New York's Budget Woes Could Close Abolitionst John Brown's Burial Site Shutting down a park at the New York farm where the abolitionist's body lies would save taxpayers about $40,000 a year, a tiny chunk of the state's $8 billion deficit. Historians say that's not enough of a savings to warrant the loss of a landmark.
NPR logo

Costs Threaten Upkeep Of John Brown's Burial Site

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Costs Threaten Upkeep Of John Brown's Burial Site

Costs Threaten Upkeep Of John Brown's Burial Site

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. In New York, the state budget crisis is so severe that Governor David Paterson wants to close dozens of parks, campgrounds and historic sites. The list includes the farm where abolitionist John Brown is buried. He led the raid on Harpers Ferry that helped spark the Civil War. As North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, historians and activists are fighting to preserve what they consider a national landmark.

BRIAN MANN: When Union soldiers went into battle in the 1860s, they often marched to a song performed here by Pete Seeger.

(Soundbite of song, "John Brown's Body")

Mr. PETE SEEGER (Musician): (Singing) John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.

MANN: Brown died before the war, executed in 1859 after he tried to spark a slave rebellion in the South. His body was brought home here to his farm near Lake Placid, New York. It's beautiful this time of year: snow-covered fields ringed by the Adirondack Mountains. Brown and his wife, who were white, worked the land with a colony of black farmers.

Martha Swan is founder of the civil rights group called John Brown Lives!

Ms. MARTHA SWAN (Founder, John Brown Lives!): He so loved it here on this land that in his last jailhouse letter to his wife, Mary, he expressed his wish that she come gather up his and their beloved son's bones and bring them home for burial in the shadow of the big rock where he loved to sit and pray while looking out over the mountains.

MANN: A statue near that rock shows the abolitionist protecting and guiding a young black child. A black civil rights group from Philadelphia donated the memorial in 1935.

Activists held a recent vigil protesting the state's plan to close the site this spring. Dan Keefe is spokesman for New York's Parks Department.

Mr. DAN KEEFE (Spokesman, Parks Department, New York): It's been very difficult. Each park is special; each park is important. Patrons love all the parks in our system, and to try to do this in an ideal way is impossible.

MANN: John Brown's farm had roughly 60,000 visitors last year - a fraction, Keefe says, of the 56 million visitors to New York's state parks.

Mr. KEEFE: We looked at attendance, operating costs, what kind of revenue each facility generated.

MANN: Closing the burial site would save taxpayers about $40,000 a year. That's a tiny chunk of New York's $9 billion deficit. Historian James Stewart says that's not enough to warrant the loss of an important civil rights landmark.

Mr. JAMES STEWART (Historian): It was a tremendous struggle trying to get sites designated that were associated with African-American history, and so to lose one that has such important value symbolizing a whole era's struggle is really problematic for me.

MANN: Unlike many historic sites in the U.S., John Brown's farm has been preserved almost intact with the original farmhouse, the fields and woods.

New York's legislature still has to approve the plan to close the site. Last week, a state senator from Brooklyn introduced a resolution calling for the decision to be reversed. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, New York.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.