One of the surprising things that I have found as I have been doing research on the smuggler tunnels under Newburyport (Assuming, of course, they were used for this primary purpose) that my understanding of the city’s history has greatly expanded.
In the last scene in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dr. Jones, Sr. is asked what did he discover now that he had found what he had been seeking for most of his life. He exclaimed, “Illumination” As anyone can note who has seen the film, the word applied more than just winning a prize. His understanding, his renewed connection with his son and the entire comprehension, and appreciation of the journey were all wrapped up in that word.
I had a very dim understanding of the tunnels when I started to do some digging into finding them; and though I am truthfully no closer to actually attaining a clear understanding of their fact; the process has been most enlightening. I have forged contacts with like-minded fellow Newburyporters who also want to find the truth and in doing so, have gained so much insight by seeing their expertise, their discoveries and their understanding through their eyes.
And in doing so, they have steered me toward more information which has literally caused the “scales” to fall off the eyes of this blind man; and to now comprehend things which were always there, but now can be clearly seen.
It also illuminated me to see things in the big picture.
To know what connection these tunnels had to the Underground Railroad; I had to learn about the Underground Railroad and what occurred at the Newburyport ‘Depot’ and who was involved as ‘conductors’.
To appreciate this amazing statement made several times in the 19th and early 20th century that the tunnels end up in a cemetery (how wildly romantic!); has led me to learn about our ancient cemeteries and in particular, the rather unique status of Oak Hill Cemetery which for some reason has the most miserable assemblage of self-deprecating famous people who insist on understating their importance. (One historically famous person has a 9″ x 9″ headstone. Oh really! Wouldn’t you’d think future Americans would appreciate a much bigger memorial! They can’t even find John Bromfield’s gravesite.) Or the fact the cemetery is designed as a park with picnics encouraged. I could go on but there is more illumination further to be told.
To differentiate between some storm water and water-delivery systems; I had to learn about them. It has also explained how a water-system which is setup much like the Dead Sea; could have thrived with happy frogs. As a recent Joe Callahan article and by eye-witnesses by photographers, reporters and local city officials recently; we know now what was only conjectured. Now that’s gettin’ illuminated!
And then the issue of Smuggling. Maybe embarrassing when it occurred and probably embarrassing to descendents; it was very much closely linked to Newburyport. From Hamilton to Jackson; there was a reason, our port was a major concern. I am just beginning to see this is an entire field that hasn’t ever really been touched in our archives.
You don’t have disaster after disaster occur from 1807 to 1825 in which Newburyport’s population was greatly reduced and many left the city scattering across New England; and not see the obvious connection. Desperation, fueled with still plenty of old cash available; points to the making of a cool discovery in the 21st century. (Possibly)
Regardless of the outcome of this adventure; it will be in arguable that we will have a vastly expanded understanding of Newburyport’s history during those tough years.