Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ghosts of the Underground Railroad

During the mid to late 1800's the United States was locked into a slavery system which was the result of years of bringing black men , women, and children, for the most part, from the continent of Africa. Eighty percent of them came from the countries of Congo, Zaire, Angola, Namibia, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia and the Ivory Coast. Over time the life of a slave in many parts of the South became so unbearable that escape was considered as a very promising option to flee their oppressive lives. This escape was given a very unique term:  

"The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad. It got its name because its activities had to be carried out in secret, using darkness or disguise, and because railway terms were used by those involved with system to describe how it worked. Various routes were lines, stopping places were called stations, those who aided along the way were conductors and their charges were known as packages or freight. The network of routes extended through 14 Northern states and “the promised land” of Canada–beyond the reach of fugitive-slave hunters. Those who most actively assisted slaves to escape by way of the “railroad” were members of the free black community (including former slaves like Harriet Tubman), Northern abolitionists, philanthropists and church leaders like Quaker Thomas Garrett. Harriet Beecher Stowe, famous for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, gained firsthand knowledge of the plight of fugitive slaves through contacts with the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio."¹ 

In this article you will take a journey across three states discovering the haunted locations of underground sites that played a role in the freedom of slaves. The paranormal activity associated with these runaway stations is some of the most intense documented. Perhaps the only sites with more vivid ghost activity would be Civil War sites. But hey, this too all of this happened during America's most challenging time in history. The impact of the slave trade still affects us today - both in the physical and spiritual worlds!

Dayton, Ohio Area 

Just south and east of the city of Dayton lie several towns that are considered to be the most haunted in the state. This area has a long and rich history with colonization dating back to the late 1700's. Prior to this time period, which goes all the way back to 1,000 B.C., the Hopewell, Adena, and the Fort Ancient People Native American tribes inhabited the land. 

In 1796 English settlers came to the now Waynesville area to clear out 30,000 acres of land, lead by an engineer named Samuel Heighway. The village was built up with log cabins, a central public square, ornamental trees, fishponds, and long winding paths to enjoy the beauty of the area. Waynesville was named after "Mad" Anthony Wayne, a Brigadier General from the Revolutionary War. Today it is known as the "Antique Capital of the Midwest."

Recently construction crews were replacing the water main under Main Street and discovered a series of tunnels that had previously been unknown. The entire southern half of the state of Ohio is a labyrinth of underground passageways that were designed to help with slave liberation. 

 “The tunnel that was discovered on the north end of Main Street was not one we have researched, but the section opened is nearly identical to one in another tunnel. Both have stone walls and floors and, in some sections, have domed brick ceilings.... The WURC (Waynesville’s Underground Railroad Committee) group has not been able to determine who made the tunnels or when they were made, but it is obvious they are very old. As Waynesville was once a favorable stop for escaping slaves using the Underground Railroad, the WURC group is trying to determine if the tunnels were possibly used by UGRR (UnderGround RailRoad) conductors or slaves.”²  

This spiderweb of subterranean human transport may be a strong contributor to the paranormal activity of many of Waynesville's local houses and businesses. The most notorious is the Hammel House. Originally this site was a series of apartments that really didn't have any reported activity...until the year 1980. The ghosts of this now bed and breakfast have for some reason come alive - perhaps in the wake of new construction.

The Hammel House has five rooms in it and each one has had its share of paranormal activity. Visitors have reported black shadow figures that roam throughout the bed and breakfast: 

"One of those reports came from a man who stayed in Room #3. He had the inn completely to himself and so he was shocked when he was awakened by the noise of a loud party. He flew into the hallway to yell at the partygoers. It was completely silent in the hallway. He checked downstairs and saw no one. When he awoke the next morning, he saw a shadow figure floating in his room and then watched as it passed through the wall into Room #2."³

Stories of room #4 are explained in the video below. Note also that the Hammel House has a ghost cat that still wanders the premises, engaging with its visitors by jumping on the bed or rubbing against their legs:

One of the most unique paranormal experiences that has been documented are disembodied voices coming from the basement:

"On at least two occasions, [a woman's son who worked at the Hammel House] heard what sounded like an unseen girl crying in the basement. His co-worker also reported a similar occurrence, claiming that she had heard a young girl ask her to 'hurry up,' and had witnessed glasses sliding off of tables, seemingly without explanation."

It is common to hear children's voices in the subterranean levels of these sites because the young slaves transported in the tunnels were often filled with fear and had no idea what their fate may be inside the Underground Railroad or when they managed to step out of that safe environment. I can imagine mothers pushing their children in the small of the backs, hushing them so as not to be detected by anyone looking for them. The intensity of this environment would surely cause residual hauntings in the tunnels and basements.

In the video below, Project Paranormal Investigation team visits a house in Bellbrook, Ohio that was along the Underground Railroad lines due north of Waynesville (see map above). Check out the amazing and diverse EVPs that they capture inside the home:

Wedgwood Inn - Bucks County, PA.

Traveling a good distance north and east of the Dayton, Ohio area we find ourselves a little closer to the final destination for many of the Underground Railroad slaves - the Canadian border. Here in New Hope, Pennsylvania that lies in between Philadelphia and New York city, we find yet another region that helped to contribute to the Underground Railroad.

