Winter wonderland at Longwood Gardens celebrates Black History

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (WPVI) -- "Step back for a moment to a prehistoric time."

Those are the first words guests will hear when scanning the QR code beneath the Wood's Cycad plant at Longwood Gardens.

The voice belongs to Charlotte Blake Alston, a South Philadelphia-born storyteller now living in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Once a school teacher, Blake Alston has spent the last 31 years immersing children and adults in creative stories about African American culture.

"The woods carries a lot of symbolism and history for African Americans," she said. "The first thing that we did when we came here was to put our hands and our feet and our bodies in the soil."

Blake Alston was invited by Longwood Gardens to collaborate on "Voices in the Landscape," an audio-visual self-guided tour that assigns beautiful landmarks with short stories, quotes and poems about African American history.

"She is able, through storytelling, to really bring those important narratives to life," said Abbey Gau, the Marketing and Communications Specialist at Longwood Gardens. "Between her poignant words and the stories and the educational component, plus the beauty of the gardens, it's really an all-encompassing exhibit."

Longwood Gardens worked diligently to make this exhibit accessible to all. Each station dotted around the hundreds of explorable acres are marked with a QR code. One simply needs to hold their smartphone camera to the code and a link to the webpage with the appropriate audio file will appear. Then, guests are carried into another world through Blake Alston's voice. A transcription is also available.

"I hope that I have given just another layer of the incredible depth and richness of the African American experience," said Blake Alston. "The story of America, America's identity, huge parts of it, is deeply rooted in us."

Voices in the Landscape will run until March 21, 2021. Longwood Gardens is also currently in the midst of a Winter Wonder exhibit that runs for the same length of time.

To learn more about the exhibits, how to purchase tickets or even explore the Voices in the Landscape exhibit virtually, visit the Longwood Gardens website.

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