May 05, 2009, 06:28 PM
Gypsyheart~ Queen of Rust
Middletown was along one branch of the old underground railroad, which had a major station at West Elkton. But this organized route of escape for black slaves was neither underground nor a railroad.
In this story, an exception to the rule, the "station" was indeed underground. Hidden in the yellowed files of an old local newspaper of 1892 is the narrative of an elderly resident describing an old cave near Middletown, which he wrote was not over six miles from the downtown corner of Main and Central Avenue. His farm homestead had been adjacent to the cave. The narrator's grandfather, one of the area's pioneers, had discovered it. He noted that some mysterious, poisonous gas filled its inner chamber and therefore concealed its opening to keep anyone from entering it.
While the family tried to keep this death-trap a secret, others had heard rumors of the underground cave, and a few knew its approximate location. Among these were an Abolitionist who lived at Hamilton, a prominent doctor dedicated to helping. free slaves by assisting in the underground railroad. The narrator's family, being of Quaker background, also believed and supported the cause.
One night in 1849 a knock came at the back door of the farmhouse. The narrator of the story and his parents were in the parlor reading. His father was alerted when he heard four slow and distinct raps at the back door---a signal used by the underground railroad "conductors." Not wishing to involve his son, he asked him to remain in the parlor, but he and his wife went to answer the kitchen door. All lamps were extinguished. The youth quietly walked over to the closed door between the rooms, climbed up on a chair to look through the transom. he watched and listened.
He recognized the Hamilton physician and "conductor" on the Butler County section of the underground railroad. The doctor revealed that he had brought two wagon loads of slaves up the highway hoping to get them to West Elkton, but discovered they were being followed by bounty hunters. He told the farmer he had taken the liberty of hiding them in the secret cave adjacent to his farm. Upon hearing of this, the farmer warned that he knew the cave to be a tomb of death, filled with a poisonous gas (probably methane.) He feared that none of the 21 would ever emerge alive.
Being very disturbed by the warning, the doctor decided to go back to the cave, after a few hours' rest. It then being well past midnight, the doctor slept until about 4 a.m., then was on his way. He was accompanied by the farmer's son, the farmer being Ill and the son volunteering to go. Both were careful not be observed.
They stood before the hidden entrance, nervous, apprehensive. The doctor fell to his knees in prayer. He took a few steps into the cave, and began to call. Getting no response, he tied a handkerchief around his face to prevent the inhalation of any gases, instructing the youth to stand guard at the entrance.
After some moments that seemed like hours, the doctor returned, his hands pressing the sides of his head. he fell in a stupor, and was at once revived by the fresh air. He then cried, "We are in the midst of death! They are all dead ... I saw them, counted them --- 21 ---all dead." The doctor then said he must return to Hamilton with the bad news, but warned his friend never to enter the cave, nor to allow others to enter it, asking that he replace the ground so as
to conceal it from the sight of man. He told the youth to tell his father at home that his predictions were right, and that the doctor took full responsibility for the fate of the men. The doctor stated, "I alone am to blame and no one can share any of it. It was God's will they should die rather than be recaptured and taken back into slavery. At least they are buried in free land, and their graves on free soil."
To this day that cave remains hidden from the sight of man, and the tragic story long forgotten.
I go a great distance,while some are considering whether they will start today or tomorrow
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