Chicken Corner and a few family members drove up to Harpers Ferry, WV, on Sunday to go canoeing on the Potomac and see a few historic sights. It poured rain, was cold (cold? yes, cold), and we didn't get to canoe. But we did get some glimpses of history in the town where John Brown and co. attempted rebellion and so many other notable things happened. To say that the meanings of much that happened in Harpers Ferry are subjects of dispute, is like saying that the American people are divided on the subjects of race, class, religion, and the definition of rape. It's a bit of an understatement.
In any case, we drove in three cars, and we met at "the Fort," which was where Brown and his doomed rebels were either shot or captured in their effort to arm the slaves with weapons taken from the government munitions store. The building has been reconstructed, and its location has changed, moved about twenty yards downhill from where it stood originally.
You see all kinds in Harpers Ferry: backpackers from the Appalachian trail; people like us who come mainly to play in the river; Union history and civil rights buffs who are interested in the John Brown story and black history in the area; and Confederacy buffs, drawn by nearby Antietam Creek and the fact the Confederacy held Harpers Ferry several times during the Civil War -- and, yes, I did notice one Confederate cap wearer.
So, you read a plaque about the Abolitionists, and then you turn a corner and there's a marker like this:
THIS BOULDER IS ERECTED BY THE UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY AND THE SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS AS A MEMORIAL TO HEYWARD SHEPHERD, EXEMPLIFYING THE CHARACTER AND FAITHFULNESS OF THOUSANDS OF NEGROES WHO, UNDER MANY TEMPTATIONS THROUGHOUT SUBSEQUENT YEARS OF WAR, SO CONDUCTED THEMSELVES THAT NO STAIN WAS LEFT UPON A RECORD WHICH IS THE PECULIAR HERITAGE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, AND AN EVERLASTING TRIBUTE TO THE BEST IN BOTH RACES.
Next to the stone marker is an interpretation in sun-faded plastic, kind of acknowledging the startling words in stone:
During the ceremony [to dedicate the Daughters of the Confederacy's stone marker] voices raised to praise and denounce the monument. Conceived around the turn of the century, the monument has endured controversy. In 1905 the United Daughters of the Confederacy stated that "erecting the monument would influence for good the present and coming generations, and prove that the people of the South who owned slaves valued and respected their good qualities as no one else ever did or will do."
It reminded me of how much further in the past the Civil War seems to a resident of Los Angeles. We have few physical reminders.
Heyward Shepherd was the free black man, unconnected to Brown, who was shot by someone in John Brown's company, noise from the shooting causing Brown's mission to fall apart. Today, when I googled Shepherd, the first entries are all about the marker that's dedicated to him. The man who probably never knew he'd be famous is now most famous for an infamous tribute to his actions.
Cluck, cluck. Chicken Corner is going to the hardware store right now to get a chisel and chip out a response she thinks worthy of 2012.