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SHOW LOOKS AT ODD MIX OF FISHING, SLAVE ROUTE

ESPN2 is in town to interview fishing and history buff Kevin Cottrell for its "Urban Angler" program.

A cameraman followed him Monday, as Cottrell gave a tour of Michigan Street Baptist Church and displayed the basement cubbyhole where runaway slaves hid from bounty hunters in the 1850s.

Today, Cottrell planned to take ESPN2 cameraman Kevin Spivey bass fishing on the Niagara River and point out the spot in Broderick Park from which the Underground Railroad ferried former slaves to Canada and freedom.

"We'll be interpreting the history of the Underground Railroad while we're fishing," said Cottrell, 43, of Niagara Falls.

Asked about the fishing connection that brought him to town, Spivey said: "We're looking for people with a rich life, a tapestry of their life, and who have a passion for fishing."

Inside the church, Cottrell began his tour, and the camera rolled.

"You had parishioners who were abolitionists, and you also had bounty hunters patrolling the city looking for fugitive slaves," Cottrell told Spivey as they headed down the stairs to the basement of the church built in 1845 by free blacks.

"The hideout area has been cordoned off," he continued, leading the way down a narrow corridor to a corner of the basement.

He stopped outside the men's room.

"Today it's a bathroom," Cottrell said. "Let me show you where they used to hide fugitive slaves."

Inside the room, an open window has been left in a wall, where visitors may peer down into the darkness and see part of the cubbyhole where blacks hid while bounty hunters stalked the basement, looking for them.

Cottrell has done preservation work for the church and for the Jesse Edward Nash House, where its pastor lived from 1892 to 1953. Nash and one of his parishioners, Mary B. Talbert, founded the Niagara Movement, a forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

A grants specialist for the state's Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Cottrell founded Michigan Street Preservation Corp. and heads Motherland Connextions, which gives tours of the Underground Railroad, starting at the church at 511 Michigan Ave.

The ESPN2 segment on Cottrell will be aired on a Sunday morning in the near future.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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