Fake tribute to Harriet Tubman?

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Harriet Tubman looms large in the story of the Underground Railroad, and New York Power Authority money is likely to make her even more visible in Niagara River communities.

But it might not be in a way Tubman would have recognized. The state so far has snubbed a proposal to honor the most popular Underground Railroad conductor by revamping a Niagara Falls street near where she moved escaped slaves to freedom.

Meanwhile, state officials have begun to embrace a $250,000 plan downriver in Lewiston to create a life-size bronze sculpture that would depict Tubman with Josiah Tryon, Lewiston's station master on the Underground Railroad, helping a slave family step from a rowboat to freedom in Canada.

"This would be the first freedom crossing monument on the border with Canada," said Lee Simonson, of the Historical Association of Lewiston.

A fine idea but for one thing, supporters of the Falls plan say: There's no proof Tubman ever helped Tryon send any slave to freedom from Lewiston.

[HNN: Two days after this news story a local columnist, Rod Watson, blasted the proposal as fake history:

If the folks in Niagara County are smart, they'll learn from Buffalo's experience: Fake history doesn't sell.

And selling is what the effort to capitalize on Underground Railroad icon Harriet Tubman is all about.

That's what makes Lewiston's bid to hijack Tubman's legacy more than just another historical falsehood. It's also about the bottom line: Who will benefit from efforts to create attractions that get Falls tourists to spend more time and money on the U.S. side?

Hence the $250,000 plan for a life-size sculpture of Tubman.

There's just one problem: It's in Lewiston, where Tubman never led escaped slaves across the Niagara River to Canada, but which now wants to claim her.

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