Friday, October 28, 2011

My Old Kentucky Home - Federal Hill, Bardstown, Kentucky

Federal Hill Mansion

In honor of October being the month of Halloween - and other things spooky - all of my blogs this month have dealt with a haunted location and the cemetery that ties into the story.

Just east of Bardstown, Kentucky is the former plantation of U.S. Senator John Rowan.  Rowan and his wife, Ann Lytle, began building their mansion in 1795 and named it ‘Federal Hill’ after Rowan’s political views as a Federalist.    ‘Federal Hill’ was designed in true Federalist style.  There are thirteen windows across the front of the house, the ceilings are thirteen feet high and the walls are 13 inches thick. Each staircase has 13 steps.

But the number 13 may have proven to be unlucky for Rowan.  In 1801, Rowan was playing cards with Dr. James Chambers when harsh words were exchanged and led to the challenge of a duel between the two.  Rowan apologized for his comments but Chambers insisted that the duel be held.  Rowan survived, but his promising political career almost didn’t.  He was tried for the murder of Chambers, but the judge found insufficient evidence to convict him.  It was over a year later, before Rowan was appointed to serve in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

John Rowan
Throughout his life, Rowan served in many state and national offices. He served as a Kentucky state judge, Chief Justice for the Court of Appeals, Kentucky Secretary of State, as a representative in the U.S. House and as a U.S. Senator.  In all, he served for forty years in political life.

Rowan loved Federal Hill and felt that the mansion stood as a monument and testament to his ideas and beliefs.  He stated in his will, he did not want a monument or any type of marker on his grave.  He said that since his parents did not have a marker, he did not want to be honored above them by having one.  On July 13, 1843, Rowan died and was buried at Federal Hill Cemetery near his home.  Friends and family did not adhere to his wishes for an unmarked grave. A tall obelisk monument with a lengthy and glowing epitaph was placed at his gravesite.

Rowan's Monument
But by autumn, the stone had fallen over.  Stonemasons were called to repair the monument and return it to its base. Again and again, the obelisk fell to the ground.  The toppling of the monument became so common that worker refused to assist in setting it back in place, fearing that Rowan was indeed displeased by the large monument. 

Rumor has it that the stone is still known to tip over without provocation, and is just as quietly put back in place.  It appears that John Rowan meant what he said almost 170 years ago – his home was the only monument he wanted to be remembered by.


But what is Federal Hill truly remembered for?

Stephen Foster
Original Sheet Music
It was in 1852, almost ten years after John Rowan died that his cousin; Stephen Foster paid a visit to Federal Hill.  It was rumored that during this visit, Foster was inspired to write the minstrel song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.”  It was published in 1853 and performed by Christy’s Minstrels.  Although many of the songs that Foster wrote had Southern themes, he never lived in the South and only visited the area once.
Sheet Music

“My Old Kentucky Home” was adopted as the state song of Kentucky in 1928.  It was in 1986 when Kentucky Representative Carl Hines sponsored a bill to revise the lyrics, changing the word ‘darkies’ to ‘people.’
Federal Hill in the Twenties

Federal Hill was sold to the state of Kentucky in 1920 and was called “My Old Kentucky Home.”   In 1936 it was transferred to the Division of State Parks where it became known as “My Old Kentucky Home State Park.”

The longest running outdoor musical, “Stephen Foster- The Musical” plays during the summer months at the state park amphitheater.  Started in 1959, the show runs from June through August each year.

Federal Hill was featured on a 29 cent U.S. postage stamp in 1992, and is now depicted on the back of the Kentucky state quarter, released in 2002.

The Federal Hill Mansion and Cemetery are open to the public.  Please check their website for days and times.

~ Joy

Friday, October 21, 2011

Elizabeth Reed -First Woman Executed by Hanging- Heathsville, Illinois

In honor of October being the month of Halloween - and other things spooky - all of my blogs this month will deal with a haunted location and the cemetery that ties into the story.

Tis the season……..Enjoy!

Illinois in 1840
Her story is one of questions, conflict, and mystery over 160 years later.  Elizabeth (Betsey) Reed was a frontier wife, in a tiny Illinois town, in the mid-1840’s when she was suddenly charged with the unthinkable – murder!

According to the news and court reports during May 1844, Betsey Reed was accused of giving her husband Leonard, a cup of arsenic-laced sassafras tea.  He died the next day.  The charge of murder levied against Elizabeth Reed was based on only one report - made by a relative.

