Mattox remains undaunted

JOHN Mattox isn’t letting water damages at the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing stop him from spreading the word about slavery and continuing to preserve history.

Mattox, who has an honorary degree in public service from Ohio University, will speak to OU alumni in Athens May 29-30 on the topic, “Friends of Freedom in the Underground Railroad.”

It’s a subject that he has studied for years, and he has gathered items related to slavery and the Underground Railroad for the Flushing museum that he and his late wife, Rozz (Rosalind), founded.

“This museum belongs to the public, and it is a gift for generations to come,” said Mattox. Describing it as a legacy, he emphasized its historical significance and the work of his wife in this preservation of the past.

Despite the problems faced as a result of the damages, Mattox gave a tour to a group from New York that came to the museum while work was underway. “I don’t turn anyone away,” he said.

Under the present conditions while the museum is not formally open, he can handle a tour involving 30 individuals, but not 80.

In addition to the museum, Mattox has three “Traveling Trunks,” which he takes to illustrate his talks before schoolchildren and others. A trunk which Mattox described as a mini-museum includes museum artifacts and items to interest children, such as cornhusk dolls and other toys as well as clothing. He emphasizes hands-on activities and tells how the slaves survived on plantations.

In still another way, he is striving along with other individuals and the Ohio Historical Society to preserve a house which was a stop on the Underground Railroad when runaway slaves were traveling to New Athens. At that time, New Athens was the site of Franklin College, which was a hotbed of abolition.

Mattox explained the house is the only one left in the Flushing area that was part of the Underground Railroad. “We want to save it and have it put on the National Register of Historic Places,” he added.

The Flushing resident is regional coordinator for the Friends of Freedom. He explained Ohio’s 88 counties are divided to research the Underground Railroad system back in the 1800s.

Like fugitive slaves such as Eliza, a character in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” who maneuvered across the freezing Ohio River on ice floes, Mattox knows what it’s like to face difficulties during the winter. A waterline broke in late January on the second floor of the museum, flooding posters, important books, items related to slavery as well as carpets and an office as it flowed down to the basement.

With help from organizations, individuals and businesses on both sides of the Ohio River , work is being done to clean up after the damages.

“The work will take another three weeks, depending on fixing the pipe. I’m hoping it’ll be done in three weeks, but it may take a little longer,’ said Mattox. “If I can get the insurance company to send me the check, we can start working on repairs Monday.”

All the file cabinets have been emptied so they can be moved for the carpet installations. Also, Mattox said the entire museum office has to be renovated.

It will be necessary to recarpet five rooms in the museum. The water from the top floor leaked down and damaged the memorabilia including books, papers and posters in the display rooms .

When talking about the Americana damaged, Mattox said the most important things were the books. He added a historical museum curator explained to him how to save the papers and books.

The retired Flushing man, who is involved with many organizations and is the recipient of varied honors, is quick to give credit to others about his knowledge concerning the area’s history. Noting that he had no idea about the Underground Railroad when he moved from New Jersey to Flushing in 1969, he mentioned the help of the late Annie Tanks, Martins Ferry historian, as well as the historical reenactments in the area and Oglebay Park, enabling him to learn more about life centuries ago.

Mattox pointed out that he likes to share information about the Underground Railroad. “It’s a very, very important part in the Upper Ohio Valley’s history,” he added.

When work is completed at the museum, its normal operating hours will be resumed. It will be open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and other days by appointment. Those wishing to reach Mattox for appointments, museum information or to help regarding the current work may call 740-968-2080 or 740-968-6113.

As passionate as Mattox is about the past, he also is involved with A Special Wish Foundation, which is “dedicated to granting the wishes of children under the age of 21 and diagnosed as having a life-threatening disorder.” He is president of the Ohio Valley Chapter and also heads its National Board of Governors.

Mentioning his current aims, Mattox said, “I want to save the house (related to the Underground Railroad) and get the museum back in operation. We’re going to keep giving wishes (through the foundation), that’s for sure.”

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