Christmas 1969: The Mystery House

North of Onarga, IL

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“For years we have heard stories of a house near Onarga…It was the week end “whoopee house” of a wealthy Chicago man where he entertained his friends – It was the scene of horse races, shooting matches, and drinking parties – It was the front for one of the largest stations on the Underground Railroad sprinting fugitive Negros from the South to Canada – It was the site of covert activities ranging from national political intrigue to secret conference with people of the underworld – It was so well guarded that no one could approach it without a challenge – It was connected by a tunnel to the Illinois Central Railroad and trains stopped there without warning, then resume their journeys without explanation. These are just samples of the strange and curious tales of the house north of Onarga.”

The Mystery House woodblock print

The Mystery House woodblock print

The card's interior

The card’s interior

Allan Pinkerton, famous Scottish American detective and spy, bought 254 acres of land near Onarga from the Illinois Central Railroad in 1864. He made plans for a Scottish country estate on his land, started the planning, and built the house in 1873.

James D. Horan briefly described the estate in The Pinkertons: “Finally, the Villa was finished. Thousands of larch trees had been planted. The famous series of oil gleams in the soft lights of the great chandeliers. There were footmen in livery, uniformed guards, gardeners, fieldhands, and expert horsemen and groom for the stables.” The description of the entertaining done at the Villa matched the quality of the best, and the list of guests entertained there read like the Who’s Who of the nineteenth century.”

Allan Pinkerton enjoyed the property until his death in 1884. His two sons had little interest in the estate and quickly converted it to a farm upon his death. Gradually, the place deteriorated into a ghost of its former self. The Turners’ full research on the House is accessible in their Christmas 1969 note.

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