Did the Underground Railroad Stop Here? Folklore Suggests So, but Historians Struggle to Prove It

By Malone, Tara | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 7, 2006 | Go to article overview

Did the Underground Railroad Stop Here? Folklore Suggests So, but Historians Struggle to Prove It


Malone, Tara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Tara Malone Daily Herald Staff Writer

Slaves chasing freedom North passed through the basement of Oak Brook's Graue Mill.

And Gurnee's Mother Rudd House.

The old First Congregational Church in Aurora, too.

So suggests local legend.

Corroborating the folklore that surrounds the Underground Railroad in Illinois leads historians down the trails, waterways and fields traveled by escaped slaves more than 140 years ago.

Yet the job of sweeping away history's dust to find the pathways grows more difficult every year. Oral history fades with each new generation, and potentially historic homes, many in poor condition, give way to development.

But suburban history buffs are ratcheting up efforts to preserve this chapter of Illinois history - and not just during Black History Month. In libraries and clerk offices across the suburbs, they comb through abolitionist newspapers, search for land deeds and track down descendants of former residents believed to have had a hand in the Underground Railroad.

"In the past, it wasn't acknowledged as completely or fully as it should have been," said Ted Hild, Illinois' deputy state historic preservation officer. "Documentation standards make it difficult to pin down what place exactly served as an Underground Railroad station. Interest is growing now."

Making the list

Seven stations along the path of the state's Underground Railroad now appear on the Network to Freedom, the gold standard of registrars for the Underground Railroad maintained by the National Park Service.

But many more stops exist, say resident historians, citing abolitionists who championed the anti-slavery cause from Aurora to Waukegan and from Elgin to Wheaton.

Yet proving that abolitionists - few of whom recorded their efforts - ushered fugitive slaves to freedom, offering their basements, barns or fruit cellars as refuge, requires more than local lore cycling from neighbor to neighbor through generations.

"If there's nothing - no diary, no letter - you are in the realm of myth," cautioned Elgin historian E.C. "Mike" Alft, author of the book "Elgin's Black History."

And facts, not folklore, experts say, must drive efforts to preserve the Underground Railroad stops in Illinois during the mid- 1800s and takes center stage in classrooms across Illinois as Black History Month unfolds.

The path to freedom

The journey began when slaves first arrived at plantations, and from the 1840s until President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, a stream of slaves journeyed north.

They left states such as Kentucky and Missouri, where slavery was legal, traveling north toward Chicago, often crossing through DuPage, southern Kane, Cook and Lake counties. From Chicago, many went on to Canada or the Ohio area.

"We know from slave narratives of successful escapes, but we can imagine lots of people tried and never made it," said Carol Lloyd with the National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati. "It's just a big unknown."

More than a century later in classrooms across Illinois, students explore that unknown and retrace such journeys to freedom during Black History Month. Students at Elk Grove Village's Mead Junior High chronicle the Middle Passage from Africa, fugitive slave laws, the Emancipation Proclamation up through the civil rights crusade.

"We come back to it again and again, like no other topic," said William Slodki, who heads the school's social studies department. "It's had a huge impact on American history."

"Certainly now it's part of the curriculum," said Alberta Adamson, president of Wheaton's Center for History. "I talk to adults in their 50s and 60s who did not learn about the Underground Railroad in school."

History's heroes

Few Illinoisans were as bold as Owen Lovejoy.

The abolitionist from Princeton, a town 115 miles southwest of Chicago, advertised his help to fugitive slaves in newspapers sympathetic to the cause. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Did the Underground Railroad Stop Here? Folklore Suggests So, but Historians Struggle to Prove It
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.