Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A week in NY surrounded by GREATNESS

Fred and I just returned from a JOHN BROWN filled week in NY. Seriously, we had John Brown events every day.

Tuesday October 21, 2008 Lunch with a GREAT man

Louis A DeCaro, Jr. Ph.D. joined us for lunch at the Lucky Strike Pub in SoHo. Lou is an ordained minister, an adjunct professor at Alliance Theological Seminary’s New York campus, a very knowledgeable John Brown scholar, and I am proud to add the title of friend. He was written two exceptional books on the old man: Fire from the Midst of You: a Religious Life of John Brown” and “John Brown: the Cost of Freedom.” His books are well written, thoroughly researched and I always recommend them to people who are looking for balanced information about John Brown. Lou also has an excellent Blog about John Brown.

Lou, Fred and I spent three hours breaking bread and discussing John Brown, my relationship to him, how JB has been perceived during the past 149 years, our thoughts about him, the upcoming induction into the National Abolition Hall of Fame (NAHoF) and so much more.

During the evening hours I worked on my speech for the NAHoF function Saturday night in Morrisville, NY.


Wednesday October 22, 2008 Lunch with four GREAT men

Lou DeCaro set up a lunch meeting for us with other scholars, authors and John Brown enthusiasts. I was honored and humbled to be surrounded by such greatness.

Norman Marshall – John Brown Portrayer
Fred and I had previously met Norman in Kansas during the festivities surrounding the opening of the world premier of the John Brown Opera, by Kirk Mechem. We were very happy to see him again and have a chance to continue our discussions.

Larry Lawrence –Of the John Brown Society
Larry is very knowledgeable about all aspects of anti-bellum America and was a great addition to our discussions. He honored me by asking me to sign a signed, first edition biography of John Brown written by Villard that he brought from his personal library.

William L Katz – Author/Lecturer
William is the author of 40 exciting history books — including such award winning classics as Black Indians, The Black West and Black Women of the Old West. His take on the abolition movement were insightful and I hope to discuss the story of John Brown with him more.

Rounding out the group was Lou DeCaro. Even after talking for 3 hours yesterday, we still had much to discuss.

Fred and I enjoyed our time with these exceptional gentlemen. I am always amazed at the depth of knowledge and passion that John Brown Scholars possess, and the willingness they have to share their knowledge with me. Even when we went outside for photos of the group everyone kept talking when they needed to leave, but I look forward to many more interesting discussions and trading of information.



Thursday October 23, 2008 I stand barefoot in the presence of greatness

Fred and I headed up toward Lake Placid to visit the John Brown Farmhouse in North Elba. This is where Mary, Annie, Sarah, and Ellen lived while John Brown was in Kansas and making his preparations for the Harpers Ferry Raid. Salmon, his wife Abbie, and the Thompson family that Ruth had married into lived nearby.

The closer we got to North Elba, the more excited I became. Phrases like, “Are we there yet?” “How much further?” “Will we make it before dark?” rolled off my lips quite often during the last hour of our drive. Fred endured my outbursts with his normal humor and patience, but I think the last 15 minutes were pushing it!

Fred drove us down the road to the circle drive and parked our car. I could not believe that I was actually at the homestead of my ancestors. I was giddy and excited and flushed with excitement. We met with Brendan Mills, director of the site, for thirty minutes or so at the caretaker house, and then he gave us a private tour of the gravesite and house.

I was completely entranced with the house. To be so close to my relations; to see the house they lived in; to feel the nearness of the walls; to see the warped views out of the cobalt windows; to understand the hardships of living in the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains; I was overcome with emotions that I am still unable to fully express.

Over the years some of the materials that make up the house have been replaced – removal of modifications, effects of time and elements, broken windows, and the modern items necessary to preserve the house have necessitated the use of newer products.

While we were standing in the kitchen, Brendan mentioned that the floors were all original. I immediately kicked off my shoes and stood barefoot where John, Mary and Annie had walked 150 years ago. I stood still with goose-bumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. I was not prepared for the spectrum of emotions that I felt. Since it was so late, we arranged to come back the next morning for an official tour and to take pictures.

Outside we met Bobby Shabot, whose great grandfather lived at the farm and raised his family on this historic site. I was thrilled to meet him, and wished that I had more time to talk with him about the house, but I needed to eat, and we needed to check into our hotel. Still giddy, laughing, emotional, but very happy I reluctantly climbed back into the car and left the farmhouse for the day.


Friday October 24, 2008 A return to the farmhouse and GREATNESS in song

We headed back to the farmhouse for our tour and pictures first thing in the morning.

We were the only ones at the historic site at 10:00, so we were treated to a private tour of the farmhouse in with great detail. Linda Roy, who is a great-great-great granddaughter of Elizabeth Reed who worked for the Brown's at the farmhouse, was our tour guide. She has been giving the tours for 20 years, and she knows the information forward and backward. She was patient with me while I scribbled notes and asked questions she has not encountered previously.

