Near the town of Equality, Illinois, stands a mansion called Hickory Hill, also known as Crenshaw House and the Old Slave House. It was built by John Hart Crenshaw, who kidnapped free blacks, captured runaway slaves, and chained them in cells in his attic. One can only imagine the horrors that went on there. While the chains and shackles were probably removed during the metal drives of the Second World War, it is said that some cells are still blood-stained and two whipping posts still remain. It is also said that the house is haunted by the screams of tortured slaves and that no one could stay overnight in the house. If you look for information on the hauntings at the Old Slave House, you will find that it is listed as one of the most haunted places in America and that an exorcist named Hickman Whittington came to the house in the 1920s. Whittington was reported to have fled from the house in terror—and to have died a few hours later.
It is a sensational story. The romantic in me so wanted it to be true.
Who was this alleged exorcist?
Claims Power to Chase Spooks out of Haunted Houses; Says Biblical Verse Does the Trick
Benton, Ill., Feb. 3. Haunts aplenty challenged Benton’s self-announced ghost-chaser today, but he declared the weather must moderate before he can go into action—possibly with a spook for a partner.
Just what the weather has to do with it, 68-year-old Hickman Whittington wouldn’t explain, nor would be divulge the Biblical text he says gives him anti-haunt powers.
But when Spring comes, he will have plenty of business in answer to his newspaper advertisement that said: “Anyone having a house that is haunted or pested so that no one can live in it, let me know. I will redeem it.” A score of individuals claiming banshee trouble have written, giving names and addresses for him to look up. His system—so far untried—is to wait in the house for the ghost then quote the secret text at the ghost until it leaves. He said he wants only expenses for his trouble.
Some letters sought the Biblical abracadabra. Other writers claim personal spooks that pester them.
The possible partner, “Barbara Reynolds, Albany, N.Y,” wrote: “I am a girl that haunts houses. Perhaps we could come to some agreement and make a profitable business of the haunted house proposition.”
One writer, who signed himself “Mayor W.R. Calwell,” Wheaton, Ill., claimed “I can remove haunts without scriptures,” but wanted to know Whittington’s secret text.
Whittington wasn’t worried about competition. He claimed a monopoly of his system of de-haunting houses, and guarantees to send the banshees on their way, rattling their chains behind them. The Bee [Danville, VA] 3 February 1938
Whittington apparently did intend to visit the Old Slave House, although I cannot locate the supposed article from the “Illinois Post-Dispatch” (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch?) that was written about his stay.
De-Haunter Outlaws Wailing Shades of Negro Slaves
Benton, Ill., Feb. 7 Ghost Chaser Hickman Whittington chose the wailing shades of negro slaves today as the first to be banished by his slef-advertised dehaunting system.
Whittington said moans had been reported around an old “whipping post” at the rear of a 104-year-old “slave house” not far away in Gallatin County, and announced he would test his secret biblical formula on the moaners “whenever the weather permits.”
The 68-year-old banshee baiter’s claims have brought him offers of “jobs” from a score of ghost troubled citizens. Galveston [TX] Daily News 8 February 1938: p. 7
I wondered about this amateur exorcist, who seems akin to the PowWow doctors of Pennsylvania who use Biblical texts as spells. And what did the weather have to do with it? I did not find a lot of biographical information on this soul practitioner. Whittington was born in either 1868 or 1869 in Benton Illinois. He worked as a coal miner and a farmer in the area for most of his life. The 1900 census shows him married to a woman named Charity. He was listed as married to Bedia, according to the 1910 and 1920 records, and then to Cora by 1930. He seems to have wrestled with a few demons of his own.
CHARGED WITH ATTEMPT TO MURDER FORMER WIFE
Benton, Ill., Feb. 11 Hickman Whittington, 60, of Benton, was arraigned for trail in circuit court here today on the charge of having attempted to take the life of his former wife, Bedia Whittington Curry, on June 4.
Whittington is accused of shooting the woman from ambush and slashing her with a knife while she was in the company of a boarder, whom she later married. Evansville [IN] Courier and Press, 12 February 1930: p. 13
I have not been able to find the ultimate disposition of the case, but he apparently was a free man in 1938 when he put his ghost-busting advert in the paper. The keen reader will no doubt have noticed that the man who dropped dead after fleeing the Old Slave House in the 1920s was still kicking in the 1930s. In fact, he died in the Anna State Hospital in the 1940s.
I’m not the first person to discover this: Jon Musgrave, whose meticulous research is found on the page about Hickory Hill above, put an effective stake through the heart of the legend that Whittington died in the 1920s after visiting the Old Slave House.
Most of the articles that tell of his advertisement are done in a jocular tone, because, of course, there are no ghosts and no one can get rid of them with scriptural references…. (The Vatican might have a word or two to say on that subject.) Given ongoing manifestations at the Old Slave House, if he unleashed his secret verse, it failed miserably. I wonder how he came to discover his talent and if he (or any clients) actually found that his Bible verse was effective. Or was it the same, old sad story: did the same issues that led him to the State Hospital cause him to believe that he could exorcise ghosts with a phrase from the Good Book?
Thoughts? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.