MEDINA — Harrison Gray (H.G.) Blake had his share of accomplishments throughout his career, but none were more important to Blake than his work on the Underground Railroad.
On Saturday, Blake, founder of Old Phoenix Bank, was portrayed by Medina Show Biz Co. actor Manuel Aguiar during the 22nd annual Spirits of the Past. Aguiar fittingly stood in front of Huntington Bank on Public Square, which was formerly Old Phoenix Bank, and, as Blake, talked about how passionate he was about “injustice.”
Blake’s home at 314 E. Washington St. was the last stop in Medina along the railroad. From there, slaves were taken to Oberlin and then to freedom in Canada.
He hid the slaves in the attic and basement of his family’s home. It was there that he introduced his two daughters to a slave who had been whipped and whose wounds were disinfected with salt.
“It made a lasting impression on the girls,” Blake said. “(They realized) the importance and seriousness of our task.”
Blake said between 3,500 and 4,000 slaves passed through Medina County on the railroad. The abolitionist called himself a “conductor” on that railroad.
Blake, who was born in 1819 and died in 1876, was mayor of Medina, editor of The Medina Gazette, a member of the U.S. Congress and speaker of the Ohio Legislature. Blake Elementary School in Montville Township is named in his honor.
Other historical re-enactments around the Public Square on the guided Spirits of the Past tour included:
- Edward Welling (played by Ron Svoboda) and Charlie Iper (Mike McClintock) stood inside the Uptown Park gazebo and talked about the founding of the Medina Community Band.
Welling said the band was founded in 1859. One of its biggest days was the 100-year anniversary of our country.
“We were part of a daylong celebration in Medina,” Welling said. “It was a grand event.”
- Robert (Charlie Richards) and Rachel Whipp (Carrie Robinson) stood on the steps of the Medina County Courthouse and discussed her plot to murder her husband. Robert Whipp owned a 2,000-acre plot of land in Hinckley, and his estate was worth $100,000.
“Some say I married him for his money,” Rachel Whipp said. “They might be right.”
Her brother and boyfriend helped her attempt to hang her husband just three weeks after their marriage.
“He was a mean, old devil,” Rachel Whipp said.
She was sentenced to seven years in prison after a highly publicized trial in 1878. She served just one year. She gave birth to the couple’s son behind bars.
Robert Whipp wanted nothing to do with his son, which he didn’t think he fathered.
- Dr. Samuel Hudson (Mark Levigne) and his sons (Aaron and Stephen) stole corpses in Old Town Cemetery behind the Medina County Administration Building.
“I need fresh bodies to work on,” Hudson explained.
He dissected the bodies and studied them in the name of research and science. His two sons helped him dig up the bodies, including the “woman” who was wrapped in a white sheet behind them.
Hudson, who was shot in the face by a farmer, wore a patch over his left eye.
- Three early settlers in Medina sat in front of the Medina Library on South Broadway Street, Mrs. Rufus Ferris (Marcia Aguiar), Mrs. Northrup (Cyndi McClintock) and Mrs. Zenith Hamilton (Stefanie Plymale).
They crocheted and talked about life in early Medina. They marveled at the men in the community who built a church in one day. Mrs. Northrup’s daughter, Eliza, became the first schoolteacher in Medina. Like Blake, she has an elementary school named in her honor.
“Wonder what Medina will look like when it celebrates its 200th birthday?” Mrs. Hamilton said.
Medina will celebrate its bicentennial next year.
- Attorney Charlie Alcott (Barry Frey) stood in front of Ormandy’s Trains & Toys on the square and talked about his rough life. He said he settled in Medina in 1818 and became the town’s prosecuting attorney in 1826.
Alcott also was an abolitionist and an inventor. He said he lost his job as justice of the peace because he liked alcohol.
Spirits of the Past drew several hundred on its tour Friday and Saturday. Rain dampened the turnout Thursday, and the luncheon at Miss Molly’s Tea Room was canceled Sunday.
The event is co-sponsored by the Medina County Historical Society, the Medina County Arts Council and Show Biz Co.
Donna Bica and Marcia Aguiar were co-directors of the three-day event.
“It’s a wonderful project to work on,” said Bica, who has been with the tour 22 years. “It’s fun to do. People can go out and enjoy the square. It’s a beautiful setting.”
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.