Fred, my personal paparazzo, patiently took my picture by gravesites, the "viewing rock," the house from all angles, and the statue. Linda gave us a large pile of papers to review that Bobby Shabot had left for me. The information included information on his family while living in the John Brown Farmhouse, as well as detailed information about the house itself. I was thrilled to find agricultural, census and technical specifications of the original house! He had told Linda we could copy what ever we wanted, so Fred and I headed back into Lake Placid to find a copy place. Twenty dollars and an hour later, we returned the papers to Linda. While we were making copies, Bobby had dropped off more papers and pictures for me to look at. I really wish that I could do more research on Bobby and his family history with the John Brown Farmhouse. I hope that someone from the John Brown world will take on his story, as it is fascinating and he has a great deal of documentation and photos.

Fred and I had planned to leave the farmhouse no later than noon, and it was now after 2:00. We had to say good-bye and drive to Morrisville for the National Abolition Hall of Fame's "The Voice of Abolition" concert/lecture, which kicked off the weekend events.

I will only say two things about the drive from Lake Placid to Morrisville; first, it is a very long but beautiful drive and second WE GOT LOST! Really lost! Back roads not on maps and watch out for deer lost.

We finally arrived at our hotel after the concerts 7:00 start. We checked in, freshened up, and drove to the college. We quietly snuck into the auditorium and were able to enjoy the remainder of the concert/lecture. This was a concert of selected abolition-related music and narrations performed by Alden Max Smith of Oneida, a descendent of Peterboro abolitionists; and directed/narrated by Retired Madison Country Judge Hugh C Humphreys of Hamilton.

Alden Max Smith opened his mouth and GREATNESS filled the air. His voice was an amazing warm blanket that enveloped you in warmth and pleasure. Five other singers joined him for many of the selections, but Alden was the star of the evening. Songs performed included "John Brown's Body", "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore", and numerous tunes made famous by the Hutchinson Family Singers interspersed among the songs, Judge Humphreys presented slides and commentary about the antebellum era of America. Fred and I could have listened to Alden for hours.


Saturday October 25, 2008 NAHoF exhibits, meetings and my moment of GREATNESS

Saturday was a very busy day. It began with a NAHoF Cabinet and Annual Membership meeting. I am so thrilled to be a part of this exciting, important organization. After the meeting, we toured the exhibits and items for sale. I sold copies of Jean Libby's book, which features a picture of me at sixteen and was available to autograph if anyone wanted my scribbles in their book. I signed five books.

I did a video interview with a high school student named Jordan. He was doing a project for school about fighting against the political norm. He recently started a weekly protest of the war in Iraq, which has attracted others to his cause and sparked his interest in other protests throughout history.

After lunch we attended the NAHoF sponsored Symposia about the current Abolition Inductees:

  • The Subterranean Passageway: John Brown's High Speed Network to Freedom – presented by Brendan Mills, Director, John Brown State Historic Site
  • Lydia Maria Child and the Triumph of the Humanitarian Spirit - presented by Jane Sciacca, President, Lydia Maria Child Society
  • The Eloquence of Wendell Phillips – presented by Judge Hugh Humphreys, Adjunct Professor, Syracuse University
  • Finding Truth: The Evolution of Sojourner Truth's Social Reform Message – presented by Mary Butler, Archivist, Sojourner Truth Institute

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner that included desserts made from Lydia Maria Child's frugal cookbook. During dinner Dr Milton C. Sernett, Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University presented the keynote address titled: To Make the World Anew: The Transformation of Upstate New York's "Burned Over District" into "North Star County." He punctuated his talk with historical photos.

The Commemoration of 2007 Inductees was held in the theatre and featured Larry Baker as the Master of Ceremonies. Judge Humphreys wrote an incredible set of narrated monologues that allowed the inductees to tell their stories in their actual words. This was very moving, well written and performed. The Morrisville State College students and others that participated did an outstanding job with costumes, characterizations, and dramatics.

The unveiling of the banners was next. The banners are deep blue, stand 5 feet tall, feature prominent information and a pointillist portrait of the honoree, and include the names of the sponsors. The John Brown banner sponsors included Jean Libby, Lou DeCaro, and others as well as my family members – my great aunt Alice Cook Hunt, my grandmother Beatrice Cook Keesey, my dad Paul Keesey, my sister Jane Keesey, my brother James Keesey, my nephew Cassady Roops, my children Manfred and Geoffrey Mecoy, and of course, myself Alice Keesey Mecoy.

John Brown's banner was the first to be unveiled. The sponsors of the John Brown banner came up on the stage to participate in the unveiling. I proudly stood on stage representing the family of John Brown!

Then it was my turn to speak about John Brown, our family relationship, my adventures researching my genealogy, and what it means to me to be related to "the great man." I spoke for more than my allotted five minutes, and made it through my whole speech with only a hint of tears. Fred and many others told me that I spoke with GREATNESS, and gave a moving speech.

The remaining banners were unveiled, speeches made, and all too soon, the induction commemoration of the NAHoF 2007 Inductees was over. After the ceremony was over, people came up to me to shake my hand and get my autograph. I still find the autograph bit surreal.

Tired, but proud we headed back to our hotel. Due to our travel schedule, we would have to leave first thing in the morning, and could not attend the tour of the museum in Peterboro.

A week filled with John Brown and Greatness. Who could ask for anything more?

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