When I was ten, visiting the ancestral familial stomping grounds of the Southern Illinois-Kentucky border, I was taking to visit the following “tourist attraction.” I don’t know if it’s haunted or not. I just know the horror of it is absolutely chilling. The absolute worst of what mankind can inflict on mankind. The stalls where they lived were dark and cold and had no room to sit or lay down – they slept standing. They were bred like horses. Anyone who can walk into that place and not feel crushing sadness and horror and guilt at being part of a species who could do this to itself is an inhuman monster indeed.
Old Slave House: Cries, whimpers of a haunted past
Oct 30 2001 12:00AM By
By MARY KAYE DAVIS Register-News
ALTON – Troy Taylor, president of the American Ghost Society, says one of his favorite haunted spots in Illinois is Hickory Hill – better known to many Southern Illinois residents as the Old Slave House. The Slave House closed to the public in 1996 and has been purchased by the state of Illinois. Plans call for the home to open as a state historic site in the near future. Hickory Hill was built in 1842 by John Hart Crenshaw. In those days, it was illegal to own slaves in Illinois, but because it was so difficult to find anyone to work the brutal salt mines of Saline County, it was allowed that slaves could be leased from other states to work in Illinois, according to information from Taylor. Crenshaw owned several salt tracts and began to put slaves to work. He initiated a scheme that would bring him more money than the salt mines could offer, devising a plan to kidnap free blacks and put them to work in the salt mines. He also sold the free blacks back to slave owners in the South, creating a reverse “underground railroad,” Taylor said. When the house was completed, Crenshaw added a few touches, such as having a carriage door that opened directly in the house so slaves could be taken up a secret passage directly to the attic. The slaves were kept In the attic at night and, some say, subjected to brutal torture. According to the stories, there was also an underground tunnel that led from the basement to the river, where slaves could be loaded at night. Crenshaw devised another plan, historians say. He wanted to create slaves of his own, so he selected a slave for his size and stamina, then had the man breed more slaves. This man, known as Uncle Bob, was said to have fathered as many as 300 children. He lived until age 112, dying in 1948. Taylor describes the attic at Hickory Hill as a chamber of horrors. A dozen small cells had bars on the windows and contained iron rings where shackles could be bolted to the floors. The air was stifling because there was only a small window at each end of the attic; a whipping post was also located there. In 1842, Crenshaw was brought to trial for selling a free family into slavery, but the case couldn’t be proven until after the trial was over. Crenshaw’s slave-trading days were over, however. He died in 1871. Many years later, Crenshaw’s house was opened as a tourist attraction, and tourists reported hearing strange noises coming from the attic – noises which sounded like cries and whimpers, along with rattling chains. An “exorcist” from Benton, Hickman Whittington, wrote an article about the house in the local newspaper. Whittington was in perfect health when he visited the mansion, but later in the evening he fell violently ill, dying hours later. As the years passed, no one would dare spend a night in the house’s attic, but in the late 1960s, two soldiers who saw action in Vietnam ran screaming from the house, reportedly after being surrounded by ghostly shapes. The owner refused to let any more visitors in the home after dark, but in 1978 he relented and let a Harrisburg reporter named David Rodgers spend the night. Despite hearing a lot of strange noises, Rodgers beat out 150 previous challengers to become the first to brave the night in the attic. Taylor said he’d asked a former owner if he believes the house is haunted. The former owner said he’d never encountered a ghost in the home, but his wife hadn’t been so lucky. And she refused to set foot in the former slaves’ quarters.