April 07, 2020

Higgins heads to D.C. to lobby for Underground Railroad

BREWER — Brian Higgins leaves for Washington, D.C., today to help lobby for two bills aimed at raising awareness of the Underground Railroad.

With the release of the movie “Amistad,” which chronicles a rebellion aboard a slave ship, the Brewer Historical Society president thinks the time is ripe for the country to commemorate the network that took blacks to freedom in the North.

Higgins will meet Wednesday with Maine’s congressional and senate delegations — in addition to other New England lawmakers — in hopes of convincing them that protecting Underground Railroad sites is not only good for history but also good economics.

“Maine and Brewer are very rich in this type of tourism,” Higgins said. “I think there’d be real big return on an investment here.”

A bill before the Senate and an identical bill before the House of Representatives ask for funds to protect Underground Railroad sites, educate the public, and link the sites under the auspices of the National Park Service.

Of course, Higgins wants to bring some of those funds back to Brewer, home of its own disputed connection to the railroad.

Rumors have long abounded that Brewer abolitionist John Holyoke offered refuge to escaping slaves on their way to Canada.

In 1996, however, an eleborate test to show that a shaft near the former Holyoke House was a tunnel from the Penobscot River, and not a well as naysayers claimed, was inconclusive. The test involved pouring 1,000 gallons of green dye down the shaft in the hopes that it would re-emerge in the river.

Nonetheless, Higgins remains adamant that the house’s connection to the railroad is firmly established by oral tradition. He hopes to raise more than $40,000 to erect a statue of a runaway slave at Brewer’s Joshua Chamberlain Freedom Park, where the house used to stand. The statue would join the giant likeness of the Civil War general that now overlooks the city.

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