Dig of the Week: The Gray-Cloud House

SEARCH FOR ARTIFACTS- Lake Forest College Archaeological Field School students, Linnea Eich, Holly Novak, and Jennifer Cabrera, screen artifacts at the Gray-Cloud House. Photograph by Rebecca Graff.


By Carla Charter

CHICAGO, ILL.- In Irving Park a neighborhood in the Northwest Side of Chicago sits the Gray-Cloud House built in 1856 with a history all of its own.  Legend says it may have been an Underground Railroad stop complete with a tunnel. Rebecca S. Graff, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, has recently led an archeological dig at the home to see if she could find proof behind the legends. “There were no documentary records so archeological records would lend credence to the legend and oral history.”

The home, during the time of abolition was owned by John and Phoebe Gray who originally came from upstate New York. John Gray was the first Republican Sherriff of Cook County.  The couple held several different jobs over the years including being Innkeepers and farmers. John Gray then became a sheriff and was involved in real estate.

During these times Graff explained, Chicago was a free city and Illinois was a free state. “There were a lot of abolitionists in early Chicago. However, there were also a lot of Southerners moving up from Kentucky who were against abolition,” she said.

According to Graff “We surveyed the entrance which was said to be a tunnel to the Underground Railroad room and found nothing definitive, although there were over a ton of bricks and debris. That’s not to say it was not used as a hiding place.  We did a month of field work at the dig which ended the beginning of August.”

Items found at the site included a post and a post hole that may be part of the original house. Other discoveries from the 19th and early 20th century included ceramics, nails and other building debris, glass, plates toys and food debris which had been thrown out such as chicken bones. “We have also found small items that still need to be examined in labs,” Graff said.

As for clues to the legends of the homes Underground Railroad past she said “There is nothing definitive, which is pretty common. If you are a slave on the Underground Railroad you are not going to take much with you.”