Heathsville & Palestine
Unfortunately for Betsey, she was not well liked in the tiny village of Heathsville, Illinois.  Many of the women found her to be coldhearted, uncaring and eccentric.  However, the men appeared to be fascinated by her, observing none of the traits the local women did.

Public opinion of her husband Leonard wasn’t much better.  Some viewed him as a calculated businessman, others as a failure who was unwilling to fit in to society. Either way, neither garnered public sympathy or support.

1840's Log Jail
Reed was arrested, taken to Palestine, Illinois and charged with murdering her husband.  She was placed in the Palestine jail where she started a fire that burned down the building.  Officials said that she had nothing in her possession that could have been used to start a fire.  The insinuation of being a witch had been made and the town’s 13-hundred residents were titillated by the story.

Lawrence County Courthouse
Reed was then moved to the Lawrence County jail in Lawrenceville, Illinois, about 25 miles away.  The change of venue did nothing to assist in Reed’s defense.  The story was so horrifying for the time that it was being covered, by newspapers from around the state, and around the country, from as far away as New York.

Augustus French
William Wilson
Elizabeth Reed was defended by two well-known attorneys, Augustus French and Usher Linder. The only witness to the supposed event was a relative, 16-year-old Evelyn Deal.  Evelyn said that she saw Betsey pour a white powder into Leonard’s tea and serve it to him.  No other evidence was given.  Reed’s trial lasted for three days and she was never allowed to comment in her own defense.  Illinois State Supreme Court Justice William Wilson pronounced her guilty of murder and sentenced her to be hanged.

On the morning of May 23, 1845, thousands lined the streets of the small town of Lawrenceville.  Crowd estimates ranged from 8,000 to 20,000 people on hand for the execution.  It was rumored that Betsey Reed ‘found God’ in the eleventh hour and had been baptized in the Embarras River the night before.  Reports said that she went to the gallows, riding on top of her coffin, singing hymns and chanting religious verses.  The minister who presided, Reverend John Seed, preached a long sermon to the crowd while Betsey continued to sing and chant.  Ninety minutes later, Elizabeth (Betsey) Reed became the first woman in the U.S. ever publicly executed and the only woman executed by hanging in Illinois.

According to the New York Daily Tribune, Betsey’s body was taken down and dissected.  It was found that she had swallowed tiny pieces of brick and pulverized in glass in an attempt to kill herself and escape the hangman’s noose.

Baker Cemetery
Betsey Reed was buried outside of the local town cemetery, in an unmarked grave.  But family members, who did not believe she was guilt, demanded she be given a proper burial.  Betsey was re-interred at a tiny country cemetery called Baker, just outside of Heathsville. 

Lane to cemetery
Up a narrow country lane, surrounded by crops and woods, the cemetery has a gloomy feel, even during the day.  

E.R. Marker
The Reed's Gravestone
Elizabeth is buried next to Leonard, the husband she was found guilty of killing, at the back of the cemetery.  A simple stone marked E.R. can be found in the grass.  Along side it is a replacement stone that simply lists their names, dates, and how they died.  Under Leonard’s name it says “Death by Murder.”  Under Betsey’s name it reads “Death by Hanging.”

Two orbs near graves
(Crawford Co Ghost Hunters)
But, according to the Crawford County Illinois Ghost Hunters, it appears that Betsey Reed did not go ‘quietly into that good night.’  After exploring this cemetery they have reported paranormal activity around her and Leonard’s graves.

An afternoon in Baker Cemetery
One hundred sixty five years later, questions still exist as to her guilt or innocence.  Regardless, Elizabeth Reed has gone down in the annals of U.S. history as the first women to be hanged in the state and the country.


Friday, October 14, 2011

White Hall and Cassius Marcellus Clay

In honor of October being the month of Halloween - and other things spooky - all of my blogs this month will deal with a haunted location and the cemetery that ties into the story.


Historic White Hall
White Hall was the Kentucky home of Cassius Clay, 19th century emancipationist.  Located near Richmond, Kentucky, the mansion was originally built by Clay’s father, Green Clay in 1798-99, and named Clermont. When Clay inherited the house in 1861, his wife, Mary Jane, decided to have the home remodeled in the Italianate style.  She literally had part of the new house built over the old.  The original home had seven rooms.  When the new house was finished it boasted 44 rooms, counting closets and bathrooms.  The home was then renamed White Hall.

