyday as a servant for a black family. I am not trying to be offensive here. Just want to give you something to think about.

scotte said...

anon-I will answer that before she gets the chance. I spent as much time at Momma Jeans home as I did mine. I shared a crib with one of her children. I (much to my mother's chagrin) have known them as sisters my whole life. I was the token white at many a basketball game at the Lakeview YMCA (yepper the blacks had their own Y). I still am counted as family at Momma Jean's home and all of her kids will tell you that Janie and I are their brother and sister. But to be truthful - there is predudice but it is generational. I still remember the first time my momma thru a fit because a family came in the same resteraunt we were eating in. She was livid. Then Janie locked the keys in the car cause she didn't want anyone to steal our new dog.
I was 5 or 6 years old-and it was the first time that I was ashamed of my mother. God Help Me! I recall that as the first time I ever knew she was flawed at all.
I grew up in that world and never felt predudiced but I do know some sorry black people. And some sorry white people. and Brown, Red, and Yellow too! But I have learned from life-judge the individual not the race.
Sorry to rant , or to sound defensive! But I truly believe that Momma Jean loves me as a son, and I know that I love her as a mom.
I am glad she chose to work for our family,

Janie said...

Jeff - it was an amazing place.

Gretchen - you should be proud of your state! Amazing things happened here!

Junosmom - thanks so much, ma'am!

Karen - we have so much in common! We have to get together soon.

Vodka Mom - you'll have to go check it out!

Denise - glad you liked it,and thanks for stopping by - love your blog!

Trying to stay Calm - thanks for stopping by, and I love your blog!

Jill - it's fun to see ThatManILove!

Stu - that's right. Our children can learn from our mistakes. Thanks for that!

Scott - I love you and I don't remember locking the car so noone would steal the dog.

Anonymous - thanks for coming by, and I understand your sentiments. However, you said one word - "servant". Mamma Jean was not a servant, by any means; no more so that my mom, who also worked for a living. Mamma Jean was an employee, and a loved one.
She was free to come, and to go - and as Scott said, we spent just as much time at her house with her kiddos as Jean and her family did at ours. Family is family - regardless of race or gender. Love knows no boundaries.