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Off The Beaten Path...

Harpers Ferry, West Virgina - a historical interlude.

by Michael H. Thomson
April 5, 2006

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Off The Beaten Path...
Don Imus has got me reading. Yes, the "I-Man" has hyped a book that I laid down some moderately serious money to buy. The title of the book is "Manhunt, The 12-Day Chase of Lincoln's Killer." Published by Harper-Collins, James Swanson gives a riveting, historically accurate accounting of the manhunt for Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. The book gives the reader a sense of the times and the passions that led to and followed the Great Civil War. It also leaves no doubt that Lincoln's assassination was a conspiracy – not well planned or coordinated, but a conspiracy nonetheless. The book reads like a mystery thriller even though it is a well-researched work of history.
John Wilkes Booth was on one side of an issue that divided the country – slavery. The episode of Lincoln's assassination and the chase and gunning down of white supremacist John Wilkes Booth – at the end of the war - riveted the nation as much as the insurrection of  anti-slavery abolitionist John Brown and his ill fated raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia prior to the beginning of the war.
A little known fact about John Wilkes Booth: When John Brown was hung on December 2, 1859 in Charles Town, West Virginia - standing in the crowd was John Wilkes Booth. The remembrance of John Brown's hanging no doubt affected Booth's decision not to be captured alive.
Four weeks ago, my thoughts were not on either of the JBs. It was one of the warmer Saturdays we'd had in a while and my wife, Liz and I decided to drive to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and check the place out. It wasn't a bad trip. Harpers Ferry is only 24 miles from the idyllic village of Paeonian Springs, Virginia. Actually, it was a little more than 24 miles because we decided to take a route that would take us across the Potomac River into Point of the Rocks, Maryland then proceeding west through Brunswick, Maryland and to our final destination, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. This was done in less than an hour. Yes readers the three states are that close.
A large part of Harper' Ferry is a national park. Park rangers in Smoky Bear hats abound. Because of construction and restoration downtown, we parked at an outside parking area and rode a shuttle bus to the site. The park was not a disappointment. The federal armory and the town were pretty much in the same shape as I could imagine when John Brown was captured by U.S. Army officer Robert E. Lee leading a detachment of U.S. Marines. Some of the rifle making machinery of the old armory is still operable and on display.
We wandered out of the national park area of Harpers Ferry and went the commercial side of the town. As you would expect there were art galleries, antique stores, and what I didn't expect – quite a number of restaurants, many with outdoor accommodations. If you are a dog lover, several restaurants were pooch friendly. Live musical entertainment was available in several establishments.
Most of the commercial side of Harpers ferry is built along the side of a mountain, so there's that alpine effect – even in the building construction. After eating a very delicious meal we walked down the steep street into the national park.
At the bottom of the hill, we came to an overlook of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. What a sight! In the distance, we saw three mountains coming together on opposite sides of the rivers. What was unique was that one mountain was in West Virginia, another in Maryland and yet another in Virginia. Looking through the mist, I imagined it to be what Meriwether Lewis saw standing in the same spot when he came to provision himself with weapons for the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803. Learn more about Harpers Ferry.
On the Mike Thomson rating scale, Harpers Ferry gets an "I definitely will come back." Mike's highest rating.

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