The Underground Railroad: Salem’s Secret Railroads and Tunnels Part Two

So who has heard of Fredrick Douglass? What about the brother and sister team of Sarah Parker Remond and Charles Lenox Remond? When Fredrick came to Lynn he soon met these two. They would instruct him on how to enter the abolitionist lecturing circuit and to become a fine orator. Plus they would give him that fine hairdo…

The Remond’s were a wealthy family of color before the Civil War. Remond was born in Salem, Massachusetts to John Remond, part of the Arawak tribe from the island of Curaçao, who ran the successful catering company out of the Federalist Hamilton Hall on Chestnut Street. From that start the Remond’s family branched out to own and operate a successful hairdressing business and laundry in which several members participated. His three sisters, Cecilia, Maritchie,and Caroline, owned a women’s hair salon and the largest wig factory in the state. The family even boarded Charlotte Forten who was the first black woman to graduate college. She graduated from Salem Normal School and went on to teach freed slaves on a barrier island off South Carolina in which Alan Lomax will later record  the most beautiful field songs in his career.  Charles would marry the daughter of the first black Episcopal minister. After her death he would marry Elizabeth Magee. Rev. Theodore Parker would officiate the marriage. Parker has been quoted by Abraham Lincoln an Martin Luther king.  So the Remond’s were a boon to Fredrick Douglass when he moved north.

Now Hamilton Hall had a series of tunnels leading from it that were used by the Federalist to smuggle goods around town without paying customs. Charles was able to use these same tunnel to move freed slaves to freedom through. He was also able to travel to the Lyceum through them to give one of his many speeches on Freedom.  All along this route there was places to hide people. In the basement of Pickman Place (Where the Downing Block now stands. The old Gene Murray Dance Studio building) were rooms accessed by two doors in the tunnel that opened up to their basements. One even had a mail slot. I just wondered which one of the runaways left a forwarding address? Also there are stories they entered through the tunnels into the House of the Seven Gables. Many homes in North Salem had tunnels leading to them. Many Abolitionist lived near Manning’s nursery (Greenlawn Cemetery) who would put these people up for the night. There is also tales about a house behind the Salvation Army on Highland Avenue having rooms to hide runaways in. Then in the hair salon across from the hospital on Highland Ave. behind the last chair is a trap door that leads to secret room in which runaways were hid that connected to the tunnels.

Door that led to compartments runaway slaves could sleep in on the tunnel route in Salem, MA. Downing_Block_Me_Jail_Cell_Door2

Now the dark side, the tunnels do lead to the secret underground train station.  Either these free spirits were going to move further north to Canada or stay in area. If they stayed in the area, they would need employment. So were they sent up the rail to the mill cities? If the conditions were horrible for lighter skin people which led to the Bread and Roses Strike in 1912, how would it be for these freed African Americans? Another tragic event happened under the old Eastern Bank on the corner of Derby Square. Two gentlemen had died on the Underground Railroad. They could not be brought up for a proper burial because of the harm this would incur upon the others traveling to freedom. So they were entombed under a staircase in the old bank. They remain untouched to this day, besides a small hole in the base of one tomb that smelled like dead rats for weeks. Remond also was the recruiter for the 54th and 55th Colored Regiment. The 54th would lead the charge at Fort Sumter and many would be slaughtered.

Tomb under the stairs of two people who died on the Underground Railroad in Salem MA.
Tomb under the stairs of two people who died on the Underground Railroad in Salem MA.
Other side of the top of the tomb.
Other side of the top of the tomb.

Now some amazing stories that happened on the Eastern Railroad. Fredrick Douglass had taken a seat outside of the Negro car. When the conductor who had kicked him out once more asked him if he would move the response was, ” Tell me one good reason I have to move.”. The conductor answered because he was a damned nigger. Then the conductor got several men to rouse Douglass from his seat. Douglass held on so tight to the bench he took it with him as he was thrown from the train. At least he made a dent in the Jim Crow practices. Rosa Parks might of held onto her seat, but Douglass got to bring his home with him….

For more about the tunnels in Salem read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City. Also you can venture on the route of the tunnels and learn their history first hand by going on one of Salem’s best walking tours there is!  The Salem Tunnel Tour offers tours at various times throughout the week. Check them out today!


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