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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Boxcars of Pork on Underground Railroad (II)

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The Freedom Center, the National Underground Railroad museum that opened in August 2004 on the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, wants another $2 million in public funds to stay financially afloat at its site on prime waterfront real estate. It has already soaked up millions. But the real folly is that other important Underground Railroad pre-Civil War historic sites -- homes and churches and farms -- where people broke the law and risked all to help fleeing slaves seem to be getting short shrift. It looks like there may not be enough money available to preserve them.

A few months ago, the National Park Service, which is responsible for cataloging and saving America's Underground Railroad locations, was able to come up with only $368,000 for 21 sites. Its biggest grant was for $25,000. The agency rejected 7 grant requests, which would have pushed the total to $476,267.

In 2005, it was the same story -- not enough money in the budget -- and only 18 projects were funded. ''These projects were selected from among 38 applications in a very competitive pool of proposals. More than $640,000 in projects were submitted, but only $295,800 was available for grants in FY 2005,'' the National Park Service said. "Several projects were to stabilize and preserve endangered historic buildings -- such as Eleutherian College (one of the National Trust for Historic Places 11 most endangered places in the country)."

I found only one other document about funding -- a Sept. 30, 2002 National Park Service news release that said $250,000 was granted to 14 projects in 11 states. ''Proposals were submitted for 19 projects totaling over $340,000,'' the Park Service said, explaining that it didn't have enough cash for them all.

It is time for government leaders to wean Cincinnati's Freedom Center off public funds and make it stand on its own. That was always the plan. Meanwhile, the real places on the Underground Railroad are fading away. Some might be lost forever.

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