John Brown's Bible back on display

November 28, 1998

John Brown's BibleBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: DAVE McMILLION / staff photographer

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - John Brown's Bible, one of the most valued artifacts belonging to the famous abolitionist, has been returned to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park after a brief absence.

The Bible, along with other musuem pieces, was removed from public display to protect it from the flood of January 1996, which caused $2.8 million in damages to the park.

The case that held the Bible was severely damaged in the flood.

Park officials attempted to repair the specially deisgned case, but there were problems in meeting "acceptable curatorial standards."

Finally, the case was shipped to Peter Chistiano of National Safe in St. Petersburg, Fla., for an overhaul, park officials said.


The case left Chistiano's company "welded, painted, gasketed and sealed" and ready for Brown's Bible.

Brown, who set the stage for the Civil War with his raid on the U.S. armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859, was deeply religious.

He read the Bible daily, even though he found contradictions in it on the issue of slavery, officials said.

Brown once said that he held God "in infinitely greater reverence than Congress."

The Bible inside the dimly lit case is opened to the inside cover, where deaths of family members are recorded in handwriting. On the opposite page, the date of 1839 is written.

In the Bible, Brown marked passages "that spoke to him."

"It's one of our prize possessions. We're just very happy to have it back," said park ranger Kim Biggs.

A steady crowd of visitors streamed through the John Brown Museum on Friday to see the Bible, short presentations about the abolitionist and other artifacts.

Willy Straubhaar of Stafford, Va., said it is obviously important to save such artifacts.

"It's history, regardless which side of the issue you stand on," said Straubhaar.

Russ Brown of Rockville, Md. likes John Brown history, but he was troubled by the park's way of telling it.

Brown said children in his family have been studying the Civil War, and the children were brought to the park Friday to give them a chance to see where where it all began.

But Brown said he had trouble putting the story together amid all the other exhibits that do not deal with the Civil War, such as the area's industrialization period.

To Brown, the park has become "oversophisticated."

"The real crux of this place is the armory and the John Brown raid," said Brown, who does not believe he is related to the abolitionist.

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