Hickory Hill Mansion

More From Illinois

A dastardly Salt Refinery owner went into
the slave breeding business on the side…

His attic is one of the scariest places in America!



hickory-hill-mansionHickory Hill Mansion was not only designed to be the dream home of John Crenshaw, his wife, Sinia Taylor and their five children, it was also built with an evil purpose in mind; to house an illegal slave trade and establish a breeding program some report.

The outside of the mansion was designed in a “pseudo-Greek revival style,” having both upper and lower verandahs, all which was supported by massive columns, spreading the width of the mansion.

The first two floors had six rooms each, where the Crenshaw family enjoyed a life of privilege, and looked on as model citizens of their community. The attic, just above the family’s living quarters had thickened walls, and consisted of 12 tiny rooms, not much bigger than horse stalls, and a hallway with two whipping posts. Uh Oh!

Two stories about this infamous attic tenaciously cling around the home’s chimney like a ring of ivy.

One story:

The attic was a nightmare for slaves and kidnapped freemen and women.  This is where John Crenshaw’s breeding program was located. This was a place of rape and cruel treatment; all for making money for  John when he sold his pregnant slaves and kidnapped women now pregnant by his stud slave.

Second Story:

John Crenshaw would kidnap freed black families and resell them to Southern Plantations; sort of a reverse of the Underground Railroad. This is what he was accused of, but acquitted because he had a lot of community respect.

Perhaps both stories are true. Some say not; that he didn’t have a slave breeding program; stuff just happened. Things may have gotten out of hand with a male slave who couldn’t control his desires and had his way with some slave women.

Whatever is true, the mansion has a boatload of bad public opinion attached to it that still exists today. Perhaps this is the reason why it hasn’t been given restoration funds; just enough money to keep it still standing.



John Hart Crenshaw got his start in running a salt refinery, started by his father, who died when John was in his teens. By 1834, he had made a small fortune. Because he now had money to invest, John was able to lease several salt springs from the government and also applied to be authorized to lease slaves from their owners, as it was an old, established, legal practice in Illinois.

Back In 1817, because it was getting harder and harder to hire laborers, Illinois, a slave-free state, had given employers permission to lease slaves from their owners in slave territory, and bring them to Illinois to work in businesses suffering from labor shortages, such as salt mining.

But why spend money leasing slaves, when you could kidnap freed blacks in Illinois/elsewhere? Why not “breed” your own slaves and sell them on the southern market? Some say he treated slaves and others like cattle. Crenshaw found the Saline River to be a very convenient way to transport his cargo to and from the slave states interested in his business.

With these evil ideas in mind, some say that is the reason that John had a carriageway built that entered directly into his new mansion. By 1838, when the house was finished, carriages full of slaves/kidnap victims could be driven right into the mansion, and secretly hustled up the back stairway to the infamous attic; a place of imprisonment, suffering, rape;(intentional/unintentional), birth and death.

Slaves were shackled to the floor of their stall-like rooms in the attic. Ventilation was poor, and there was little light. They had to endure indignities, torture, bad treatment and a doomed existence.

The story goes that at least 300 babies were produced from the efforts of one sire slave alone! Pregnant slaves, or a slave woman with a child brought a high price in the slave states.

In 1842, John was caught with a freed family, was arrested, and accused of trying to sell into slavery a family of freed blacks, who owed him services. Because of his financial and political standing in the community, he was found not guilty.

His mill was burned, though, as public sentiment turned against him. HE WAS DEEMED GUILTY BY PUBLIC PINION. No one found out what had gone on in the attic until after John and his wife died, in (1871 & 1881). John Crenshaw was considered by many to be the most evil man who ever lived in Illinois. What he did to make money was the largest scandal in Illinois’ history.

In 1916, this property was bought by the Sisk family who stayed there for eighty years. The mansion was eventually opened as Hickory Hill House Museum, but it closed in 1996 by the owners, the Sisks.  They could no longer keep the maintenance of this old mansion up to code state standards. This began the long battle to get the state interested in buying the property as a part of Illinois history, though the place has an infamous history. Although the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency finally acquired the house in December 2000, the site remained closed to the public, due to lack of state funding to hire staff.

On June 9, 2003, between forty and fifty residents from more than seven counties met at Southeastern Illinois College and adopted a Plan of Action that could reopen the site.

They are still waiting. According to an 2019 article, by Sean Crawford for https://www.nprillinois.org, entitled, “Old Slave House” Still Standing – But For How Long?”, no money to restore and really stabilize one of the oldest buildings in southern Illinois has been provided. The scandal still permeates and still has legs into 2019.



