LAKE PLACID - One of the region's most prominent historical figures will be the center of attention next weekend as a coalition of cultural, educational and historic organizations presents a series of activities to commemorate his life and his death.
John Brown moved his family to North Elba in 1849 to assist with a free black settlement called "Timbucto." Ten years later, he and his followers attacked the U.S. Arsenal at Harper's Ferry in an ill-fated attempt to incite a slave revolt. He was subsequently tried, convicted and executed, and his body was transported back to his home in Lake Placid.
"John Brown Coming Home," an initiative to commemorate the 150th anniversary of those events, will feature an illustrious series of events across Essex County Dec. 4-8.
The weekend of events kicks off at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. as area students who have been working in concert with professional artists present personal works of art, dance, song, and poetry inspired by Brown's legacy.
At 7:30 p.m., J.W. Wiley, Director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion for SUNY-Plattsburgh, will lead an exploration of contemporary films about present-day slavery and how they relate to the historic conditions of racism that motivated John Brown. The event is presented by the Adirondack Film Society, and a reception will follow.
Saturday, Dec. 5, the High Peaks Resort will host a Symposium on the Life and Legacy of John Brown. This event begins at 9 a.m. and will feature well-noted professors and historians speaking on the African-American experience in the years surrounding the Civil War and the experiences and faith that shaped John Brown.
"A lot of attention has been given this year to the actions of John Brown and the abolitionists who supported him, and not enough to the critical role that Black Americans played in setting the stage and forcing the issue of slavery on the national conscious," said Naj Wikoff, coordinator of the 150th Commemoration of John Brown, "It was Free Blacks who took up Gerrit Smith's offer to leave the urban environment to the Adirondack wilderness in an attempt to create a new beginning; without them John Brown would never have moved here where his raid was planned."
Author Russell Banks, a Keene resident whose award-winning historical novel, Cloudplitter, relates the story of John Brown, will moderate a panel of activists and scholars to discuss modern slavery and what lessons can be taken from the actions of Brown.
At 4 p.m., Roy Innis, National President of Congress of Racial Equality, will lead observers along Old John Brown Road to lay a wreath at John Brown's grave. The Adirondack Community Church will host a tribute to Banks at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6 is when a re-enactment of John Brown's Cortege will proceed across Essex County. At about noon, a casket representing Brown's will arrive at the Westport Marina following its journey north from West Virginia and across Lake Champlain.
The casket will be brought up to the Westport Heritage House, where, at 1 p.m., Banks will read from and discuss Cloudsplitter. Don Papson, president of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, will then present new findings about Underground Railroad activity near John Brown's North Elba Farm. Tickets to these presentations are $15 and can be obtained through the Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown by calling 873-6466.
From Westport, the casket will travel to Elizabethtown, where, at 3 p.m., it is scheduled to be on display at the United Church of Christ on Court Street. The Adirondack History Center Museum, adjacent to the church, will be open to the public with restrooms available.
At 4:30 p.m., a candlelit procession will follow the symbolic coffin as it is brought from the church to the Old Essex County Courthouse, the same building where Brown's body was temporarily housed 150 years ago on its journey back to North Elba. There, the coffin will lay in state with an honor guard, and the public is welcome to come and pay their respects.
A reception will follow at the Deer's Head Inn, formerly the Mansion House, where Mary Brown and her companions spent the night of Dec. 6, 1859. Tickets are $40 with proceeds to benefit the Essex County Historical Society, and includes the cost for all events of the day.
The coffin will make its way to Lake Placid on Dec. 7. At 3 p.m., a procession will begin on Rte 73, continue up Old Military Road and along John Brown Road, and end at the Farm with the placement of the coffin the in Farmhouse for the evening.
Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino, better known as Magpie, will gather at the John Brown Farm at 6 p.m. to present their stirring collection of songs that reflect on the life, death and turbulent times of abolitionist John Brown, his family and followers.
An 11 a.m. memorial service on Tuesday, Dec. 8 will bring the commemorative events to a close as re-enactors perform the roles of Mary Brown, Wendell Phillips, and Rev. Joshua Young at the John Brown gravesite.
For more information on any of these events and a complete schedule, visit www.JohnBrownComingHome.com.