What should be today’s ‘Underground Railroad’ movement? “Well, I don’t really know. But I heard Russell Crowe, of all people, say something I thought was a really good idea. Basically, he said, if we took all of the money we’ve been giving to big companies around the world, and instead put that money to make jobs for each U.S. family, we’d all be a lot better off. I have my masters and 15 years of teaching experience, and this job, working here at the Rankin House, is the first job I’ve had since 2007 and the economic downturn. If you don’t have a job- it affects everything- your relationship with your family, buying good food, your health, your confidence, self esteem, everything. It really rattles you.” She provided me with an excellent tour of the Reverend John Rankin House; a major station on the Underground Railroad.
“Revered John Rankin was taught by his mother that slavery was an immoral act and when he became a preacher, he began abolitionist sermons and writings. After he learned his brother had purchased slaves, he wrote his famous ‘Letters on Slavery.’ They were very influential in convincing northerners to join the abolitionist movement. He, his wife Jean, and their 13 children moved to Ripley, Ohio and built this house on the hill. He worked in concert with many of the abolitionists down in the City of Ripley below, but especially John Parker, a former slave. Together, they are said to have assisted over 2000 slaves and, miraculously, none were ever caught.“
“Rankin traded one acre of his land with a nearby mason for him to come and build these 100 stone steps from the town of Ripley, below, up to his home on the hill. These were the steps many of the slaves used to come to the house, and then into a secret space under their barn out back. Mrs. Rankin kept a lighted candle in the window when it was safe to enter the home that could be seen across the Ohio River. These days, you can often see Amish men bring girls they are courting to sit on the steps and under the oak trees. They’ll sit out here for hours picnicking together.”
“This was the fireplace where late one night Harriet Beecher Stowe came to sit with John Rankin and his wife. They were good friends, and is where she heard Rankin’s account of a slave who had carried her baby from the Kentucky side across the thawing ice of the Ohio River to Ripley, Ohio and made her way up the steps to the Rankin house. The story so inspired Stowe that she decided to include the character, Eliza, in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her novel helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War, and President Lincoln later called Stowe the ‘little lady who started the great war.’”