Places where cruel injustice and flagrant disregard for human rights happened, often have angry, unhappy spirits who can’t rest and seek the living; sometimes very hostile, claiming a space in their structure as theirs).

Madam LaLaurie’s Mansion, LA (While a marvelous hostess, Madam LaLaurie was proven to be an evil, cruel, sadistic psychopath when it came to the treatment of her slaves; torturing, maiming, and killing them in slow, agonizing ways. Her victims that died had no qualms of showing the living what she did to them).

Alcatraz, CA (Violence, suffering and death by other inmates or beat-downs by guards has caused some restless spirits).

Mansfield Reformatory, OH (This prison became Hell on earth: a harsh place of mishap & death).

Hickory Hill Mansion, Il (Brutal treatment of slaves and freed African Americans has caused some scary hauntings. The angry spirits have claimed the attic as their domain; living not welcome!).



Because of the great suffering and cruelty that went on in the attic, there are many angry, tormented entities hanging out in the attic, making it one of the “scariest spots in the country.” They are not too fond of the living, and keep a guarded eye on the people down on the first two floors, as well as do their best to sometimes chase the living out of the attic. These manifestations listed below happened during the time when it was privately owned by the Sisk clan and operated as a museum.

Tactile & Auditory Activity

During the day, tourists have felt a growing chill as they climb the steps to the attic.

Some have heard shuffling feet, whimpering cries, and are filled with an uneasy feeling.

Leniently Treated

Over the years, out of at least 150 people trying to spend the night in the attic, only one, a reporter by the name of David, successfully spent the entire, rather long night in the attic, in 1978.

Perhaps, because he only heard a lot of strange noises, and wasn’t treated to the full treatment usually given to the living, who dare to trespass at night in the attic.

Exorcist Squished

Others were not treated so leniently by the presences there.

In the 1920s, an exorcist by the name of Hickman Whittington, probably hired by the Sisk family, went up to the attic to try to rid it of its entities.

Only after a short time, he ran from the mansion and died of fright a few hours later, perhaps having experienced what the marines did – See box 4.

Marine’s Quick Exit

In 1966, two veteran marines decided to try to spend the night in the infamous attic. The full treatment started at 1 o’clock in the morning, when their kerosene lamp started to flicker.

Suddenly, a terrible moan reverberated and shook the attic’s walls. A “cacophony of human voices,” speaking “unintelligible words” assaulted their ears, while ghostly figures swirled and danced around them. Their only source of light, the kerosene lamp, then blew out.

Blood-curdling screams rang out all around them, and they were filled with anxiety and panic, which inspired them to fly down the steep stairs and make a quick exit.

The Sisks

The Sisks, whose family had owned the mansion for 80 years, were the owners of the mansion and lived there while operating a museum there as well.

They stayed on the first and second floor, and never went up to the attic, as they respected the spirits there.

They were interviewed by psychic investigators, Richard Winer and Nancy Osborne, for their book, “Haunted Heartland.”

Mrs. Sisk spoke of an icy chill that can hang in the rooms of the mansion, even on hot days.

She had to stop taking baths, because a mischievous unseen presence would inevitably call out her first name in the hallway, to draw her out of the bathroom. No one was ever there.

Both she and her husband felt like they were being constantly watched by unseen presences, but they had learned to live with their spirits, and the spirits tolerated their presence.


People who tried to spend the night in the attic sometimes got the full paranormal sports package and they didn’t stay long.

An exorcist paid an awful price trying to push the sprits out. This road was never tried again.

The museum was opened before paranormal investigating became common.  As no one is allowed inside now, no one will probably be able to do so, and the house will just fall down in decay unless what happened here can be overcome enough  to get funds needed to at least stabilize the building.

The mansion has been written about in several books, so its story is out there.  The website is still viable.



Definitely YES INDEED!

The spirits have gotten used to having the mansion to themselves. No one has been able to help them let go. Perhaps, their anger and emotional upset has them stuck in this place.

Perhaps if a memorial plaque honoring and apologizing to  all the Afro-Americans who suffered greatly here would make them feel better in that their story is realized as being true.

If the mansion never gets restored, and it wastes away and collapses, the spirits will probably link with the property and move into whatever is built here.  Perhaps then a medium and energy cleanser can help them forget and moved to a better place in the spirit world.

To see more pictures of The Old Slave House, visit the Virtual Tour.



The Old Slave House Museum
Highway 13 Junction
Harrisburg, Illinois 62954

Built in 1834-38, on top of high Hickory Hill, on highway 13, about 14 miles east of Harrisburg, near the town of Equality, Illinois, Hickory Hill Mansion overlooks the Saline River.Harrisburg is located at the southernmost tip of Illinois.



Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr



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