Thursday, January 21, 2021

HGB Ep. 369 - Harper's Ferry

Moment in Oddity - Tea Drinking Was Once Considered Irresponsible (Suggested by: Darren Koch)

So drinking tea in our modern age is considered pretty normal. As a matter of fact, tea time is a way of life in Britain. But there was once a time that tea drinking was looked down upon. Pamphlets were delivered to homes in the early 1800s warning against the waste of time and money that tea drinking was for women. One read, "We never were used to tea, and would not choose that our little girl should get a notion of any such thing. The hankering after a drop of tea keeps many poor all their lives. So I would not have any things in the cabin which would put us in mind of it." The attitude was that poor Irish women might as well be chugging from a bottle of whiskey when they were sipping tea from a cup. In England, tea was thought to ruin diets and foster thoughts of revolution. Women were banned from coffee and tea houses throughout Europe. The thought that drinking tea could be controversial and lead poor women down the road of laziness and rebellion, certainly is odd.  

This Month in History - Johnny Cash Performs at Folsom Prison

In the month of January, on the 13th, in 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison. In 1956, Cash had written "Folson Prison Blues," which was written from the point of view of an inmate, but he himself had never done time in Folsom Prison and he had only been in jail to sleep off a drunk. Cash had been a successful songwriter and performer making his way to legendary status when he became his own road block. By 1968, Cash was depressed as his music career was in decline and drugs and alcohol had taken their toll on him. He had performed at Folsom Prison in 1966, but this visit would be very special as Cash planned to record the concert that he performed there. The inmates loved Cash and energized his playing. The record that came from the live performance was a huge hit and Cash's career skyrocketed. He became the "Man in Black" after this as he started wearing his trademark dark clothing as a symbol of the beaten down man and prisoner. He crusaded for the imprisoned man for the rest of his life.

Harper's Ferry

Harper's Ferry is located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. The town is best known for its place in history as the site of John Brown's armed raid of the U.S. military arsenal there before the Civil War. This would ignite a spark that eventually ended slavery, which is precisely what Brown wanted. This may be the reason his spirit is still seen in Harper's Ferry. There is more than just Brown's spirit here though. This is West Virginia, a state we have always believed hones supernatural energy and its strategic location with the rivers, more than likely feeds this energy even more. Join us as we explore the history and haunts of Harper's Ferry!

Harper's Ferry was a very strategic location in early America, particularly because of its spot at the conjunction of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The first known Native Americans to be in the area were the Tuscarora People. With the large rivers, a ferry was needed to help commerce between the states of what was Virginia at the time and Maryland. And since this is named Harper's Ferry, you probably think that someone named Harper was the man to do this. Wrong. This area that was known as The Point was owned by Lord Fairfax, who was a Scottish Peer. Peer is one of those royal titles. He owned a big chunk of Virginia and worked some 30 farms there with slave labor. A squatter came along named Peter Stephens and he set the ferry up in 1733. He ran that for fourteen years until Robert Harper came through and saw how much wasted potential the ferry had. He paid Stephens for his squatting rights and Harper was off and running. 

In 1761, Harper purchased 126 acres from Lord Fairfax and legally set up the ferry and the Virginia General Assembly called the town Shenandoah Falls at Mr Harper's Ferry. The area was beautiful and when Thomas Jefferson visited he proclaimed that the view was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." George Washington would later establish the site as a military location because of its strategic importance. He had a United States Armory and Arsenal built here. The armory was completed in 1799 and was one of only two in America at the time. Lewis and Clark would supply their expedition from this armory. Most weapons made in the US came from here and by the time of the Civil War, it was cranking out 600,000 muskets, pistols and rifles. This armory and the town of Harper's Ferry itself would be burned into the history of America when an abolitionist named John Brown raided the place.

