The subject of moving Owen Brown from his grave site on Brown's Peak outside Altadena CA, to be reburied at North Elba, NY has been raised again. In his email dated 6/20/11 Bob Shear wrote
"Before I go back, I'm hoping to find some interest in returning Owen Brown's remains to North Elba. Right now, Owen is in an unmarked, desecrated grave on private property in the forest above Pasadena. The story and pics are on the page I did on my website a couple of years ago to commemorate 1859.
Would it be possible to get together some people on the New York end to demand that Owen be brought home? While I'm in Buffalo I would be able to do some legwork here if anyone in the state connected with the UGRR effort might get interested. I can also do what can be done on the Pasadena end when I get home.
Please tell me there are people in New York who want to do something about this."
Lou DeCaro -- friend, student of John Brown, and clergyman -- responded with this:
Speaking as both a devoted student of Brown and as a clergyman, I would be happy to support the reinterment of Owen Brown at the John Brown Farm ON THE CONDITION that the Brown family descendants (known and accessible) are in favor of it. Owen Brown went to California and lived out his days there by his own volition and was buried there by his family. Unless there is historical evidence of Owen expressing the wish to be buried back in North Elba, I don't think this is first a matter for our decision, no matter how well intended and devoted we are to the Brown legacy. It is first a Brown family matter. Since Owen had no children, obviously this involves gaining the consensus of relatives, like Alice, who are near kin to Owen. We who love John Brown so passionately can easily turn this into a cause, especially since that ogre who owns the land has brought ruin to Owen's gravesite. But the Browns went west and if any of them are to be disinterred and brought back east, I would not be willing to support any effort doing so without first making a reasonable effort to gain the support from accessible Brown family descendants. If they are not in favor of it, then neither am I. If they are in favor of it, then I'd be fully supportive and think this is the right season to do it. But let's not let our personal sentiments and enthusiasm lead."
Yours in truth,
Lou DeCaro Jr.
Many of my friends and John Brown supporters voiced agreement with Lou's sentiments. I thank you all for your input. My thoughts are below:
Many years ago, Brendon Mills, Ranger/Curator of the John Brown Farm in North Elba, contacted me regarding my giving permission to have Owen Brown's body disinterred, and brought to North Elba for burial. At that time, I was more than happy to say yes to this unique request. My reasons were, I thought, sound – the man who owes the land has fenced off the site; Owen died without heirs; the headstone was missing; what difference could it make where Owen was buried?
I was very naïve back then, to say the least. I am no longer in agreement with the plan to have Owen's body moved, and will adamantly oppose any plans to do so. My reasons are below.
At the time of the first request, I had only attended a couple of funerals, and had not visited many cemeteries. Now, after years of studying the Brown's and working so closely with the genealogy, I find that the very act of visiting the graves of my ancestors invokes strong feelings and emotions that are at times overwhelming and indescribable. While I am sure that the feelings would be the same no matter where Owen rests, I feel that the original place of burial is an important part of the history not only of the family, but of America as well.
Buried near the top of what locals called "Brown's Peak," Owen is at home. He lived there for many years, interacting with the prominent citizens of the neighboring towns. He was one of the 21 founding settlers of Altadena, and well respected. Close to 2000 mourners attended his funeral in town and around 300 braved the treacherous route up the mountain for the graveside service. In 1900, attendance at the dedication of the stone gravestone was high, as was the picnic held on Brown's Peak to celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Brown's birth. The people of Altadena and surrounding areas are proud to have a "son of the liberator" buried there.
The Sierra Club near Altadena took the landowners to court twice to ensure continued free access to the gravesite. In 2006 they succeeded – based on previous historical access; the property owner lost and now must allow any and all who wish to visit the gravesite complete access. In 2008, The Sierra Club rebuilt the trail up to the former sites of Owen and Jason's cabins and the gravesite.
If we move Owen, where do we stop? Do we go to Put-In-Bay Ohio and remove John Jr. from his final resting spot? What about Frederick, who died during the Osawatomie uprising, do we remove him to North Elba? What of Brown's wives, Dianthe and Mary, shall we uproot them as well? Do we move only the sons, who fought beside Brown; all eight children who outlived "the old man"; or do we also move all of the little children that were lost along the way? If we move the Brown's, do we also move the family members? Where would this end?
American history is full of stories about the movement and scattering of family members. Gravesites show us the routes taken by our ancestors as their lives flowed and ebbed with the changing times. By moving Owen, we would disrupt the profound impact he, and others like him, had on the world as they moved through their lives.
My answer is no, please do not move Owen Brown from the resting place he himself chose.