Prepare to enter a world of both shadow and substance

Take a journey of body, mind and spirit where you'll encounter things you won't find anywhere else.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Old Slave House

Imagine you’re a wife and mother and you are at home one night cooking dinner for your daughters. Your husband and son are away on business and it’s just a peaceful Spring night for you and your girls to spend some quality time together. The still of that evening is suddenly shattered when the front door bursts open and rough-looking men file in. You clutch your daughters to your side, but it does no good as the men are too powerful for you to stop them. They take you somewhere and tie you up in one of the men’s basement and then a few days later, you are handcuffed and tied in the back of a wagon and spirited out of the state. You and your daughters are sold into a life of slavery and never heard from again.

This is a true story. It happened near Equality, Illinois in the year 1842. And the man behind this diabolical deed was named John Crenshaw.

John and Sina Crenshaw

John Crenshaw, a man known as the "Salt King of Southern Illinois," had a long history of involvement with kidnapping free blacks and shipping them back down South into slavery in what was known as a reverse Underground Railroad. His base of operations was what has become known today as the Old Slave House.

The Old Slave House, photographed by me in the late 1970's

The Crenshaw House, started in 1834, and completed in 1838 sat atop a hill in Gallatin County and was known by it’s owner and all who lived in the area as the Hickory Hill Plantation. Abraham Lincoln, while campaigning in 1840 for William Henry Harrison, was a guest at this residence, such was it’s owner’s importance. (My Great-Great-Grandmother danced with Abe at the party that night, but that's another story.) Crenshaw owned and operated a salt mine and was a very big man in those days. It was said that the taxes collected from his businesses alone were fully one-seventh of the revenue for the State of Illinois. The Illinois State Constitution during this era had forbidden slavery but allowed it in certain circumstances. Such was the case with salt mining. The law permitted the use of slaves at the salt works since the labor was so arduous that "no free men could be found to do it." Well, in my mind, that certainly does not justify slavery, but that’s history for you.
As to the Crenshaw House itself, it was the scene of many gay parties and entertainments. But, little did the guests know that right above them, on the third floor, was where the slaves were housed. At night they were kept chained into 12 tiny cubicles, while during the day they were forced to do his manual labors. John Crenshaw owned 700 slaves, which he kept in various locales for the work of his salt mines, and in his grist mill, a steam sawmill and a distillery. We even know that he used the third floor to breed his slaves. One such story came from "Uncle Bob" Wilson, the alleged stud slave, who was a real person and who told a number of people that he had been kept upstairs at the Crenshaw house.
So, what became of this man who was not considered "much of a saint" by members of his own church? In 1848, he lost a leg when his slaves attacked him, allegedly because of a particularly brutal beating Crenshaw was dispensing to several female slaves at the time. In 1850, he moved his family into the nearby town of Equality and hired a German family to take over the operations at Hickory Hill. By all accounts, he became a pious man toward the end of his life and had left his life of crime behind. The house atop Hickory Hill still stands, although it is currently not open for admission. It was purchased by the State of Illinois in 2003 and because of funding woes, remains closed to the general public at this time. I was fortunate enough to be able to tour it in the late 1970’s, when it was still a popular attraction. I can still see the worn, wooden stalls where human beings were kept chained in a life of servitude. That image will never leave me.

One only hopes that John Crenshaw is getting his just rewards in his present situation.

This is the first in a series of blogs dealing with the local history and landmarks of my immediate area. Please let me know what you thought of it.

Here's what the Old Slave House looks like today, as of 2010:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Blogger's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes

In the course of searching for various pictures I've backed up, I'm always coming across others that I had forgotten of that are interesting in their own right. To say the least. So, in this short blog are just a couple pictures I felt just had to get out. Who knows, maybe a hundred years from now, they'll be ones that the Smithsonian are displaying to explain this crazy era. The first one is a good case in point.

This photograph is from a Hallowe'en gig I played back in the late '90's. As you can see, "Elvis" is posing with "the KKK." What can be said about this but what a strange combination?

This is another Hallowe'en picture, taken this year of 2007. A Pirate and Strawberry Shortcake. I went dressed as a French Guy, complete with a loaf of French bread and somebody in the club was kind enough to use my camera to take a picture of me with Strawberry. Maybe I'll post it someday.

