Two centuries ago, the paddle wheel steamboat shaped the history of Cincinnati and the Midwest. Four times since 1988, the city has celebrated with an event featuring steamboats from various U.S. river towns. But the 2003 edition will be different in many ways, starting with a new name: The TALL STACKS MUSIC, ARTS & HERITAGE FESTIVAL. From October 15-19, "visitors will come away with more knowledge of how the Ohio River has impacted our culture and our shared history," says Mike Smith, the event's executive director. For the first time, there will be themed cruises, such as an old-fashioned Graeter's ice-cream social. You'll also be able to listen to an expanded roster of music, including jazz, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and folk. A new exhibit, "Along Jordan's Path," allows visitors to learn about the role of slaves who built, worked on, and escaped via the steamboats.

Ohio was an abolitionist state, and Cincinnati, home to Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a point of entry to freedom for enslaved fugitives. In the summer of 2004, the NATIONAL UNDERGROUND RAILROAD FREEDOM CENTER, the largest such museum, will open to commemorate the history of this 19th-century escape route utilized by more than 100,000 slaves. Its three pavilions will sit on the north bank of the Ohio as a mark of the river's prominent role in freedom. (Historians believe 40 percent of the country's slaves escaped by crossing the Ohio River.) Among the center's highlights will be hundreds of artifacts, a story theater where you can hear tales of abolitionists, and accounts of contemporary struggles for freedom. Says Edwin Rigaud, the center's president: "The Freedom Center is being built to inspire everyone in the nation to become modern-day freedom conductors."
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The Cincinnati Wing of the Cincinnati Art Museum