A year ago in an article for the Wall Street Journal, I posed a question: “Was Brown a hero of black freedom or a bloodthirsty terrorist?” There’s no easy answer and I didn’t try to provide one. Instead, the article looks at Brown’s legacy through the prism of “John Brown’s Body,” the famous poem by Stephen Vincent Benét. The occasion for the piece was the sesquicentennial of the raid on Harpers Ferry. We are now approaching its 151st anniversary.
The article was fun to research. Not only did I read a bunch of Benét’s work, including “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and other stories, but I also spent a day roaming around Harpers Ferry and climbing the trail on the Maryland side to check out the scenic overlook of the town, which is one of the most attractive sights in the country. On the drive out, I passed through Burkittsville, Md., the supposed setting of The Blair Witch Project. I didn’t see any stick figures in the trees. That’s probably a good thing.