Charles T. Webber, an active member of the Cincinnati art community, painted ""The Underground Railroad"" for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago. Working in the Western tradition of history painting—which the art establishment commended because it educated while it entertained—Webber created this picture to celebrate the abolitionists’ heroism in the moral struggle against slavery. He portrayed his friends, the notable Cincinnati abolitionists Levi Coffin, Coffin’s wife Catharine, and Hannah Haydock, leading a group of people to freedom. The artist set the figures at dawn in a wintry field, possibly at Coffin’s farm, which was located between Avondale and Walnut Hills.
Although the term “Underground Railroad” suggests a well-organized subterranean network that transported slaves to freedom, in fact it was a loose, opportunistic collaborative effort that aided runaways. Webber praised the courageous work of the abolitionists, but the real heroes are the slaves, who were resourceful and self-reliant in their flight to freedom.