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Memorial honors only Marine killed in John Brown's raid

May 25, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • A new monument in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., recognizes Pvt. Luke Quinn of the U.S. Marine Corps who died during John Brown's raid in 1859.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — A 3,500-pound granite monument honoring the only Marine killed during John Brown's raid in 1859 finally came to rest Tuesday in Harpers Ferry.

Pvt. Luke Quinn, an Irish immigrant who joined the Marines in 1855, was killed when he was sent to Harpers Ferry in Oct. 18, 1859, in a unit commanded by then Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee to stop Brown and his raiders from taking over the U.S. arsenal there.

Quinn was mortally wounded when the unit stormed Brown's barricaded engine house.

A crew from Hammaker Memorials in Martinsburg, W.Va., spent more than two hours Tuesday morning installing the monument on a spit of donated land abutting the sidewalk on Potomac Street across from the train station.

The idea to immortalize Quinn in granite has been kicked around for more than 20 years by J. Dixie Wiltshire, 81, a Harpers Ferry native, ex-Marine and Korean War veteran.

"Pvt. Quinn has a marker over his grave on the hill in St. Peter's Catholic Cemetery, but there's never been a monument for him," Wiltshire said.

He, fellow veterans Harry Biller, Paul Ranalli and other members of Harpers Ferry/Bolivar District Veterans raised more than $2,800 to have the monument made. Hammaker donated the granite for it, Wiltshire said.

The monument was completed last year but the veterans had  to find a place to set it down.

"I went to the Park Service (Harpers Ferry National Historical Park) first, and then I went to the Town Council, but I was turned down both places," Wiltshire said.

Park Superintendent Rebecca Harriett said this week that Wiltshire met with her several times asking permission to place Quinn's monument on park grounds.

"Placing a monument on federal park property is a very involved process," she said.

 It would also need the permission of the director of the National Park Service, she said.

Harpers Ferry Mayor Jim Addy said Tuesday that he had suggested that it be placed on the hill where the engine house stood during the raid, but that didn't work out, either.

Harriett said the monument's design would not fit in with the planned transformation of the site where Brown's fort stood and its proposed cultural landscape.

A local resident solved the veterans' dilemma by donating the land on Potomac Street. Pvt. Quinn's monument sits less than a quarter-mile from where he fell on the hill while assaulting Brown's position.

Wording on Quinn's monument, authored by Wiltshire, and the epitaph on his gravestone in the cemetery, brought up another problem. The gravestone said Quinn was born in Ireland in 1835, came to America when he was 9 and enlisted in the Marines in 1855.

Hammaker's workers, dutifully following Wiltshire's writing, sandblasted into the granite that Quinn came to America in 1835.

"The only way to fix it is to make a new one," said Steve Ashton, Hammaker manager.

"I guess I messed it up," Wiltshire said, dismissing his error.

The only way an observer would notice his mistake is by seeing the gravestone and the monument, which are nearly a mile apart.

The monument, which was built in three sections, stands nearly 7-feet high. It was designed by Hank Happy of Charles Town, W.Va., a Civil War re-enactor who dresses in the uniform of a U.S. Marine at the time of the John Brown raid, Wiltshire said.

The monument shows the sandblasted outline of a Marine dressed in the uniform of the day, standing at attention in the 5-foot high main section.

The front of the middle section carries the inscription written by Wiltshire:

"IN MEMORY OF PVT LUKE QUINN only Marine killed in John Brown's raid October 18, 1859. Pvt. Luke Quinn came from Ireland in 1835 and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1855 in Brooklyn, N.Y.. He was sent to sea duty then transferred to Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C.. He came to Harpers Ferry with Lieut. Col. Robert E. Lee. Then was killed in the storming of the engine house. His funeral was in St. Peter's Catholic Church (in Harpers Ferry) by Father Michael Costello and he was buried in St. Peter's Catholic Cemetery."

Angie Hough, passing by the workmen Tuesday morning, stopped to read Wiltshire's inscription.

"That's great. Now I won't have to keep trying to explain it," said Hough, who owns the Pvt. Quinn Pub just down from the monument at 109 Potomac St.

"Customers are always asking who Pvt. Quinn was. Now I know he was a real person."

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