Thursday, July 23, 2009


On Sunday, we headed down to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, having been urged by a former colleague of mine, Frank McClusky, not to miss the area since it was celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid. What I remembered about that raid was from my West Point days when Max had been assigned Stephen Vincent Benet’s “John Brown’s Body” as part of his plebe year English class. I knew that Brown had chosen Harper’s Ferry as the beginning of his movement to free the slaves because he thought the Blue Ridge Mountains would be ideal for guerrilla attacks and because he knew he could get weapons from the arsenal in town and I knew Brown was found guilty of treason and hung. I’d heard about a Lincoln scholar or two arguing that without Brown Lincoln might never have taken the position he took on slavery but I didn’t know much more than that.

We got to the visitor center in mid-morning and took the bus down into town. From the visitor’s sheet I learned that Stonewall Jackson had also been in Harper’s Ferry assuming his first command in the civil war just a few days after Virginia seceded from the Union. The sheet also told us there were civil war reenactments going on, but the few things that we saw—a soldier camped out and playing a fife, a woman washing clothes, and three soldiers at the Armory—were pretty paltry.

Harper’s Ferry does have the Appalachian Trail going through it so we left the town proper and went over to that, standing on the bridge that’s part of the trail and crosses over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, build during the 1830’s and 1840’s. The views of the water from there was great.

We headed back to the car and started for the Shenandoah National Park to drive the 100 plus miles of Skyline Drive. The wildflowers—among which were black-eyed Susans, turk’s cap lilies, and what I think was lobelia—were often breath-taking, the scenic views were (obviously) scenic, and we even managed to pass a black bear about half way through the drive. I’d like to find some time to go back and walk some of the trails in the park—maybe even climb Hawksbill Mountain!

At the end of the part we headed to Charlotttesville for an evening of a lousy dinner, a swim in the hotel pool, and for me some online exchanges with the students in my summer course.

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