Absolutely Historical – Chapter 4
Princeton Prof. Henry Nickels, his T.A. Josh Styles and grad student Mary Winthrop go on adventures to discover the true origins of America…
Chapter 4 – The Underground Railroad
(Grad student Mary Winthrop is walking briskly toward the Dean’s office on the campus of Princeton University, with pudgy TA Josh Styles huffing along behind her…)
Josh: (panting) What are you going to do, Mary?
Mary: I’m going to tell Dean Woodruff that Prof. Nickels killed a man.
Josh: You’re going to tell (pants) the Dean of Princeton University (pants) that one of her tenured professors (pants) killed JFK (pants) who was still alive (pants) after assassinating his own body double (pants) fifty years ago.
Mary: (stops so Josh can catch his breath) Well, I won’t phrase it quite like that.
Josh: Mary, JFK was ninety-six. He probably just died of being…super old.
Mary: Moments after being alone in his cottage with Professor Nickels.
Josh: Prof. Nickels might be weird and sometimes devastatingly intimidating; but he’s no murderer. Say, on another note, do you notice anything different about me?
(Josh strokes a faint wispy mustache, eyebrows raised…)
Mary: (shakes her head) I’m telling the Dean.
Professor: Telling the Dean what?
(Prof. Henry Nickels appears before his students, sporting a thick new lustrous mustache…)
Professor: (grins) Oh Winthrop, you don’t still think I killed President Kennedy.
Professor: Mr. Kennedy was ninety-six years-old. He was bound to go at any second, which is why I wanted to take you to meet him when I did. I figured it would be our last opportunity to meet a living legend, and I was right, per usual.
Mary: Professor, you have to admit the timing of his demise was unusual.
Professor: Winthrop, you have my permission to march right into Dean Woodruff’s office and report my crimes. But without any proof she won’t believe you. And then you won’t be able to come to Detroit with me and Josh.
Josh: (far-too-exuberantly) Wow! Detroit!
Mary: What’s in Detroit?
Professor: The real Underground Railroad.
(The next day the three are walking among the broken-down abandoned buildings of Detroit…)
Professor: Everyone thinks the underground railroad was merely a series of safe houses owned by like-minded individuals leading from south to north. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Under these streets lies the final stop on an actual railroad, owned by a Mr. Harry S. Tubmann, a failed Jewish businessman and wannabe railroad tycoon who was run out of the south by jealous rivals.
Mary: Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me.
Professor: In order to exact his revenge, Tubmann built the very first underground railroad system, leading from New Orleans to Detroit with numerous stops along the way. His plan was to help the slaves escape — in return for helping build the railroad — thereby destroying the South’s hold on free labor, crushing the South both spiritually and financially.
Mary: So there was no Harriet Tubman?
(Prof. Nickels rattles a fence blocking an old abandoned subway staircase and busts the rusty lock free, beckoning his students to follow him down…)
Professor: On the contrary, Tubmann figured what slave is going to trust an old white man to help aid in escape. So he hired an elderly Northern black woman named Edie Jackson to portray the kindly brave old Harriet Tubman. The slaves would follow her to freedom, while their former employers would recognize the similarities in name and know who the true liberator really was.
(Mary and Josh warily enter a dark old subway tunnel, following Prof. Nickels’ flashlight…)
Mary: So an old Jewish man freed the slaves.
Josh: Like Moses!
Professor: Which is why the slaves called Harriet Tubman “Black Moses”.
Mary: This is ridiculous.
Josh: This is incredible.
Professor: This is historical.
Hobo: This is a knife.
(The three turn to find an elderly black homeless woman emerge from the shadows, switchblade in hand…)
Josh: (grinning, in terrible Australian accent) That’s not a– (eyes widen, regular voice) oh nope, that’s a knife. That’s a knife.
(The elderly black woman thrusts her knife at the professor…)
Hobo: Gimme all your gold.
Josh: It’s Harriet Tubman’s g-g-ghost!
Mary: Don’t be an idiot, Josh. Ma’am, we don’t have any gold. But I have some cash, if you’d please just promise not to harm us.
Hobo: What y’all doin’ down here?
Josh: (covers face) Save me, RoboCop.
Mary: You wouldn’t believe us if we–
Professor: We’re looking for the Underground Railroad.
Hobo: Well, why didn’t you say so? Follow me.
(The homeless woman scurries off down the dark tunnel and Mary, Josh and the professor chase after her…)
Josh: Are you a C.H.U.D.?
(After passing through tunnel after abandoned tunnel for hours, the homeless woman leads the three through a partially-torn-down brick wall into a grand underground cavern, the walls covered in old wooden slats with a wooden train track leading down a long dark tunnel pointed south. The three stand on the old wooden boardwalk to the side of the tracks in gaped wonder, while the homeless woman sits down Indian-style and unwraps a crusty old sandwich…)
Mary: Professor… (kneels down and tunks wood) …this boardwalk is over a century old.
(Prof. Nickels smiles at an old nineteenth century rail car at the end of the line that reads ‘Freedom Express’…)
Professor: Tubmann, you brilliant bastard.
Josh: You did it again, professor.
Hobo: (between bites of her sandwich) So what you gonna do now? Tell the world an old Jewish man freed the slaves?
Josh: Like Moses!
Mary: Stop saying that.
Professor: (kneels down next to the homeless woman) You know about Harry S. Tubmann?
Hobo: Of course. Everyone down here knows about Tubmann.
Professor: Well don’t you think everyone up there deserves to know, too?
Hobo: Harriet Tubman is an inspiration to people everywhere, black and white. She faced death to save her brothers and sisters. It don’t matter that she was just an actress and it don’t matter that the railroad was literally a railroad. The threats she and that old Jew faced on that train were just as real. The Confederates would’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come if they found those tracks. She was a brave lady. Ain’t you white boys got enough history, you gotta add one more to the club? Who cares if the story’s a little different as long as the message remains the same.
(Prof. Nickels stares at the old wooden tracks, smiles and rises…)
Professor: She’s right. Let’s get out of here. Thank you for your time, ma’am.
(The three hand the old lady some cash and make their way back to the surface. Josh and Mary are following Prof. Nickels back to the rental car…)
Josh: (whispering) I’m glad you didn’t tattle on the professor.
Mary: Let’s just say I’m postponing the inevitable. Actions have consequences, Josh.
Josh: (furrows brow, strokes faint shadow of a mustache) Isn’t that from RoboCop?
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