Cairo, Illinois, once a vibrantly healthy and thriving city found nestled at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, has died a very public, painful and slow death. It now resembles nothing less than a living nightmare.
Words do not seem adequate to be able to describe to you what you will see, if you ever end up driving through this part of Southern Illinois. The feelings of doom and gloom begins to wash over you as you look out your car window and see vacant building after vacant building, boarded-up windows, dead vegetation, broken signs, and cobwebs over doorways left slightly ajar.
The city has seen its share of prosperity as a busy and bustling port in its heyday, boasting a population of well over 15,000 people. Today the number of people who still reside here is somewhere over the 2,000+ marker. Steadily dropping in breathing humans, the last official count was back in 2010, where the Census Bureau put the total at 2,831.
Containing uniqueness, importance, and rarity,.. numerous buildings have been listed on the national register of historic places. These structures are like beautiful flowers, and they remain lovingly maintained, amidst the rest of the weed filled garden, of Cairo.
Extremely important in the growth of our country it was a strong hold during the Civil War, where steamboat traffic and it's strategic location made it a rising star. Designated as a delivery port by an act of Congress in 1854, some of the old time beauty still remains in this living ghost town. Actually, it is more like a zombie town, being partially alive, but mostly dead.
As your car winds through the bleak nothingness of abandonment you will inevitably stumble upon the few remaining jewels, left untouched by time, in this doomed city. Mansions such as Magnolia Manor built in 1865, still proudly stand with all of it's glory and allurement intact. Directly across the street is the public library, which is richly done in the Queen Anne style architecture.
Bits of antique sparkling color can be found here and there as some stained-glass windows remain intact. The post office was actually designed by Alfred Mullet and is one of a handful of remaining Victorian buildings created by this gifted artist, that still remain standing in our nation today.
With car doors firmly locked you will see other people staring out their vehicle windows wearing an expression of horror, as they absorb their surroundings. If you are brave enough to meander the desolate roadways through town, the stark contrast of vibrant beauty you will see in certain well tended to areas and bleak nothingness strikes at the heart.
It makes you wonder,... what could have possibly happened to create this shattered town?
As we peer back into the past, you'll soon find out,.. that there were many factors that led to its demise. The most outstanding being racial tensions.
It began with modernization and change bringing to the area much needed bridges. They were built across the Mississippi and another to span the Ohio. This resulted in many drastic changes as to how product was handled and moved. Sadly much of the ferry employment including railroad traffic drastically declined, in a relatively short period of time and volumes of people lost their jobs.
A tragic recipe was created through lack of income, high feelings of depression as people struggled with poverty,... and the historically important time period of the 1960s.
This is when the United States found itself dead smack in the center of the civil rights movement. It all came to a massive boiling point when Robert Hunt, a young man of just 19 years, was found hanging by his t-shirt wrapped around his neck, inside of the police station.
The police insisted that he must have hung himself and documented this on the police report. The black community didn't buy it. After suffering many long years of hard indignities and injustices, they firmly believed the police were guilty of murdering that young man.
Having had enough,.... rage and anger flared. The riots and pent up outrage soon followed. What took place in Cairo was also taking place around the nation, as these outbursts were part of a larger wave demanding change.
In the summer of 1967 people filled with years of resentment over their treatment, lashed out against an outrageously tilted and corrupt system.
The down trodden whom justice overlooked for so long, took to the streets in mass, where windows were broken,... doors kicked in,... warehouses and stores burned to the ground.
Enough was enough, change was going to come,.....either through compromise or destruction.
A list of demands were made by the black community that police brutality MUST STOP immediately and that new job opportunities for their people should be presented.
(It is heart breaking to think that things had to get to such a shocking point. NO human is better than or more deserving than another human being. We are a family on this planet, and we are all loved the same in the eyes of the Prime Creator. Loving one another, and having true concern for when another being is in need, is the only way to live in this world. Anything other than freedom and equality, will always end in demise.)
The city leaders tried to come up with a plan to stop any further destruction, as the pain and outrage continued in the streets. The white community further incensed over loss of their property, combined with the fact that they had been raised with a sense of entitlement, formed a group known as 'The Citizens Protection Group',... and it was officially deputized by the local sheriff.
This new group would later refer to themselves as 'The White Hats.'
Hundreds of members wearing white construction hats, began patrolling the streets of Cairo. Immediately, fierce clashes ensued. The black community,... the local NAACP, got together and formed 'Cairo United Front'.
Steadily escalating, as sides were clearly established, the violence hit a crescendo in the year 1969, which led to the deployment of the National Guard.
