A Stop by the (First) Washington Monument

A few days ago, my family and I stopped by Maryland’s own Washington Monument–the first such structure erected to honor George Washington.

In 1859, John Brown’s son Owen, fleeing with others after the raid at Harpers Ferry, stopped by the monument as well. In an interview by Ralph Keeler published in the March 1874 of the Atlantic, he recalled:

“When at last we reached the woods, we found them too sparse for our purpose, and went on and up the mountain, still finding no safe camping-ground. On the summit we came upon a sort of monument, or perhaps an observatory, in the shape of an unfinished tower. A white rag was flying from a pole at the top of it. Satisfying myself that no one was about, I went up the winding stairs to take a view of the surrounding country. The others were too much fatigued to go with me. I could see what I took to be the outskirts of Boonesboro’, and enough of the valley we had crossed to give me a vivid idea of the danger we had escaped. Horsemen were scampering hither and thither on the highways, and the whole country, it seemed, was under arms. Descending hastily, I had little difficulty in impressing upon the boys how necessary it was that we should be in concealment. And still we followed along the ridge of that mountain-top for as much as three miles in broad daylight without finding a safe place. We at one time passed not far from an inhabited house, – fortunately unobserved. Finally, as we were about to sink under fatigue, we came to a large fallen tree, and made our bed in the forks of that. Tired as I was, I spent an hour cutting laurel bushes and sticking them into the ground at distances from one another. Laurel you know, will not wilt; and so with care the shrubs were made to conceal us, and look as if they grew there naturally. We were soon all fast asleep, and got through the day safely.”

Ultimately, one of Owen’s companions, John Cook, left the group in search of provisions and was captured, sent to Virginia, and hanged. Owen, however, made it through safely. A bachelor, he eventually moved to California and died in Pasadena in 1889 (photo from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library).

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