One boring, summer day following eighth grade as I hung out with Joan and Michele, someone remembered the boarded-up house on the corner of Elmdorf and Genesee. The neglected house, older than anything around it, was formerly one of the 19th Ward's grander places, from a by-gone era with its gracious front porch, gabled roofs, and gingerbread ornamented eaves. Rumors claimed it was once an Underground Railroad station. A secret tunnel, purportedly between the basement and the Genesee River, offered run-away slaves an escape to waiting boats which transported them to Lake Ontario and, ultimately, Canada. Finding a hidden tunnel --- an adventure worthy of Nancy Drew --- should cure our boredom.
After several casual strolls past the house, confident nobody was watching, we scooted toward an uncovered basement window, took turns slipping through the opening, and found ourselves inside a small room in one corner of the cellar. One wall, facing east toward the river, had a square of bricks which failed to match the surrounding area and was, therefore, a likely spot for a tunnel opening. In our best Nancy Drew manner, we pressed various bricks and odd markings hoping something would swing open, but nothing so magical happened. Tiring of this, we decided to explore the upstairs which was dark and dusty, and we wandered through large, impressive rooms, whispering all the while. In the foyer a grand staircase wound its way down and, turning suddenly, I spotted an old woman in a gray, tattered shawl standing midway up the steps. After my muffled yelp of fright, we all scrambled back down into the cellar, each vying to be the first to reach the exit. Although I merely assumed my two friends had seen the same figure standing on the stairs, not until we were safely back in bright sunshine did I realize they were spooked instead by my panicked bleat. After I explained what sparked my fear, we all agreed the cause for alarm was probably a combination of shadows, a trick of the light filtering through boarded-up windows, and my nearsightedness without my glasses.
The house was soon demolished, replaced by a nondescript, brick apartment building with none of its predecessor's charm. Years later I opened the Sunday paper to a picture of the house in better days. In the accompanying article, I read it was once indeed a final stop on the Underground Railroad.