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Film to chronicle John Brown raid

September 25, 1998

John BrownBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

Filmmakers are coming to Washington County next week to shoot scenes for a PBS documentary about abolitionist John Brown.

A small Los Angeles film crew will set up at the Kennedy Farm near Sandy Hook, where John Brown planned his raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

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The shoot is scheduled for Friday, said Producer Robert Kenner.

The documentary will be shown on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series "American Experience" in the year 2000, 200 years after Brown's birth.

Brown will not be portrayed as either a madman or a hero, said Kenner, who owns Robert Kenner Productions.

"I see him as a person who was a product of his times. These were very violent times and passionate times," Kenner said.


Local historians Dennis Frye and John King have helped Kenner learn more about Brown, who rented the Kennedy Farm under the name Isaac Smith.

Pat James of Sharpsburg is helping with the shoot. She has found a handful of area re-enactors to portray Brown and his rabble-rousers.

Sarah Clemens, 15, will dress as John Brown's daughter, Annie.

Annie and her sister-in-law acted as decoys so neighbors wouldn't be suspicious of the crew while Brown and his raiders plotted their attack to protest slavery.

Brown's attempt to capture the U.S. Armory and Arsenal in Harpers Ferry ended badly.

While Brown's raiders held armory workers hostage, local militia cut off escape routes and the Marines poured into town.

Brown and four others were captured and taken to jail in Charles Town less than 36 hours after the raid began. Brown was executed on Dec. 2, 1859, for conspiring with slaves.

Some people say the outcome of the raid was the spark that ignited the Civil War.

It's exciting to see a piece of history that happened locally make it to film, said James, who has arranged for props.

James has found a copper kettle and a replica of Brown's carbine rifle, but she is still looking for a period farm wagon.

The Kennedy Farm is privately owned by South and Sprigg Lynn, father-and-son flooring contractors who live in Germantown, Md.

The grounds are open to the public for free, although the house is open only by appointment, Sprigg Lynn said.

In addition to the scenes filmed locally, Kenner plans to use about 500 photographs in the film, he said.

It will take about six months to finish the 90-minute film.

Kenner plans to return later to shoot scenes about Harpers Ferry, the trial and Brown's hanging.

Kenner has done work for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel on subjects ranging from endangered species to Jerusalem.

Last year, he did an "American Experience" documentary on the influenza outbreak of 1918.

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