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Poet honored with stamp

July 23, 1998

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Benet StampBy CLYDE FORD / Staff Writer, Charles Town

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - U.S. Postal Service officials unveiled a new stamp honoring poet and writer Stephen Vincent Benet Wednesday at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Benet won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for his book-length, epic poem "John Brown's Body." The poem is about slavery, Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry and the Civil War.

About 200 people attended the ceremony Wednesday morning in Harpers Ferry.

"Harpers Ferry is a fitting place for the ceremony," said Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Superintendent Don Campbell. "This is really where John Brown's soul and Stephen Vincent Benet's poetry come together for an eternity," Campbell said.

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The ceremony drew a mix of stamp collectors, history and English literature buffs, tourists and Benet's descendants.

Benet's son, Thomas Benet, said that as a poet, his father "saw the best and did not look away from the worst."

Benet was born 100 years ago Wednesday. He also wrote the poem, "The Devil and Daniel Webster."

Benet died in 1943 and a year later won his second Pulitzer Prize for his unfinished narrative poem, "Western Star."

"Who knows what he might have accomplished had he lived longer," his son said. "I feel this occasion would have pleased him immensely," he said.

The portrait of Benet on the stamp was done by the same illustrator of two of the all-time favorite stamps among collectors. In the background is a detail of the Robert Shaw Memorial's bas-relief, showing soldiers with the black 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

"I thought the design of the stamp was fine," said Ron Klein, 58, a stamp dealer in Bethesda, Md. "Perhaps there could have been something to break up all the brown in the background."

Klein and other stamp collectors were on hand to get a date of issue cancellation on the stamp.

The 32 cent stamp then becomes worth $2.50 to $3 to a collector, Klein said.

Barbara Rutherford, 66, of Ranson, W.Va., said she wanted to attend the ceremony because she collects stamps "This is history," Rutherford said.

The Benet stamp is the 15th in the Literary Arts series.

"Stephen Vincent Benet belongs to the greats," said Henry A. Lankey, vice president of area operations for the U.S. Postal Service.

Others in the series have honored F.Scott Fitzgerald, James Thurber, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton and John Steinbeck.

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