A 21st-century technology is helping tourists experience a 19th-century tale.
Visitors following the Solomon Northup Trail — 20 locations featured in the 1853 memoir “Twelve Years a Slave” — can download a smartphone app designed to supplement their trip with maps, historical photographs and readings from the book.
Northup was kidnapped and sold into slavery to work at plantations in central Louisiana in 1841 until his rescue in 1853. The film based on his story won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards.
The $4.99 Official Solomon Northup Trail Guide application maps a route to the historic sites, including explanations about their place in the story and features the voice of actor Louis Gossett Jr., who reads Northup’s descriptions.
“It allows you to immerse yourself in the story and actually be there on site, seeing what Solomon saw,” said Frank Eakin, 53, a co-developer of the app and producer of audio and e-book versions of Northup’s memoir.
Descendents of Northup and his slaveholders will appear together at the Louisiana Book Festival Saturday, Nov. 1, along with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne to reintroduce the Solomon Northup Trail, which was established in the 1980s but fell out of use, Eakin said.
Gossett and “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen will join their discussion via video feed. On Sunday, Nov. 2, the descendents will follow the trail, which surrounds Cheneyville, Bunkie and Alexandria, ending in a celebration and historic re-enactment at 2 p.m. in Marksville, where Northup was officially released at the parish courthouse.
The creator of the Solomon Northup Trail, Sue Eakin, was a historian who dedicated much of her career to proving the truth behind “Twelve Years a Slave.”
She and historian Joseph Logsdon edited the definitive annotated version of the book, published by LSU Press in 1968. She died in 2009.
When she created the Northup trail in the 1980s, it consisted of 18 sites with an identifying marker at each stop, according to son Frank Eakin.
“Over the years, they became rusty old signs, and there were very few people who took the trail,” Eakin said.
Interest in the film spurred Avoyelles and Rapides parishes to renovate the signs and revive the trail, he said.
Eakin created the app along with artist Justine Boyer and an application expert at the University of Texas. He hopes it helps visitors imagine what happened at the plantations and other sites more than 150 years ago.
The app will explain to the viewer the locations of long-gone structures, such as Northup’s small cabin on the Epps plantation, which is now empty land, Eakin said. And it will play scenes from the audio book when Northup is freed at the Marksville courthouse.
“We keyed in on scenes from the movie because people can visualize those, and the movie tracks the book very faithfully,” Eakin said. “Without the app or something that allows you to visualize Solomon’s words, you’re mostly looking at old houses and pieces of property.”