John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800 to a Calvinist family who were anti-slavery. The family moved to Ohio and that was where John was raised. He married a woman named Dianthe Lusk and settled in Pennsylvania where they had seven children. He ran several businesses and opened a post office. His main business was a tannery and a secret room there became part of the Underground Railroad. Brown went from doing well to a string of bad luck. His wife Dianthe died during child birth, his logging business ran out of wood and the tannery failed. He had 20 lawsuits filed against him and a variety of his failed business dealings and he eventually declared bankruptcy in his early 40s. He married a sixteen-year-old girl named Mary May and they had thirteen children. They moved to Ohio to start a new life because Brown was finding it very difficult to feed 20 children. 

One day he heard about an abolitionist meeting in Cleveland and he decided to attend out of curiosity because he had always been anti-slavery. He left that meeting inspired and emboldened. He told anyone who would listen that he was dedicating his life to bringing down the institution of slavery. Brown's first major moves in his new abolitionist path took him to Kansas and he brought five of his sons with him. The state was in play between abolitionists and slave holders. Lawrence was an abolitionist town and it was raided by some pro-slavery men on May 21, 1856. Brown and his sons were set on revenge and they attacked a group of cabins along Pottawatomie Creek, killing five men. This launched a series of skirmishes and eventually one of Brown's sons was killed. Brown formulated many plans and one thing he always believed would happen was that slaves would rise up and join him. By 1859, he had worked out funding from some wealthy Abolitionists that were dubbed the "Secret Six" and he had a small army of twenty men that included three of his sons and several free black men. The group rented a Maryland farm and hatched a plan to carry out an attack on Harper's Ferry.

Shortly before midnight on October 16th, 1859, Brown took his men down the road to Harper's Ferry. When they got to the railway station, a free man of color named Haywood Shepherd, who was the baggage master, approached them and told them to stop. He was shot and killed. There were several people in the area that the band of men took hostage and these included some slaves. Brown and his men seized several buildings, including the arsenal. Then they waited for the slaves to rise up. This was the thing Brown had always expected to happen. He just knew that their numbers would swell by the hundreds. That uprising did not happen. Word of the raid spread and soon Brown and his men were surrounded. They drove the raiders back to a fire hall that was dubbed Brown's Fort and they killed Dangerfield Nubie, a free black man with Brown. Dangerfield was the son of his mother's master, so clearly he started out as a product of rape. He eventually married and had seven children. When his father took the family to Ohio, he was freed because that was a free state. But his wife and children couldn't come with him because they were still slaves. So you can imagine why he found himself among John Brown's small army.

On October 18, Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart led a troop of Marines into Harper's Ferry and they joined the civilians in the attack on Brown, who was wounded and captured. Two of his sons were killed as well as ten of the other men with him. The state of Virginia tried Brown for treason and murder, and he was found guilty on November 2. He was sentenced to death by hanging and this took place on December 2, 1859. He climbed the thirteen steps of the gallows with pride. He had made his case during the trial, using the process to spread his message. Some thought he was a hero, others thought he was a criminal and some even thought he was a mad man. One thing he was for sure was prophetic. He passed a note to his guard that read, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." And soon the Civil War would start with many calling this raid, the first shot fired. 

Harper's Ferry would be a prized spot during the Civil War. Both the North and South would trade off control of it during various times. Several places in town have connections to the war and these locations seem to ooze spiritual activity. John Brown is still strongly connected to this place of his final stand. One story dates back to 1974. Shirley Dougherty was running a restaurant in town when a group of visitors came inside. As they settled in they commented to her that the John Brown re-enactor was amazing. Shirley frowned with confusion and asked what re-enactor they were talking about. They told her that this was a man down by Brown's Fort who was a dead ringer for John Brown. They had seen his picture and this man was tall with a shock of white hair and period clothing who had a wild look in his eyes. Shirley started hearing similar stories from other tourists. So many, that she thought perhaps the National Park Service had hired an actor. The craziest part of the story was that people took their pictures with this man, but when they got the film developed, the man was not in the pictures. Brown also is said to regularly appear taking a nightly walk with a dog and as they approach the engine house, they both disappear into a wall. This could be residual as many claim that Brown took this walk many times in life as he surveyed the lay of the land and planned his attack.

