Ohio’s John Brown: No Great Wonder in Kansas
According to an article in the Osawatomie, Kansas, Graphic (Nov. 3), a six-week long campaign to induct the “Eight Wonders of Kansas People” has concluded, and John Brown the abolitionist did not make the grade. Based on thirteen thousand votes cast in a contest ballot conducted by the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the hero of Osawatomie finished strong as one of twenty-four finalists, but voting—not limited to Kansas—excluded Brown in the final ballot, representing “a wide range of opinions on some of Kansas’ most influential individuals,” reports Travis Perry of the Graphic. According to Marci Penner, Director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, “John Brown came really close to getting in. He didn’t quite make it, but he was really close.” It should be noted that our friend in Osawatomie, Grady Atwater, the administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site in Osawatomie, worked valiantly to promote Brown’s selection as one of the Eight since the contest was announced in 2007. Despite the strong support of Osawatomie, the Brown ballot “was at a disadvantage compared with other, much larger communities across the state,” the Graphic concludes.
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Is it Any Wonder?
As an outsider who knows little about Kansas, and admittedly, as one who has little interest in that state’s general history, it would appear that the selection of the final eight does largely represent a “wide range” of opinions and views in keeping with the overall story of Kansas. As far as Brown is concerned, on one hand it seems unfortunate that the great popularity of the Abolitionist in some sections of Kansas was disregarded in the final vote--first, because he is certainly embraced as a heroic figure by many Kansans, especially in Osawatomie. Considering the fact that Brown was edged out by disinterested voters (that is, people who genuinely preferred other historic figures), including voters across the country, it is significant that he nearly succeeded nevertheless. Second, we must always consider that when one speaks of a “wide range of opinions,” whether in Kansas or across the nation, there is always an anti-Brown factor to consider—that is, a percentage of snobs voted in reaction to his presence on the ballot. Thus, the “wide range of opinions” evidenced in the final ballot probably also includes votes based upon age-old hatred of John Brown among a segment of people who have inherited the prejudice of their forebears.
On the other hand, John Brown’s history in Osawatomie, so legendary and profound in the annals of Kansas and the United States, is somewhat misleading as to sons and wonders. Even though he is often remembered as “John Brown of Osawatomie” in history and legend, the fact is that his relation to Kansas was passing and crisis-oriented, and in a real sense he is not a “wonder of Kansas" as he was not a product of Kansas. Brown did not go to the Kansas territory to settle, but to stand ready to protect his family and other free state people from an onslaught of pro-slavery terrorism (to use the contemporary term). He lived in the Territory from October 1855 until the end of 1856, and then returned a number of times in keeping with his own anti-slavery agenda. In other words, if Kansans overall do not want to own Brown as one of their state's human “wonders,” there is some reality to the point since he was no son of Kansas, nor was Kansas the “apple of his eye” as places go. John Brown was first a son of Connecticut and then Ohio, and if he belongs definitively in any state’s “hall of fame,” it is in Ohio. As far as places are concerned, Brown himself clearly loved his Adirondack home and preferred to lay his body down among its lofty grandeur, not even in Ohio, let alone on the plains of Kansas. So I doubt the spirit of the Old Man is much grieved by this loss; certainly we are not. Lest the reader think this is sour grapes, be assured to the contrary, since I suspect John Brown would stand even less a chance of being voted as a “wonder” of Connecticut, Ohio, or New York as long as he is subjected to what euphemistically may be referred to as a “wide range of opinions.”