I was in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia for another training this week. Even though I’ve been there before, I don’t usually have time during the day to explore the historical park, but this time I had part of Friday afternoon, so I visited some of the historic buildings in the Lower Town. Each one, more or less, is a museum with exhibits of the park’s many themes: John Brown’s raid, the Civil War, arms manufacturing, and so on. Though the exhibits were a little busy-looking and cluttered for my visual tastes (especially after a week of hard concentration), the one on John Brown’s raid was pretty provocative. One of the videos, without going into too much graphic detail, was frank about the violence of the raid and the counter-raid, as if it was an omen of the great war to come. It raised some interesting questions about violence in the name of righteousness.
It’s too bad this sort of thoughtful reflection appears in a public exhibit about a radical antislavery action, but not in our numerous war museums and memorials. It is as if violence should only give us pause when it is not perpetrated by the state. Or perhaps fear of inflaming Southern sensitivities prompted the National Park Service to be particularly introspective when planning this exhibit.
On lighter note, one evening some of us went on a “ghost tour” of the Lower Town. Despite its rich and exciting past, Lower Town is pretty deserted on Monday evenings. I can see why ghost stories are popular there. I noticed a little extra zeal in the local businesses for Halloween decorations.