All white owned businesses were boycotted by the black community, which had an impact on every business in town. On December 6th., people residing in an area called 'Permit Courts Housing Project' opened fire on three firemen and the chief of police while they were out responding to one of the numerous fires.
The picketing continued and the city responded by trying to pass ordinances which would ban demonstrating within 20 feet of any business in town.
Feeling their rights as human beings were being violated, the United Front called upon their people for another rally. Unfaltered they picked up their signs and continue to demonstrate, despite previous ordinances that were passed.
Trying to ban people from expressing their viewpoints resulted in more violence and inevitably landed the matter into federal court. The court,.. of course ruled on the side of her constitution and the mayor's decision was proclaimed unconstitutional and quickly overturned.
In 1969 Gov. Simon along with a committee appointed by Illinois House of Representatives looked into the massive problems occurring in Cairo. The Gen. assembly made a demand that the White Hats immediately disband.
It was determined that racial integration and civil rights laws would be applied to all city and county departments. (When you stand up as a people, united,...and demand change for your sovereign rights,.... as human beings,...it will always come. The key is united. People must be joined in their hearts and minds.)
Sadly,.... human relations were firmly torn apart. Many white residents continued to assemble together and hold meetings in public parks, speaking out roaringly against any type of integration and civil rights laws, while the African-Americans who had been so shoddily treated for so long, continued to hold civil rights rallies, most of the time in the bosom of their church.
Businesses exhausted by the boycott and constant picketing decided to close up shop, as they saw no end in sight. The racial problem had everyone standing firmly on one or another side. It truly was a city divided.
Families and business owners slowly began the process of moving out of the city in a never-ending wave.
Much needed traffic continued to bypass this now doomed city with the opening of the Mississippi River bridge. The restaurants and hotels which relied on that draw of humanity, also shriveled up and died.
As the population continue to dwindle off, the many larger institutions like the city hospital, also closed it's doors in 1987.
Now,... this once fascinating, exciting, strategic location in the United States,.... surrounded by so much energy and water is now mostly known for being a speed trap on Interstate 57. If caught, I have heard the fines are extremely high. Everyone that surrounds this area has figured out, that this is how the town makes up most of its revenue.
Crippling unemployment, businesses beating a steady path to leave, resulted in those who remained behind,.... being immersed in waves of crime.
The predator/ prey mentality being the only means left, when lawful ways to make a living, have been exhausted.
With maybe 900 families remaining, more than 33% of those are below the poverty line.
With a city that has seen thousands of soldiers encamped upon her shore lines in a war that ripped our nation apart, and suffered through so much emotional shock during the Civil Rights movement,.. is it any wonder that claims of ghosts are being heard all over the Internet, by the new generation?
During the Civil War this proud city was a very important supply base and was also used for training of the Union Army. Headquarters were set up in town for the infamous General Grant.
Considered extremely valuable for Army and Naval bases, both the Confederacy and Union recognized how necessary such a position could be and they launched battle for control over the Mississippi River.
(That segment of Cairo's history could take up a book in it's self.)
What else could create the terror and melancholy in the atmosphere needed to create a ghostly situation?
With the jostling and bustling of ferries on this waterway town, came the numerous shipping incidents that led to fatalities, as workers hustled to move more than a quarter of a million railroad cars. These cars would be hauled across the river in brief periods of time by an army of strong and determined workers.
You must remember, this is a point in our countries history where the safety of employees was not always at its highest of standards. Human life simply wasn't as valued as it is today.
As I surf the Internet to find people's ghostly experiences in town, I found out that many people had them, simply by looking out the window of their car, as they drive past all the endless blight.
Driving slowly (so as to not get a ticket) people stared into the broken, decrepit windows and doorways of the remaining buildings. Reports include ghostly faces, staring with hollow eyes, behind the shards of broken glass.
As passer-bys continued to stare at these otherworldly phantoms, they quickly realized,..... you could see right through them!
Other accounts are of shadows passing by the opening of a building. The dark form takes the shape of a head and shoulders staring out and where eyes should be, are sometimes glowing orbs of red, while tattered curtains ruffle in the breeze.
Buildings that seem to be the most talked about when it comes to hauntings include,.... the old closed down hospital. Bemoaned voices of spirits who remain, walk the echoing halls. Human shaped forms ranging in sizes of up to 6 foot, appear in umbrage, darting in and out of the hallways. The sound of phantom feet can be clearly heard as the dead pace back and forth.
Whispers in town are that the library and Customs House are also haunted with a resident ghost.