This is a picture of an eggplant my father grew - I thought it looked just like Pinocchio. The eggplant went on to have it's 15 minutes of fame because this image was shown on a local television station's newshour and was seen by people in the whole tri-state area! That includes Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. Here is a link to download that clip, if you'd like to see it for yourself: Eggplant that looks like Pinocchio.

Pictured here are the "Chicago 10." My girlfriend at the time this was taken, (around 2003), standing just to the lower right of me, was a big fan of Simply Red. We went and saw them perform at the House of Blues in Chicago. The other people in the shot were some she had met on the band's website. We all arranged to meet and have dinner together before the show. Since we arrived at the House of Blues so early, we managed to be able to stand right against the front of the stage. Within slobbering distance from Mick Hucknall, the lead singer. What a thrill that was!

This last picture is just a self-portrait of another one of my submarine sandwiches, which I make so well. If you think this sandwich is huge, you should see the one my brother made one year!

I'd say this should just about do it until I can think of what my next blog's subject will be about. Who knows?

Sounds Of Christmas

I may have mentioned this before, but one of my all-time favorite blogs is Ernie (Not Bert). Ernie posts something that is near and dear to my heart - Christmas music! What he does is to go to thrift stores and find used albums, (yes - those big, black round things that revolve at 33 1/3 rpms!), record them to his computer and then upload them to the internet so that anybody that wishes to can download them. How great is that? I have personally downloaded several albums that he has offered and play them frequently. If you're interested, be sure to cruise on over there, (after you've finished here, of course!) and see what he has to offer! He starts uploading them after Thanksgiving, so he's got his season started already. Here's that link. Be sure to tell him that Kenny sent you over!

Well, I too love Christmas music. So much so that I usually record a Christmas CD each year to give out to my family and friends as a stocking stuffer gift. There have been around a dozen collections so far and I have loved recording each one. The great thing about doing it all yourself is that I not only get to sing all the voices and play all the instruments, I get to pick the songs! Of course, I pick all my favorite Christmas songs - from classic carols to modern pop hits. I even include some that I have personally composed on each CD. So, with no further ado, here is my most recent release, one from a couple years ago: Sounds Of Christmas by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson.

In case you're wondering whether or not to download it, here is a track listing to further convince you of it's Christmasy goodness:

1 We Wish You A Merry Christmas
2 Please Come Home For Christmas (the one the Eagles did in 1978)
3 Glory To God In The Highest (my own composition)
4 Deck The Halls (With Boughs Of Devo)
5 Angels Foretold This Glorious Thing (another one I wrote)
6 Feliz Navidad
7 The Chipmunk Song (yes.... that one with the Chipmunks!)
8 Mary's Little Boy Child
9 It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (my favorite Christmas song)
10 Away In A Manger (the old medieval version)
11 Angels We Have Heard On High
12 Little Saint Nick (the old Beach Boys classic)
13 He's Santa Claus (And He's Comin' For You) (another one of my originals)
14 Listen The Snow Is Falling (the Yoko Ono song that was on the flipside of John Lennon's Happy Xmas [War Is Over] single)

Well, there you have it. If it turns out that lots of people like it and ask for more, then I might upload another one - my first Christmas CD, Peace On Earth, seen below:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bubblegum Music

Yesterday, November 17th, I went to Henderson, Tennessee with the drummer in the band I'm currently in. We went down there for a thing called the Caravan of Stars XIV, a concert featuring rock and roll artists from the golden age; i.e. the 1950's - 1970's. There were several artists there, including Dickie Lee, Carol Conners from the Teddy Bears, Jimmy Gilmer, Jim Yester of the Association, Bo Donaldson and the Haywoods, Eddie Brigati of the Young Rascals, Jerry Yester of the Lovin' Spoonful and Dennis Tufano, the lead singer of the Buckinghams. But the group I was most interested in hearing, and in fact the reason I found out about the show in the first place, was the 1910 Fruitgum Company.
You may remember them from such hits as the 1968 number 2 smash, Simon Says, 1 2 3 Red Light, May I Take A Giant Step, Goody Goody Gumdrops, Indian Giver, Special Delivery and others. The trip was well worth it! They put on a great show, as did all the other acts there. My seat was in the sixth row, right in front of the middle of the stage, so of course I got several good pictures of everybody. But, since it was the 1910 Fruitgum Company that I primarily went to see, I'll just post a few pictures from their part of the show.

Frank Jeckell

Mick Mansueto

Floyd Marcus