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The Unhappy History of Hickory Hill

    Built in southern Illinois in 1842, a mansion with the grand name Hickory Hill actually had a sinister purpose: it was built to house slaves. Although it was against the law to own or sell slaves in Illinois at that time, it was legal to "lease" them. The owner of Hickory Hill used the slaves in his salt mines--such back-breaking labor that the very phrase "back to the salt mines" has become synonomous with hard work.

    As if their days in the mines weren't hard enough, the slaves' nights were even more hellish. They were kept imprisoned in tiny cells in the attic, sometimes in chains. There they were cruelly treated--and often tortured.

    When the owner of Hickory Hill began to illegally trade slaves out of his home, he was arrested and the house was shut down.

    In the early 1900s, Hickory Hill was reopened as a tourist attraction. But it had trouble attracting tourists--people who visited claimed they got a bad feeling in the house. Some visitors said they could hear cries and whimpers--and the occasional rattle of chains--coming from the attic.

    In the 1920s, a challenge was issued, daring anyone to spend a night in the house's attic. The first person who tried took ill during the night, fled the house in terror, and died hours later. Over the years, 150 people attempted to spend the night in the house, including war veterans, policemen, and others, but no one could do it. Finally, in 1978, a reporter managed to stay in the attic until morning--even though he said he heard strange noises all night.

    Hickory Hill is once again closed to the public--but only because it is undergoing renovations. It will soon re-open as a state historic site. If you are going to be in the Harrisburg, Illinois, area and are able to take a little side-trip a few miles south, do drop in for a visit. And if you hear anything in the attic--please drop me a line!



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