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Travel through time


Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 09:20 PM

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SEBRING -

America has been a nation in motion with an autobiography crafted by millions who have taken journeys, both "voluntary and involuntary," from foot to steam boats.

A traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, which opens Friday at a Sebring museum, captures some of these voyages and explores the history of American travel and the innovation in trains, automobiles and ships that made it all possible.

"Journey Stories," is the latest exhibit from Museum on Main Street, a partnership of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and state humanities councils.

Through pictures, sound clips, music, maps and storyboards, the exhibit "brings to life the personal paths of immigrants, slaves, explorers, business tycoons and historical figures whose travels have led from the Mayflower to the Golden State."

A two-year project in the making, the exhibit's arrival is exciting for Highlands Art League's Manager Susan James.

The display, which is free to the public, will be open from Saturday to Jan. 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

It is showing at the Highlands Museum of the Arts, 351 W. Center Ave., Sebring, a part of the art league's complex in downtown Sebring.

An opening reception Friday, which is free and open to the public, will kick off the display.

The reception is set 5-7 p.m. at the Thakkar Pavilion and a few local residents will share their stories on how their family migrated to the Heartland.

Those scheduled to speak are Sen. Denise Grimsley; Sebring Mayor George Hensley; Sebring City Council Chairman John Griffin; Sebring CRA Chairwoman Kelly Cosgrave; Claude Howerton; Marvin Kahn and his wife, Elsa; and John Skipper.

James said the exhibit is being shown in six cities in Florida.

It opened in Plant City in May, and the crates that arrived to Sebring Tuesday came from Clewiston, where the exhibit had been on display for about six weeks.

There are six freestyle kiosks that visitors can explore, James said.

Broken down into "sections," they span four centuries of American travel.

In one section, an image shows Native Americans outside, greeting ships off the Florida coast.

In another, German Gottlieb Mittelberger describes his "harrowing" nautical journey to America in a quote dated from 1754, "The people are packed densely, like herrings. … The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages … so that everyone believes that the ship will go to the bottom."

Many did not survive, but Mittelberger arrives safely and later describes the euphoria, a news release adds. "After a long and tedious voyage, the ships come in sight of land … all creep from the below on the deck … and they weep for joy and pray and sing, thanking and praising God."

Gottlieb wound up in Philadelphia.

So did Harriet Tubman almost a full century later after a different but no less dangerous trek.

" 'Journey Stories' includes Tubman's description of her first moment of freedom after escaping slavery in Maryland using the Underground Railroad," the news release adds.

" 'When I found I had crossed that line … I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven,'" she exults.

James, who got a chance to help set up the display at the Plant City museum, said she enjoyed the segments on railroads.

The "massive effort" to blanket the country with rail, without the help of modern-day computer technology, was fascinating to her.

She also had a whimsical blast with the past when she saw that one of the artifacts on display was a View-Master.

Those old enough may remember little plastic boxes where people stuck reels, especially from tourist destinations, and images looked three-dimensional when you peered through the boxes.

During her childhood James traveled a lot, she remembered, and eventually ended up with a "big, old pile" of View-Masters.

The exhibit tells the story of America through the personal travels of people who came here and the innovation in transportation that enabled it.

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