Archeology proves that just below the surface there is always more than meets the eye. A dig at the site of the the once-renowned Cataract House Hotel in Niagara Falls, New York is no exception.
In Secret Agents of the Underground Railroad, host Anthony Morgan follows an excavation at Heritage Park, a remarkable site in Niagara Falls that was home to the Cataract House, an upscale hotel that stood between 1825 and 1945.
Today, it looks like a regular park but in the past, it was the most important station of the Underground Railroad on the Niagara Frontier: a Black Resistance operation run by the hotel’s staff and led by the hotel’s head waiter John Morrison, who guided enslaved people to freedom in Canada.
In a revealing exploration of the hotel’s hidden remains and the artifacts left behind, Morgan joins a team of archeologists and community leaders as they recover essential but forgotten history. Through an archaeological excavation of the site, we learn about the lives and operations of some of the Underground Railroad’s greatest unsung heroes.
“It’s only through the discovery of what’s buried in the ground that we can tell the story,” says lead archeologist Doug Perrelli. “The authentic story of the Cataract House.”
The Niagara River was one of the final destinations for freedom seekers escaping slavery in the South. Niagara Falls, NY became a major crossing point that funneled thousands of people to freedom. The Cataract House, situated next to the falls, was more than just a luxurious tourist attraction: it was where the free Black staff ran their secretive resistance operation.
As Anthony Morgan dives into the archaeological dig, he meets a team from the State University of New York at Buffalo. They were first brought to the site by a Black community leader named Bill Bradberry, whose mission was to recover and share the story of the Underground Railroad station within his community.
Employing new archeological tech like ground penetrating radar, LIDAR and X-ray scanners, the team is able to pinpoint the Cataract House’s kitchen space, which historians believe was the headquarters for John Morrison’s operatives. As the dig proceeds, they unearth artifacts and clues that help them inch closer to their goal of uncovering the exact location of incredible Black resistance.
The story of the Cataract House is not only Black history — it’s human history.
2023 | 1 x 60 min