Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Random Shots from Harpers Ferry

After spending a few hours doing research in the park's archives last week I took some time to look around Harpers Ferry and snap some shots. Being somewhat familiar with the site I was able to make my way around without having to spend too much time searching for things. The archive and library is on the third floor of the park's John Brown Museum, which sits directly across the street from the fire engine house, or "John Brown's Fort," as it later came to be called.

The museum has a number of excellent exhibits on different aspects of Brown's life. One of the artifacts that stood out during my visit was one of the broad swords that was reportedly used by Brown's sons and his men to kill five proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good clear photo of the sword to share.

Another neat exhibit was the one pictured above that described some of Brown's weapons, including his famous pikes and Sharps carbines. The two Sharps that are shown here were authenticated as belonging to raider Aaron Stevens (top) and Brown himself (bottom) by Virginia Governor Wise. Both were captured when the engine house was finally stormed and taken by the Marines.

The fire engine house has been moved a number of times since its most famous occupant took up shelter there. It was taken to Chicago in 1891 for exhibition and after proving to be an unpopular attraction was brought back to the Harpers Ferry area, some three miles from its original location, and reconstructed in 1895. In 1903 it was moved to Storer College at Harpers Ferry. It remained there until 1968, when it was moved to its present location in the Lower Town Historic District, some 150 feet from its original location.

The fire engine house...an inside look.

The monument pictured above marks the location where the fire engine house originally stood during the 1859 raid. To the right of the light blue-trimmed building behind the monument in this photo is Hog Alley, where raider Dangerfield Newby was shot through the neck and killed.

The Heyward Shepherd monument is pictured above. It is to the free man of color, who as fate would have it, turned out to be the first victim of the raid. Its interpretation is interesting, in that from what I can tell, Shepherd was just trying to get away when he was shot in the back.

The John Brown Wax Museum is not to be confused with the National Park's John Brown Museum. The wax museum, which as its sign says, highlight's the "Controversial career of John Brown from Youth to the Gallows, in Life Size Figures and Tableaux" is on High Street just off of the park's property. Of course, I had to go in. It cost $7.00 to go through the "museum," so I reluctantly paid my fee. It appeared to me that the exhibit had been updated since it opened, which looked to have been some time around the centennial of the raid. I think it took all of about 10 minutes to walk through all of the different displays of Brown's life. Some of the tableaux's had "push-button" recorded messages that lasted about 30 seconds or so and didn't give much valuable information. One of the exhibits showed the death of baggage master Heyward Shepherd, but he was labeled Shepherd Hayward. I wondered if that had ever been pointed out to them or not.

The photo above, of course, is a shot of Brown climbing the steps of the gallows to be hanged. I can't say that I would recommend a visit to the John Brown Wax Museum, especially for the $7.00 admission fee, but if you want to see what probably passed for a great exhibit when it opened, stop in the next time you are in Harper's Ferry. By the way, you exit a different way than you enter. I think that was probably planned to cut down on visitor complaints.

I didn't eat here, but I couldn't pass up a picture.
Harpers Ferry is one of those National Parks where almost everyone can find something to like. Some visitors will enjoy the town's architecture and living history; others will like the history of John Brown's raid; still others will just wonder at the beauty of the rivers and mountains...and then, there are those like me, that like it all.
P.S. The park's bookstore has a fantastic selection!

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