Far removed from the slave-holding plantations of the south is a historic home in Indianapolis, Indiana called the Hannah House. But even here, in the northern states, the specter of slavery, and of the Underground Railroad, still manages to make itself known.
The house was built in 1858 by Alexander Moore Hannah, a prominent figure in Indiana history. Originally, the house had been constructed to house Hannah and his staff but at age 51, he married Elizabeth Jackson and another wing was added on for the servants.
Hannah was well-known in Indiana for his stand against slavery. It was a time of coming change in America where political opponents fiercely debated the question of slavery and President James Buchanan openly supported it. Hannah was a firm abolitionist and this is the reason his former home has such a reputation for being haunted.
The source of the haunting remained a mystery for some time. The stately mansion had seen few owners over the years and unlike most haunted houses, had seen little in the way of trauma or death… or so most people believed.
Hannah himself had owned the home until 1899, when his heirs sold the place to another family. Since that time, there have been reports of many strange things in the house, moving objects, phantom sounds — and the unexplainable smell of death. Apparently, the Hannah House held a dark secret and one that would not be easily explained away by saying that one of the Hannah’s had returned to haunt the house. This secret was much darker — and much more terrible.
The legends of the house say that prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Hannah’s staunch abolitionist views had led him to allow the house to be used as a station on the Underground Railroad. Escaped slaves were brought into the house at night and given shelter until the following nightfall. Then, the Hannah’s would load the slaves into a wagon and they would be transported to the next station. We have to remember how dangerous this was, especially to a person of Hannah’s standing. This was a time when even assisting an injured runaway slave could be punishable by law.
Legend has it that one night, a lantern was overturned in the basement of the house and a number of slaves were trapped by the flames. Several of them burned to death. The fire did extensive damage to the basement and the lower floors of the house. While the fire was being put out, the source of the blaze had to be kept hidden and the fact that the house was an Underground Railroad station had to be covered up. Many believe that this this is the reason that no one knew the source of the haunting for so long. Or so it’s thought. Like many other legends, no one has been able to verify that this event actually occurred. As with other alleged locations on the Underground Railroad, hard facts are difficult to find. Due to the secretive nature of the operation as a whole, no written records were kept and so we have only oral tales to pass along. If the fire never took place then the house has been haunted for decades for unknown reasons but one this is sure, it has a long history of being haunted.
For many years, investigators and past owners claimed that one of the upstairs rooms of the house would sometimes smell like gangrene and decay and this odor was attributed to the death of the slaves in the house. Many years ago, this earned the house the nickname of “the house that reeks of death” but according to current owners, the smell no longer manifests here. Was this simply a part of the lore of the house or did it really occur? According to past reports, the smell was unexplainably genuine but at least this part of the haunting seems to have faded away.
However, continuing phenomena includes the sounds of moaning and whining and it has also been said that doors in the house suddenly open and close by themselves. Cold drafts are also sometimes felt when no windows are open to cause them.
The secrets that remain at Hannah House are certainly dark ones, and be the haunting a conscious or a residual one, it still continues to plague the curators of this historic mansion today.