With a history steeped in tragedy and whispers of restless spirits, the Hannah House stands as a haunting testament to the realities of slavery’s impact on Indiana.

It is one of Indiana’s most haunted locations according to paranormal experts. 

The 24-room home was built by Alexander Hannah in 1858. Legend says that it was a safe haven for enslaved runaways along the Underground Railroad; Hannah would keep runaways in the cellar of the home.  

RELATED: Indiana haunting attraction tours to explore

“There is no evidence to say that his house was a part of the Underground Railroad. All we know is he is a Quaker and an abolitionist who would be sympathetic to those enslaved. His property was located away from prying eyes in the city,” said Jessica Fischer with Encyclopedia of Indianapolis

Fischer first started researching the Hannah House when she was working at the Indiana Historical Society. After seeing message boards online discussing visitors’ haunted experiences, she wanted to confirm actual history. 

“I got into the real history of Alexander Hannah who grew up in Indiana as a businessman and farmer. He left the Hoosier state for California’s gold rush and returned with a fortune. He and his father worked on the Indiana Central Railroad,” said Fischer.

Hannah House

History, slavery and hauntings: The Hannah House legacy
Woman sitting on the front steps of Hannah House, ca. 1900. (Photo/provided by The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection)

Hannah purchased 240 acres of land on the south side of Indianapolis where he built the Hannah House. 

He was a longtime bachelor before marrying Elizabeth Jackson. They had one child who was stillborn. 

“We don’t know much about what he did under those roles, but that’s what sparked this legend. It’s said that he would allow enslaved runaways to stay for the day, and he would take them to their next destination at night,” said Fischer. 

“We can’t confirm that though. We can only imagine that as a businessman, one night he couldn’t take them because he was away at an event somewhere, so he allowed this group to stay overnight in his cellar.” 

The tale is that someone tipped over an oil lamp in the cellar, which went up in flames, killing the group of enslaved runaways. Hannah came back to the scene but could not get help because he did not want the authorities to know he was aiding in their escape. So, he buried their bodies in the cellar. 

Now, their spirits reportedly haunt the old house. 

Fischer said stories of paranormal activity started in the 1960s. People have reported smelling burning flesh in the cellar and seeing apparitions of enslaved runaways and a man in a suit believed to be Hannah walking around the house. 

Hannah House hauntings

History, slavery and hauntings: The Hannah House legacy
The current basement of the Hannah House is a part of the house tours given by volunteers. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

A woman has also been seen near a window of the home and is believed to be Hannah’s wife holding the stillborn child she lost in life. 

“Even though we don’t know if it’s real, I’d like to think he was helping people. I hate the fact that this story comes from the death of people,” said Fischer. 

Hannah passed away in his 80s with no heirs. The home was purchased in 1899 by German immigrant Roman Oehler. It is still in the Oehler family. 

Today, visitors can schedule an open house history tour every first Sunday of the month for $8 at the property. Admission for children 12 and younger is free.

Paranormal investigators or those who want to host events can book the location as well. 

Hannah House house tours

Hannah House tour
Handmade poster for the Hannah House ca. 1975. (Photo/provided by The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection)

Leon Bates, a Pan-African historian, said he does not like the way the realities of slavery have turned into a haunted attraction. 

He believes these kinds of urban myths do damage to the history of slavery and would love for Hoosiers to learn about true stories of African American history in Indiana.

“The Underground Railroad had several different paths through Indiana. One came through Indianapolis, and Bethel A.M.E Church was deeply involved in that, so much so that they were being threatened by local white people in favor of slavery or those who didn’t believe in assisting runaways,” said Bates. 

“The church mysteriously caught fire and was burned down in the 1860s. They never found out who did it, but members kept helping runaways even after, and they had to rebuild.”

Bates said there were Quaker settlements all throughout Indiana that would point runaways to their next stop. 

At the time, the Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal to help runaways. 

“These different churches knew each other and trusted each other, and they would move these runaways, whether it was a Quaker church or like a Bethel A.M.E church,” said Bates. 

“If the Hannah House story is true about the fire, then they would have had to rebuild on top of the old foundation. It’s doubtful that they would have buried them in the cellar. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t bury them somewhere else nearby in a mass grave.” 

Generations have come and gone, but the story of Hannah House has endured, indirectly acknowledging painful truths about slavery’s past. 

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON