Chicago magazine

The Fugitive

IN NOVEMBER 1860, CHICAGO WASN’T YET KNOWN AS A THEATER town, but a remarkable piece of stagecraft — front-page news in its day but now all but forgotten — played out on its streets: A crowd surrounded a woman and, poof, she vanished.

The woman in question, 20-year-old Eliza Grayson, had good reason to want to disappear: She was a fugitive from slavery. Two years earlier, she and her sister had escaped their slaveholder, aided by a free black man from Iowa. Grayson then made a harrowing 500-mile journey from Nebraska, likely taking refuge in safe houses on the Underground Railroad. She’d been among the first enslaved people to arrive in

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