Some time later, a man named Brad Matthews claimed to be walking past Brown's Fort at night on the anniversary of the raid. He came face to face with several men carrying muskets who started to interrogate him. The man ran away and he heard gunfire behind him. Makes one wonder if those bullets were as corporal as the men! Park employees and visitors have both claimed to see the apparition of Dangerfield Nubie walking around Hog Alley. He was killed by a 6-inch-spike fired from a rifle that hit him in the throat. The reason Dangerfield might be in this place called Hog Alley is because his body was mutilated with his limbs being cut off and everything was thrown to the hogs. When his apparition is seen, he is wearing baggy trousers and a slouched hat and has a scar across his throat. But it is not just spirits connected to John Brown's Raid that are here. There are many more spirits and ghost stories here.

Today, Harper's Ferry National Historical Park stretches into three states, covers 4,000 acres and includes the historic town of Harper's Ferry. This was established by Congress in 1963 after being a National Monument since 1944. The main points of interest in the park are Jefferson Rock, John Brown's Fort, Loudoun Heights, Maryland Heights and The Point. The Point overlooked the B&O Railroad bridge, which was destroyed and replaced nine times during the Civil War. The Flood of 1936 destroyed it for good. Any buildings located here were burned by the Union in 1862 so Confederates couldn't use them as cover for sharpshooters. Jefferson Rock is named for Thomas Jefferson who stood upon the shale in 1783 and marveled at the view. Loudon Heights was seized by Confederate forces during the Battle of Harper's Ferry. The Confederate forces hauled four cannons up that mountain. Eventually the Union would reoccupy Harper's Ferry.

Camp Hill

Camp Hill is found on High Street. This former military encampment was founded in 1798, shortly after the Revolutionary War. General Pinkney was stationed here with his troops when France was threatening to attack. They never saw any action, but that didn't prevent them from experiencing a lot of death. Cholera swept through the camp and killed many men. Their bodies were buried on the west bank of Camp Hill. Because there was not much action here, General Pinkney kept his men entertained and fit by running drills with them. The troops would run up and down the hill as the fife and drum played. So it is not surprising that the haunt attributed to this location is said to be a phantom army and people claim to hear the sound of drums beating and a fife playing. The disembodied sounds of marching feet are also heard.

St Peters Roman Catholic Church

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church is located at 110 Church Street and dates back to 1833. The Neo-Gothic structure sits up on the heights of Harper's Ferry and was the only church in the town to not be destroyed during the Civil War. This is a small, but beautiful church built from gray stone with a red sandstone trim around the windows and archways. A grand spire sits atop its tower. The windows are made from colored glass. The interior is one large room that serves as the sanctuary. Father Michael Costello was a young priest shepherding the flock here when the Civil War broke out. He served from 1857 to 1867. When the war started, his homeland of Ireland offered to bring him back home, but he would not leave his church. The church was spared during the war because Father Costello flew a Union Jack flag atop St. Peter's to express neutrality. He protected church property and was nicknamed the "doctor of souls." He made it through the war, but died two years after it from an illness at the age of thirty-three.

Father Costello's ghost has been seen by several people walking around inside and outside of the church he loved. During the war, the church served as a hospital. A young wounded soldier laid out on the lawn waiting for a doctor to see him. He was losing blood fast and thus fading fast. He was carried inside the church and he whispered his last words, "Thank God, I am saved." His apparition is seen on the stairs occasionally and there are other people who claim to hear his disembodied voice whispering his last words again.

The Harper House

The Harper House is now known as the Harper Museum and is located at 102 Public Way. This is the oldest house in Harper's Ferry. It was built in the late 1700s by Robert and Rachel Harper for whom the town was named. The ferry business was good money, but England was charging them huge taxes, so Rachel starting hiding some of the money in jars and burying them. Rachel fell from a ladder in 1780 and her injuries were so severe that she died the next day. She must have been unconscious the whole time because she never told anyone where the money was buried. Some people believe it is in the garden across from the house. Perhaps for this reason, her spirit is still seen at the house and many times she is looking out in the direction of the garden.