Librarians passed gave many accounts as to what transpired as they worked their day, inside the old building. Books moving on their own, papers lightly shuffling with no apparent breeze, chairs moving, the sound of feet walking up and down the stairway. When those present rush to see who is there,.... no one is ever found.
Next on the haunting list of Cairo, is the story of a very young child, who is said to be haunting one of the remaining jewels in town, known as the beautiful Magnolia Manor.
|Fort Defiance State Park|
We continue with the ghosts of Cairo, by moving outside to Defiance Park. As we discussed above, General Grant commanded Fort Defiance which was located right near the confluence of Ohio and Mississippi River. The confluence has since moved a little further south and now the site is a city park between the two river bridges. However back in 1861,... 12,000 Union troops were stationed in this most southern end of Illinois.
Taking a digital recorder, questions asked into the ether, sometimes receive spooky and otherworldly answers.
Another famous and reportedly haunted building in this shell of a city, is the Gem Theater. Built in 1910, it suffered a tragic fire and was rebuilt, only to later suffer greatly during the the city's racial war,... before finally closing down in the year 1978. People visiting the area have said they heard sounds coming from inside the building, despite the fact that it's boarded-up and houses no living soul.
Distant echoes of hearty laughter has been recorded emanating from the theater, were so many people were once joyfully entertained.
This is something you are bound to find out when you go to the city of Cairo. Even though it is named after the Egyptian city of Cairo the locals pronounce the name 'K-ROW'.
As people from outside the region, question the pronunciation, they quickly come to the conclusion it's because of the southern drawl, that the name is pronounced in such a way.
There are many locals who don't realize that Cairo was in absolute fact, named after the same city in Egypt, and insist that it must be a separate name with a separate pronunciation.
How did it come to be named after a city in,.... Egypt? Well, it was relatively common for the time period, when amplifying these areas, to name the location after long standing and famous civilizations. Such names including Thebes, Lebanon, New Athens, Sparta, Alexander, and even Memphis, Tennessee,.... which is also named after another consequential city in Egypt. The grandiose titles of these locations (which is the greatest of all compliments) gained the region the name Little Egypt.
A city that was once designed to take care of 20,000+ people,.... is now a wounded, broken, shell of it's self, that leaves shivers down your spine as you slowly cruise along its roadways.
People from around the region talk of days gone by, where they took weekend trips into Cairo, to enjoy a good dinner and shop downtown. Boasting of the many choices one had when there,... such as,.. department stores, specialty shops, restaurants, hotels, shoe stores, photography studios, dealerships, multitudes of gas stations, more than 40 grocery stores. You could even watch speed boats race by, as one of the volumes of scheduled entertainment, in the park along the shoreline.
People who now make the trip into Cairo, say they roll up their windows, lock their doors, and some even admit they utter a prayer before crossing into it's borders. The very energy in the air is rife and thick with static and discord of decades past.
As the tires of your car slowly go in and out of the streets of this town, you are faced with the bones and the death of the city that is still standing but almost completely broken in a hopeless environment. Even though it is frightening to look upon, you can't help but stare at it. Some folks find it adventurous and fascinating as they explore the strange emptiness of the many buildings.
There are bound to be scars, and ghosts that wander when a city such as this, is marked by the travesty of war, unjustified lynchings, turmoil that results in more than 150 nights of gunfire, the fire bombing of businesses and the broken spirits of the many families filing for bankruptcy. Dispare in this town is so palpable and devastating you can feel it as soon as you cross into it.
All you need to do is surf the Internet to read the many accounts of people's experiences while living in or drifting through this town. The low vibratory realms of bleakness and lost hope, open a portal to attract energies of the same. So,… It is no wonder that people are hearing spirit voices speak and seeing shadows pass by open doorways.
If you decide to drive through this town, prepare yourself beforehand for a wave of uneasiness, hopelessness and dread that will most likely rise within you, as fingers fear tickle up your spine. Cairo, Illinois is indeed a barely breathing ghost town.
Anyone reading this who goes meandering through the bones of a not yet completely dead city, should come back here and let us know your experiences. We would enjoy hearing your accounts.
To end on a happy note,....please (sometime today after reading this) send the remaining people of Cairo, and the area they call home, some heart felt and loving thoughts, for prosperity, healing, love, health, and supreme respect for every being upon her land.
Love and blessings to you, my earth family!
This video will take you on a 8 minute tour of Cairo. It was shot some years ago, however much remains unchanged.
This video will take you on a 50 second ride down the Main Street in Cairo, in the dark of the night.