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John Brown sesquicentennial top tourist spot

By Staff | Jan 30, 2009

HARPERS FERRY – The year 2009 will forever be part of American history not just because of the historic inauguration in a week but also because the year marks

the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s famous raid on the U.S. Arsenal in

Harpers Ferry.

Already, the upcoming John Brown sesquicentennial has been named a Top 100 Event for 2009 by the American Bus Association, making the Eastern Panhandle and surrounding four-state region one of the nation’s top tourist destinations.

There are scores of events scheduled throughout the area this year to commemorate the raid, including re-enactments, concerts, educational symposiums, scholarships, living-history programs, family and youth activities and ranger-conducted programs.

The John Brown Sesquicentennial Quad-State Committee – comprised of various historians and officials from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland – has coordinated the wide range of events.

A new Web site sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau promoting the entire four-state area has also just been unveiled, and it has a complete listing of signature events during the 150th anniversary period. The event listings are updated frequently.

“The events committee has been very active for the last year and a half,” said Todd Bolton, events committee chair of the Sesquicentennial Quad-State Committee. “We currently have more than 65 events planned that will appeal to a wide variety of people. Our hope is to promote this commemoration to a diverse audience.”

Tom Riford, president and chief executive of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the John Brown story impacts the entire four-state area.

Brown met with Frederick Douglas in Franklin County, Pa., in August 1859. He spent months of planning at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland and then executed his raid from Washington County, Md. The raid took place in Jefferson County, and several surrounding counties were involved.

“We are already receiving bus group reservations and a lot media attention because of the 150th anniversary,” Riford said. “This event is more than just about one town or one county, and it is certainly historic that a coalition of four states is working together to promote our entire area and the events that happened during the time that John Brown was here in 1859.”

For several months in 1859, Brown assembled an army in Washington County, Md. On the evening of Oct. 16, 1859, Brown led a group of abolitionists on a six-mile march from the Kennedy Farm in Maryland across the railroad bridge into Harpers Ferry. Once there, they seized control of the town to steal weapons from the old federal armory so they could be used in the fight against slavery. But because a passing train reached Frederick, Md., a telegram notifying the army of the attack enabled soldiers to respond before Brown could fully accomplish his goal.

Brown was soon captured during a skirmish led by U.S. Marines and soldiers dispatched under the leadership of then U.S. Army Col. Robert E. Lee.

In December 1859, Brown was tried and hanged in Charles Town. The Civil War began 16 months after Brown’s hanging.

“The John Brown Raid is looked upon by most historians as being the spark which became the inferno of the American Civil War,” said Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and chair of the John Brown Sesquicentennial Quad-State Committee.

Events commemorating the sesquicentennial are set to begin at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in April.

ABA’s Top 100 Events in North America is an annual compendium of the best events for group travel in the United States and Canada. The Top 100 Events receive worldwide attention through various media outlets including USA Today and CNN. ABA distributes some 10,000 copies of the Top 100 Events in North America Magazine to all of its members and to thousands of travelers worldwide.

“To be selected in the Top 100 is a feather in the cap for our area,” Riford said. “It’s an honor, and it brings a lot of attention to the event.”

More information is available online at www.johnbrownraid0.org and a complete list of the Top 100 Events in North America is available at www.buses.org under the Meetings, Events and Education link.

– Edward Marshall can be reached at (304) 725-6581, or emarshall@journal-news.net