With the gorgeous flowing waters of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers sending their soothing sounds into the area and the majestic Blue Ridge mountains standing guard all around; one might imagine Harpers Ferry to be a serene place to forget all that troubles you. This is a place where history runs deep and has seen the true nature of mankind. Appearances are only surface deep. When you delve into the bloody past of Harpers Ferry, you’ll find nothing serene there but the beauty of nature.
A past so cursed with violence is just screaming with voices that want to be heard. One of them belongs to a soldier who was killed during the Civil War. An unknown soul, trapped in time in the St. Peters Catholic Church. He whispers “Thank God, I’m saved,” to visitors who enter. Saved from what? Perhaps the brutality of war.
Harpers Ferry was right in the middle of the chaos that comes with war. The city was taken over 23 times by both armies. The streets ran red with the blood of soldiers and civilians alike. To imagine the horror these citizens saw is excruciatingly devastating. One little boy was so traumatized by all of the surrounding destruction, that his poor young soul will forever remain to haunt one historic house. His heart-rending cry can still be heard, coming from a bedroom closet. Maybe it was his final hiding place.
The war left a mark so strong that ghosts wearing clothing of the mid 1800’s are a common occurrence. Mostly they’re mistaken for live people in costume, but their mysterious disappearances are spine-chilling. A whole army has been seen marching down High street; a phantom army of men long dead.
Two years before the Civil War started violence had already begun in Harpers Ferry, when a man named John Brown failed in what could have been a very valiant mission. He sought to free the slaves. From the very beginning, things went wrong. The first person killed on this quest to free the slaves, was a freed slave. In just 36 hours the revolt was over and nearly all of John Brown’s men were dead, apart from himself who was tried for treason and hanged.
The ghost of John Brown has been seen on many occasions. He roams the Kennedy farmhouse where he and his men planned their raid. He also walks around on the streets posing in pictures with tourists. Pictures in which he can’t be seen.
After the Civil War ended and some normalcy returned to the town, more tragedies ensued. They came in the form of illness and plague, killing many of the war survivors. In 1870 a flood hit the already devastated town, wiping out another 42 people.
The natural beauty of Harpers Ferry might draw you in to delight in its wondrous surroundings. Or it could be, that’s the way it’s intended. Nature draws you in only to experience tragedies to which you can’t recover from and therefore keeping you forever. Let’s all hope that this curse remains in the past.
Spine-Tingling Tales and Trails from North America’s National Parks, by Andrea Lankford