Green Clay
Green Clay was a landowner of magnificent proportions. It was never known how much acreage he actually owned, but the land made up at least two counties!  Green Clay came to Kentucky with Daniel Boone. He made his fortune as a surveyor, taking 50% of the land surveyed for his work.  On these lands he grew hemp, raised sheep and owned farms, distilleries, taverns, and a ferry, which crossed the Kentucky River.  He became one of the wealthiest land owners and largest slaveholders in Kentucky.

William Lloyd Garrison
Cassius Clay
Cassius Marcellus Clay was born October 19, 1810 at Clermont. Clay attended Yale and it was there that he heard an anti-slavery speech, given by William Lloyd Garrison, that set his course for life.  From that point on, Clay rallied that slaves should be freed gradually by legal means, and slavery abolished.  As a lawyer and dedicated emancipationist, he spoke around the south for the freedom of slaves.  Many times he was threatened and injured, but Clay always managed to gain the upper hand.  He had the apt reputation of being a great fighter. Although a Southern land owner, Clay was true to his principles and freed the slaves he owned in 1844.  

Mary Jane Warfield
In 1833, he married Mary Jane Warfield. They were married for 45 years and had ten children.  Clay became a Kentucky state representative from 1835 to 1837.   And in 1844, he campaigned for his cousin, Henry Clay, when he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Presidency.

In 1845, Clay started and published the True American newspaper, in Lexington.  The newspaper championed freedom from slavery.

Clay during the Mexican War
In 1846, even though he was against the annexation of Texas, Clay volunteered to serve in the Mexican War.  When the war was over, the people of Fayette County, Kentucky presented him with a Tiffany sword in honor of his bravery and compassion on the battlefield.

Clay also served in the General Assembly three times and made an unsuccessful bid for Governor of Kentucky in 1851.

Abraham Lincoln
In 1860, Clay again campaigned for a presidential candidate.  This time, the man he championed, Abraham Lincoln, won.   Clay was appointed as a major general, and became an envoy between the state of Kentucky and the President.  It was, in part, due to these reports that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Czar Alexander II

Clay was also appointed as minister to the court of Czar Alexander II of Russia for two terms. Because of this, he was able to act as a liaison in the U.S. purchase of Alaska.

Cassius M. Clay
Dora Richardson Clay
Cassius Clay returned from Russia to White Hall in 1869.  Years of separation, rumors of infidelity, and financial problems put a toll on his marriage.  In 1878, after more than 45 years of marriage, Cassius and Mary Jane divorced.

In 1879, Clay married 15-year–old Dora Richardson, bringing national scandal on the family.  The marriage lasted only four years before they too, were divorced.

White Hall
Clay continued to live in the mansion until his death on July 22, 1903.  He was buried in the Richmond, Kentucky Cemetery.  (Note: AGI blog post on the Richmond Cemetery was published on October 4th.)

Cassius Clay Memorial
Cassius Clay
Local papers reported that Clay was so respected by the black community, the streets of Richmond were lined by local black families, paying their last respects to a man who had fought for, and in part, helped them win them freedom from slavery. A local paper reported, “Never was a more striking scene witnessed on the way to Richmond, where the funeral services were to be held.  From every humble negro cottage along the roadside and at every cross roads, the mothers and large children carrying those who were too little to walk, the negroes were lined up to pay their last respects to the man whom they honored as the Abraham Lincoln of Kentucky.” 

White Hall in the 1960's
But the legacy of White Hall does not end there. When Clay died in 1903, the home was abandoned.  It eventually fell into ruin and was used by tenant farmers as a barn to store grain, tractors and house chickens.  

Lion in garden
White Hall Gardens
It was 1967 when the Madison County Garden Club suggested that the state consider saving the old mansion and turn it into a state park.  In 1968, the deed for the mansion and 13 acres was donated by the Clay heirs to the state of Kentucky.  Restoration was undertaken immediately by Kentucky’s First Lady, Beulah Nunn and the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation.  The mansion, restored to its former glory, was opened to the public in September of 1971.