"In Pennsylvania, Bucks County was a hub for the movement, which locally spread from Bristol to Yardley and up to New Hope. Those communities are along the Delaware River and Delaware Canal, along which fugitive slaves used to travel on barges and as travel guides...."

It is here as well that the famous Harriet Tubman who helped about 300 slaves escape to the Northern "freedom." After she had escaped, she eventually moved to the Philadelphia area and created the Underground Railroad hub that was central to all of the communities in and around the Bucks County area. Since then an extensive series of underground tunnels has been discovered that is tied to many of the homes and businesses in the area. And, yes, most of them are haunted.

The Wedgwood Inn boasts of such paranormal claims. It is nestled in a 300-year-old village that has a history as unusual as its name. There is no second "e" in its name, as one would expect, because it "is named after the Englishman Josiah Wedgwood who invented the famous Wedgwood blue bone china." Josiah was not only a skilled potter, but he had a very keen interest as an abolitionist. He invested large amounts of money to the cause and became a shareholder "in the Sierra Leone Company, which provided a colony for the habitation of enslaved people who had been made free."

Among the possible ghosts that are said to inhabit the home are the famous Aaron Burr, the third vice-president of the United States who is notorious for his pistol duel with Alexander Hamilton.   

"[Another] ghost is said to haunt the [Wedgwood] Inn, that of a the 12-year-old Sarah, an escaped slave who is only ever seen by other children. The inn’s owners and Bucks County tourist guides spread the legend that Sarah appears to other girls her age to tell them her story." 

Here the residual haunting of children comes into play much like in the Hammel House. One could certainly expect that anyone who would be most affected by the evils of slavery and the fear of escape would be children. The ghosts of the Underground Railroad, no matter where the stations may be, reflect this common thread.

Another ghost, Joseph Pickett, is also claimed to have been seen not only around the Wedgwood Inn, but also in various places throughout New Hope. Joseph was a well-known artist who died in 1918. There doesn't seem to be any connection to the Underground Railroad with Joseph's ghost, but it is fascinating that his entity has such a strong and frequent presence in the area.

Enos Sanatorium

Located in the river town of Alton, Illinois, the Enos Apartments were very different from the simple housing rooms they are today. Located on Third Street it remains best known for its function as an Underground Railroad during the late 1800's. It was designed by Nathaniel Hanson, a strong abolitionist, in 1857. "Hanson built his home precisely to accommodate [the abolitionist] cause. Built on a high bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River, the cupola atop it was visible from afar. Nighttime lanterns inside the cupola reportedly alerted slave runners across the river if the coast was clear or if threats prevented crossing":

"According to the stories, Hanson, who was a wealthy farm implement manufacturer, was closely involved with the abolitionist movement in Alton. When work began on his home...he asked that tunnels be added to the basement of the house so that runaways could be hidden there in safety. The tunnels, although bricked off at the end, still extend from the lower basement of the house and outward under Third Street. The foundation of the structure is fifteen feet below the level of street and there are numerous rooms and narrow passageways carved into the limestone." 

The then Nathaniel Hanson Mansion was later purchased in 1911 by Dr. W.H. Enos who converted it into a tuberculosis sanatorium. A fourth floor and an adjoining nurses home was built onto the building shortly after its purchase. There are claims that the ghosts of some of the patients of this horrible disease still wander the halls inside what is now an apartment building. 

"According to Troy Taylor and Len Adams [both historians and ghost tour leaders for Alton], many apartment residents have reported strange odors, sounds of footsteps, flushing toilets, and even sounds of people screaming. Many other residents have decided to find a new apartment elsewhere for the same reasons."

If you ever get a chance to do a ghost tour in Alton, you have to visit the tunnels underneath the Enos Apartments. They are the most active perhaps of any Underground Railroad site in the country. Nearly everyone who enters into them has a personal experience. For some, the energy coming from these tunnels are so intense that they refuse to go inside and skip this part of the tour. People have been scratched, touched, and even heard disembodied voices. I, of course, am fascinated with the presence of limestone in these tunnels which, combined with the possibility that slaves may have died here, creates an intense environment for residual and intelligent hauntings.

Upstairs above the tunnels, there are many stories about very strange poltergeist activity. Objects disappear and reappear days later in another place. Doors open and close by themselves. Shadow figures have been seen as well. 

I'd like to wrap up this article on the Ghosts of the Underground Railroad by sharing one final story from the Enos Apartments documented on Troy Taylor's website Alton Hauntings:

"[Troy]...spoke to a young woman who moved into an apartment in the mansion and she had an unusual tale to tell. She said that she had moved into the house about three weeks before and during the entire time, she had all sorts of problems with her upstairs neighbor. He walked around, banged things, and even moved furniture in the middle of the night. One night, she and a friend had come home late and once again heard the sounds of banging and thumping and heavy-soled shoes walking back and forth. This went on for an hour or so and finally she couldn’t take it anymore and she decided to go upstairs and to tell him to quiet down. She marched to the upstairs apartment door and banged on it heavily with her fist. As she did so, the door silently swung open to reveal a dark and empty apartment behind it. No one was there. The place was empty and besides there being no sign that anyone had been walking around just minutes before, there was no furniture in the apartment either. When she inquired about the tenant the following day, she was told that the place had been empty during the entire three weeks that she had been living there!" 

Works Cited:



³  (Hammel House)