Planning a Time Trip
If you have ever thought about traveling through time, you might want to do some research about an event that you would like to visit.
Sometimes the history of an event is more important than the place where it happened. You may come across a local spot where something unforgettable happened even though the site is no longer considered important. This is the case with the following story.
In Wheeling, West Virginia, around 1850, a man named Eber Pettet was staying at the City Hotel. Since this was before the time that slaves had been emancipated, the Underground Railroad (U.G.R.R), which helped African-Americans escape from slavery and make their way to free cities in the north, was in full operation. You may have read about Harriet Tubman and others who led many groups of slaves to freedom.
According to author Charles Blockson, Pettet came to know that the City Hotel was a stop on the Underground Railroad. He met a young black man named Charley who described his experience in Wheeling. Charley had stolen a horse and run away from his owner in Virginia. For two weeks he lived off corn and apples and was almost starved by the time he reached Wheeling. He went to the hotel before daylight and asked the landlord for some bread.
"You are a runaway," the landlord said. Charley started to say no, but the landlord added, "Go with me!"
He took Charley to the barn where he had left the stolen horse.
"Do you know whose horse that is?" the landlord asked.
Convinced that he had been caught and would soon be sent back in chains to his master, Charley told him the truth and waited for the landlord to call the authorities.
Instead, the landlord said, "You see that house beyond that lot?"
"You go there and tell them I said they must take care of you, and give you something to eat." The landlord was smiling now, but it was getting light. "Hurry, go right in the back door."
This is how Charley described what happened next, according to Eber Pettet:
When I got in [the house] I could see nobody but a sick woman on a bed. I told what the man said, and soon I heard horses running up the road, and looking out, saw my master and another man coming. I began to cry, but she told me to get under the bed and lie still, and when I had done so she took up her baby, and got it to screaming with all its might.
At that moment, the man who owned Charley opened the door and looked in and asked if the woman had seen Charley.
"My husband's at the barn," she said. "He can tell you if he has been here."
As soon as he had gone toward the barn, the woman turned to Charley and said, "Go up the ladder and lie down on the attic floor." Shortly afterward, her husband walked in carrying a milk pail.
"Where is he?" he asked.
"He went up the ladder, and you must carry him something to eat, poor fellow, he's starved."
They fed Charley and let him sleep all day. That night, the man took him to the banks of the Ohio River, where they got into a boat and crossed the river to the Ohio side. There, the man handed Charley two loaves of bread.
"This is a free state, and there is the North Star," he told Charley, pointing to it. "God bless you."
Within a few weeks, thanks to other members of the U.G.R.R., Charley was safe and free in Fredonia, New York.
Although the City Hotel is no longer standing in Wheeling, a junior researcher there could find out where it was and wonder what a trip back in time to the U.G.R.R. would be like. But you can also expand your research to any historical period and place.
Here are some questions students could ask when planning their own historical time trip:
Questions to ask your local librarian
Has my town been involved in any historical movements or events?
Was my town affected in any way by slavery or by immigrants from other countries? If so, how?
Are there any books, articles, or other documents that would help me picture what life was like at that time?
What Native American tribes used to live in this area? If so, what were their villages like?
What events took place between Native Americans and the settlers who founded the town? Are there any books or magazine articles that would describe any of these events?
Copyright © James M. Deem. Adapted from How to Travel Through Time © James M. Deem. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995. All rights reserved.
Blockson, Charles. The Underground Railroad. New York: Berkley, 1989.