Conservatory where
voices are heard
And, as with many historical homes, White Hall has the reputation of being haunted.  Even tour guides will tell you that something stirs about the place.  Mysterious lights are seen, hushed conversations are heard, rose perfume drifts through the house at odd moments, pipe smoke can be smelled at times, ghostly dinner parties still take place in the dining room, complete with the tinkle of glasses, lively, though undistinguishable conversation, and the delicious smell of food.

Ghost Walk tours
held at White Hall
Tis the season for ghosts, but you don’t have long to visit.  Guided tours of White Hall are available from April 1st through October 31st.  Tours are given by guides in period dress.  The home is closed to public tours from November through March.  Special events are held throughout the year. These annual events include the “Scandals and Ghost Stories” tour in July, the Ghost Walk tours held in October, and the Victorian Christmas tours in December.  Reservations are required for these special events.  

White Hall near Richmond, Kentucky
White Hall is located at 500 White Hall Shrine Rod.  More information is available at the Kentucky historic state site,
or the White Hall –Clermont Foundation at

~ Joy

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Old Slave House – Equality, Illinois


In honor of October being the month of Halloween - and other things spooky - all of my blogs this month will deal with a haunted location and the cemetery that ties into the story.
Enjoy and make this a spook-tacular autumn!! ; )

Sign posted at drive

In the 1800’s it was formally called Hickory Hill.  It’s now known as the old Crenshaw Place, or the Old Slave House. And it’s claimed to be one of the most haunted places in the southern part of Illinois.

Located near Equality, Illinois, in Gallatin County, the large, two-story pseudo Greek Revival 

John H & Sinia Crenshaw

Hickory Hill - also known as
the Old Crenshaw House
style house is situated on top of a windswept hill, overlooking the Saline River.  John Hart Crenshaw had the house supposedly built for his wife, Sinia Taylor Crenshaw and their five children.  But research has revealed the most important function of the house was to aid as a place to stash kidnapped free blacks before sending them into slavery, a reverse Underground Railroad.

Old Shawneetown Bridge
over the Ohio River
John Crenshaw became deeply involved in the slave trade during the 1820’s.  He was charged several times with kidnapping, and became a slave trader in 1827.  The first documented case against his involved a black indentured servant named Frank Granger that Crenshaw kidnapped and took to Kentucky in 1828.  The second kidnapping case followed right on the heels of the first and involved a free black woman named Lucinda and her two children.  Crenshaw kidnapped the three and took them to Barren County Kentucky in 1828 to be sold into slavery. Crenshaw was also known as John Granger, (pronounced more like Cringer) due to regional dialects and accent.

Hickory Hill
In 1829, Crenshaw and his brother, Abraham, bought the land where Hickory Hill would be built.  It would be almost five years, in 1834, before ground was broken for the house, and another four before it was completed in 1838. The lavish house was furnished with European artwork and furnishings located on the first and second floors, where the family lived.  
A Whipping Post

The third floor was constructed of thicker walls with over a dozen cells, about the size of horse stalls, all equipped with heavy metal rings and chains.  A whipping post was located at either end of the hallway.  Windows at each end of the hall provided the only light and air to the attic.  It would only be after Crenshaw’s and his wife’s deaths, when new owners took over that the true secrets of the attic would come to light.

Map of Southern Illinois
Meanwhile, Crenshaw bought his first salt works in Gallatin County. Few men were interested in the harsh work and brutal conditions required to mine salt, so Crenshaw used slave laborers and indentured servants. 

Although Illinois was a ‘free state’ where slavery was not 
Only Surviving Record
allowed, an exception had been granted to Crenshaw for slaves to be leased for one-year terms for use in the salt mines in Gallatin, Saline and Hardin Counties. Illinois also allowed indentured servitude; the contracting of work for a specific period of time in exchange for food, shelter, and sometimes passage.  Crenshaw owned over 30,000 acres of land and leased numerous salt mines from the government.  He had over 700 slaves working for him in 1830.  At one time it was said that Crenshaw had made so much money he paid 1/7 of all taxes collected in Illinois. It is from his illegal trafficking of humans into slavery that much of his vast fortune was made. 

Crenshaw is best known for creating a reverse Underground Railroad in Illinois. He and his hired men would capture free blacks from the North and smuggle them across the Ohio River into Kentucky where they would be “sold down the river” and into slavery in the southern states.

