By Lauren McLane

The Record Herald

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series that will appear over the next several months in honor of the sesquicentennial celebration of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.


The year 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s ill-fated raid on a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

For more than a year, people in four states have been planning a year’s worth of events to commemorate the raid, which is considered by most Civil War historians to be the spark that ignited the Civil War.

“It’s a really exciting project to work on. It’s been in planning for a year and it’s really coming together quite well,” said Bonnie Shockey, president of the board of Allison-Antrim Museum in Greencastle.

“People in Franklin County, Washington County, Md., Harpers Ferry and Virginia” have been working together to coordinate events, Shockey said.

The raid

Brown staged his raid from Chambersburg, using the city’s location — only 15 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line — as well as its easy access to transportation and its sympathetic citizens to stir the abolitionist fire that threatened to consume the nation.

Chambersburg is where Brown planned the raid and where those who survived the raid returned. Chambersburg also is where Brown, a militant abolitionist, met with Frederick Douglass to tell him of his plans.

The John Brown House, where Brown and his men stayed, survived the burning of Chambersburg by Confederate soldiers in July 1864. Chambersburg is the only town north of the Mason-Dixon Line that was burned by Confederates during the war.

The John Brown House, 225 E. King St., will reopen in May 2009 after renovations are complete.


Among the events commemorating Brown’s raid are a series of historical seminars.

“In the Footsteps of John Brown Seminar and Tour” will be the first of three seminars offered by Chambersburg Civil War Seminars in 2009.

The seminar on Brown will be presented on April 3 to 5 at the Four Points Sheraton, Chambersburg.

The seminar will include a tour of Brown’s raid sites in Chambersburg and elsewhere, led by historians Dennis Frye and Ted Alexander. Author and historian Brian Steel Wills also will give a presentation on John Brown and his depiction in cinema. There also will be presentations on Brown’s activities in Chambersburg and his mental state.

An optional tour will include Underground Railroad sites in the greater Chambersburg area and a visit to a historic African-American cemetery.

Other events

Other Chambersburg seminars in 2009:

  • “Stonewall Jackson in the Valley,” July 22 to 26, Plaza Hotel, Hagerstown. The seminar will include bus tours of Jackson’s famous 1862 valley campaign and will include discussions by Ed Bearss and other historians.
  • Stephen Lang, an actor who portrayed Jackson in “Gods and Generals,” and who had roles in “Tombstone” and “Gettysburg,” also will participate in the Stonewall Jackson seminar, schedule permitting.
  • “Riding with Jeb Stuart,” Oct. 9 to 11, Four Points Sheraton, Chambersburg. Tours and discussions will focus on the famous cavalry commander and feature authors and historians Ed Bearss and Eric Wittenberg.

For more information, visit the Web site:


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