National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

PhotosCincinnati, Ohio

While taking a friend around recently, exploring restaurants and downtown, I realized we hadn’t visited the Freedom Center that opened in August of 2004.

The building, quite ominous from the backside facing the city, emerged slowly between the newly built stadiums on the riverfront. There are few windows with curved walls of stone from Italy and copper panels (said to be an homage to the Ohio River). This model from the architects offers a good perspective from the other side.

So all this time I just knew it as this colossal building that would become the “Freedom Center.” I had no expectations going in, but I will admit that I assumed it was a museum.

I think I was wrong.

Inside the Freedom Center

There are museum-like qualities with exhibits occupying roughly a quarter of the space, and theaters taking up another good chunk. A central elevator with spiral staircase at the heart of the building makes for an odd flow however, or perhaps that was just a signage issue.

When I say exhibits, I mean overdesigned panels of text with illustration resembling clipart. Tight quarters make it difficult to stand and read. There are requisite “interactive” stations with fancy directional speakers and touch-screen kiosks. Very few artifacts were on display, but there was plenty of lighting.

The centerpiece seemed to be an old cabin behind the main entry. It stood empty, its purpose unclear.

The best part may have been the room pictured above, with projection units painting every wall.

We were in between movies, so we skipped the theater experiences. I suppose that is what will entertain a busload of kids on a field trip, but I felt sort of gypped. The National Memorial in Oklahoma City comes to mind as a place that establishes feeling. I left there with a deep sense of tragedy and loss—but also, a desire to gain understanding.

I hope this Freedom Center becomes more than just a colossal building to house cocktail parties for benefactors. I hope it evolves into something that tells a story beyond the printed word or screen. I’m hopeful that this space can be that. It’s just a little empty right now.

PhotosA few photos

7 responses to “National Underground Railroad Freedom Center”

  1. I’m confused.
    Why are there asian soldiers in the picture? Is this a shot of the Freedom Center? What kind of Freedom is it celebrating?

  2. Do you have any idea who said that quote projected on the wall? I really like it and it would be nice to know the source.

  3. I think that you should get a journal entry or something that was Harriet Tubmans so if people are doing projects on her, they will have a primary source.