Hickory Hill
Runaway Slaves
When the house at Hickory Hill was built, a secret wagon entrance was constructed in the back of the house.  Covered wagons carrying kidnapped blacks and indentured whites would go directly into this entry. Then the kidnapped would be taken up the back stairs to the third floor attic of his home.  There they were imprisoned in cells, tortured, raped, whipped, and sometimes murdered. According to local legend, there was also a secret tunnel from the basement to the Saline River so that the kidnapped could be put on boats quickly and inconspicuously. 

Slave Auction
Crenshaw then devised a plan to begin a slave-breeding program in the attic.   A slave named Uncle Bob was used as the stud breeder to provide Crenshaw with cargo to sell off to the south.  A pregnant black woman would bring more money at auction in a slave state. An adult able-bodied slave could bring $400 or more.  A child could be sold for around $200. It was said that Uncle Bob sired more than 300 children in that upstairs attic.

John H. Crenshaw
Crenshaw was finally indicted in 1842 for the kidnapping of Maria, his cook, and her seven children.  Because of his clout and financial standing in the community, he was found not guilty.  (If he had been found guilt, no jail time would have been served; the only penalty was a fine of $1,000 allowed by the Black Code of 1819.)  But people in the area talked and suddenly Crenshaw’s methods were being questioned.  His mill was burned and his standing as an upright and moral man in the community was waning.  Business in the salt works began to decline as more profitable salt was discovered in Ohio and Virginia. Crenshaw was now watching his empire dissolve.

Rumor has it that it was during this period of time that Crenshaw brutally beat several female slaves.  In retaliation, a group of male slaves attacked Crenshaw and during the assault Crenshaw’s leg was severed with an axe.  Following this attack, most of the slaves were sold off.

Equality, Illinois
The Crenshaw’s left Hickory Hill in 1850 and moved to Equality, Illinois.  Crenshaw continued farming, but also became involved in railroads and banks. The Hickory Hill house was sold in 1864.

Crenshaw died December 4, 1871, his wife, Sinia, in 1881.  Both are 
Hickory Hill Cemetery
Toppled Crenshaw Stone
buried in a tiny, forgotten cemetery down a lonely dirt road.  The cemetery is also known as Hickory Hill and is located to the northeast of the house.  It is said to be the oldest cemetery in Gallatin County.  It is fitting note that Crenshaw’s stone has been toppled off of its pedestal, now laying flat on the ground

Old Slave House in the Fifties
In 1906, the Crenshaw House was purchased by the Sisk family.  The true horrors of what had occurred on the third floor were then unmasked.  The slave quarters were dismantled soon after but talk spread and by the 1920’s tourists from around the country were arriving to see the attic and hear the stories of the Old Slave House.  George Sisk decided to capitalize on the history and by the 1930’s, was advertising that you could tour the house where “Slavery existed in Illinois,” for only 10 cents for adults and a nickel for children.

Third Floor Attic
It was during these tours that people began to report odd occurrences on the third floor; unseen fingers touching passersby, strange noises, rattling chains, whispering voices, hushed sobbing, and the feeling of being watched.  Legend has it that the Crenshaw House is haunted by those who were held captive there. 

Old Slave House in the '90's
From the thirties to the mid-90’s, the Old Slave House was visited by many ghost hunting groups, psychics, and paranormal investigators.  Many reported feelings of unrest and agony trapped up there.  It was on October 31, 1996 when the Sisk’s closed the house due to their age and declining health.

Courtesy Saluki Times
In December 2000, the State of Illinois acquired the house and two acres of land from George Sisk, Jr.  And in 2004 the National Park Service declared the Crenshaw house, aka the Old Slave House, as a station in the ‘Reverse Underground Railroad Network to Freedom’ program, thus acknowledging the sadistic part that John Crenshaw played in condemning free blacks and indentured servants to lives of slavery.  But no plans were made to reopen the house.

Courtsey Saluki Times
Earlier this year, the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale began doing digs at the house.  Working with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the group has a three-year grant to undertake historical, architectural and archaeological research on the site. The archaeological excavations ended August 1, 2011.  The state says there are still no current plans to reopen the house to the public.

Hickory Hill - The Old Slave House
Crenshaw's Tombstone
It remains to be seen what more is discovered about the house and property with these investigations.  One thing is for sure, while John Hart Crenshaw was not the only slave trader in the state of Illinois; he became the most notorious, known as one of the most ruthless men in this state’s history.

~ Joy