Walking through history

Published 11:09 pm Saturday, September 19, 2009

There’s many a hill between the final resting place of African-American James Ditcher, buried in soldier’s field at Woodland Cemetery, and the monument of Ironton founder and wealthy ironmaster John Campbell.

But a cause made them brothers. It was the shared commitment to a mission of freedom that took cold, hard courage and the passion to persevere, as both men defied death many, many times to bring runaway slaves to safety in the North.

And it was their stories, among those of other famous Lawrence Countians, that came to life during the annual Historical Ghost Walk hosted by the Lawrence County Historical Society.

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With the electricity of a evangelist, J.D. Cockrel told the story of Ditcher, aka the Red Fox, who in five years brought 300 slaves to freedom. Industrialist Campbell took advantage of his prestige to hide slaves in the ox carts that carried processed ore from his furnaces to the river and bring them to one more stop on the Underground Railroad. Both rescued hundreds who made their way north to safety.

When he is not going back in time, Cockrel actually is a preacher for Christ Temple in Ashland, Ky. This is his fourth year of portraying Ditcher along with Jayquetta Dufore, who played Ditcher’s wife, Lavinia.

“I look forward to doing this,” Cockrel said. “I like to share wisdom and knowledge and I like to meet new people, to see their faces when they get involved.”

Nearby, James Epling, in the rough, heavy cloth of a Union soldier, told how 2,000 men from Lawrence County willingly signed up to fight against the enslavement of others as they joined the infantry units of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The self-guided tour brought newcomers and veteran visitors to the cemetery as crowds wandered the grounds of Woodland stopping at gravesides or mausoleums to hear re-enactors tell the history of the county from ironmaster, Nanny Kelley told by Kay Rader to Uri Cox, brought to life by John Bond, whose experiments increased the production of apples.

“The people are so interested,” Nancy Livingston, portraying Hattie Burr, said. “They want to know the history.”