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C/O Paul Ayers, Esq.
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Owen Brown gravestone, missing for 10 years, found in Altadena
By James Figueroa, SGVN
Posted: 08/27/2012 07:16:40 PM PDT
ALTADENA - Lost for 10 years, the gravestone belonging to Civil War abolitionist Owen Brown turned up again only a few hundred feet from his final resting place in the Altadena hills.
Ian White, an artist who lives near the gravesite in the Meadows neighborhood, found the stone marker while walking with his 1-year-old son on Thursday.
The engraving wasn't visible, but White recognized a metal ring on the gravestone signifying the end of slavery. Owen Brown was the son of John Brown, who is credited with sparking the Civil War by leading an 1859 revolt to free slaves in Harpers Ferry, in what is now West Virginia.
White called Paul Ayers of Save the Altadena Trails, and they moved the marker to a secure location, carefully wrapping the stone in cloth and using a furniture dolly.
"I knew what it was, and I didn't want to attract any interest to it," White said.
Save the Altadena Trails now hopes to return the gravestone to its rightful place, but will have to contend with legal questions about who owns it and how to ensure it will be preserved.
For now, the gravestone's discovery has become a hot topic among Altadena locals, historians and the Brown family.
"It was absolutely amazing," Ayers said. "I had for a number of years been preparing to fabricate a new stone. I had no expectation we would see it again."
The stone disappeared in 2002, just as Save the Altadena Trails was preparing legal battles with area property owners over access to the gravesite. The organization since then has won court decisions granting the public access to the gravesite.
Ayers had suspicions about who might have disturbed the site, but nothing was ever proven.
"Whoever did this committed a crime against the community of Altadena," he said. "There are certain things that are touchstones in a community, and this one was."
There have been lengthy searches for the stone marker through the years, and the area is popular among hikers, so the stone's reappearance so close to the gravesite seems strange.
White, however, believes the marker's weight would have severely hindered anyone trying to move it far from the area. A rope was next to the stone when he found it, he said.
"I think maybe through some rainstorms it gradually pushed itself down more and more," White said. "And with some brush clearance, all of a sudden I was able to see it.
"Numerous hikers go through this area, but it looks like debris because there's other concrete and rock that are around the area. So I think it was just overlooked, to be honest."
Several of John Brown's children moved to California in the aftermath of the Harpers Valley revolt, and many of his descendants from daughter Ruth Thompson live in the Pasadena area.
Owen Brown, who had been waiting with horses across the Potomac River and escaped when his father was captured, eventually wound up living in a cabin with his brother Jason in Altadena.
Brown family genealogist Alice Keesey Mecoy, John Brown's great-great-great granddaughter, said she did a "happy dance" upon learning the gravestone had been found.
During the sesquicentennial of Brown's revolt in 2009, a movement emerged to disinter Owen's remains and move them to the New York farm where his father was buried.
Mecoy initially favored the idea, but soon changed her mind.
"This is where he loved, this is where he wanted to be, this where he lived the last years of his life," she said. "He was very active in the town, he was very active in Masonic organizations. He needs to stay there."
Mecoy hopes fly in from Texas to visit the Altadena gravesite, which she's never seen, when there is a rededication ceremony sometime in the future.
The gravestone's discovery could also provide a "teachable moment," said Altadena historian Michelle Zack, who is currently researching the Civil War era.
The Pasadena area was attractive to the Brown family because of strong anti-slavery sentiments, Zack said.
"When you find something like this that's been lost, and it’s a dramatic find, it's a rare opportunity to talk about what the Civil War meant here out in the West," she said.