Train Tracks by U.S. Armory

There are some old railroad tracks by the U.S. Armory at 118-198 Potomac Street and they have a crazy ghost story connected to them. Engineers claim to see some kind of anomaly coming down the tracks. They describe it as a huge ball of flame passing down the tracks. The scream of train wheels are heard following behind it. There was a woman who was known as Jenny who lived in a tiny shack near the train tracks and the river. She would walk the river looking for driftwood for her fire. One night, the hem of her dress caught fire and she took off running down the train tracks yelling for help. She ended up in the path of the train. Is this anomaly Jenny's spirit running, engulfed in flames? Is this a residual haunting playing the scene over and over again. And speaking of the armory and fire, the Confederates burned it in 1861.

A Phantom Named Jacob

Christopher Coleman tells the story of a phantom named Jacob in his book "Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War." There is a building that housed a former tintype studio that was taken over by the Union during the war and used as a Confederate prison. One of the guards there was named Jacob. He had met a local girl and left his post to have a late night tryst. His superior found out and punished the whole unit. Afterward, Jacob's troop decided to teach him a lesson and they bound and gagged him. He ended up choking to death and the soldiers dragged his body away and buried it in secret to cover their crime. This is probably why Jacob is at unrest. The sound of a body being dragged down the stairs in the building is heard as well as the sound of gagging and someone being beaten. 

Maryland Heights Trail

The North and South fought over the strategic location of Harper's Ferry heartily and each side traded control of it through the war. The Maryland Heights Trail is a steep mountain trail that winds nearly 6.5 miles. This is an area were hundreds of soldiers battled. Several encampments were set up in the mountains and people who walk here at night claim to see ghostly firelights dotting the hills.  Fun Fact: Before there were billboards on highways, advertisements were painted on the sides of brick buildings (as many of us already know) and stone cliffs. Maryland Heights is one of those places with an ad painted on the side made from milk and whitewash. It reads "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder." The ad was targeted for people traveling on the B & O Railroad.

Phantom Drummer Boy

This next story is a tough one. As we know, drummers during the Civil War were usually young boys. There was one certain nine or ten year old boy who found his Confederate regiment captured. The Union soldiers took pity on him because they knew he would never survive the prison camp. They kept him in the Town House that they were occupying. They first started off having him work like a servant for them, telling him to clean, polish their boots and do the laundry. Eventually, the soldiers started abusing the boy and he would beg them to let him go home to his mother. One day, the soldiers were drunk and when the boy started crying again, they were enraged and started passing him around to each other. One pass sent him flying through a window and he fell to his death. The disembodied crying and begging of a child are heard in the area of this building, which we could not track down the name of. The book "Haunted West Virginia" by Patty A. Wilson just calls it the Town House. 

Ghostly Hand Print

This next haunt we don't know the location of either, but it is another story told in the "Haunted West Virginia" book. A woman ran a restaurant in town and when she first moved in, she noticed a hand print on the wall. She tried to clean it off, but nothing could remove it, so she decided to paint over it. Imagine her surprise when the hand print came through the paint. She decided to ask the former owner about it who had no further information. The woman felt like she had a ghost because she often felt like she was being watched. But the former owner didn't believe there was a ghost. The restaurant owner decided that her only option for dealing with the hand print was to cover it with a painting. The morning after she hung the picture, she found the painting on the ground. Now she had no doubt that there was a ghost in the building. She made peace with the ghost. She would put the painting up on the wall during the day and then take it down when she left for the night. 

Alyssa LeVasseur told journalist Deborah Block, “The whole town is haunted. People have seen things. You can probably ask anyone in town who has been living here, or works here, and they have seen something. They can't deny it. I hear ghosts all the time. I’ve heard kids’ voices and footsteps, so I know they are here. I say good morning to them. I was walking by one of the displays when the audio went on by itself.  You have to push a button to turn it on. Then I realized I hadn’t said ‘good morning’ to the spirits, and as soon as I did, the sound stopped.”

Harper's Ferry has an important place in American history. This town has seen turmoil and war and survived. And while it has moved forward, there possibly could be remnants from the past still holding on in the afterlife. Are these locations in Harper's Ferry haunted? That is for you to decide!

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