Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dangerfield Newby at Hog Alley

Dangerfield Newby
From Ghosts of Harpers Ferry by Stephen D. Brown

Hog Alley didn't get its name in a very pretty way.

During the John Brown raid, the first raider killed was a black man by the name of Dangerfield Newby. Dangerfield had been freed by his white father, but he had a wife and seven children held in slavery in Warrenton, Virginia. His wife's master had told him that for the sum of $1,500 he could buy his wife and his youngest baby, who had just started to crawl. Dangerfield earned that amount of money and went back to Warrenton to purchase his wife and baby, only to have his wife's master raise the price. The free black man then joined John Brown in the hope of freeing not only his wife and youngest baby, but his entire family.

There were a lot of guns in Harpers Ferry, since they were made in the town and stored in the 22 building armory complex near the train tracks. There was little ammunition for the guns, however, and townspeople would fire anything they could find for their guns. One man was shooting 6 inch spikes from his powder loaded gun.

When John Brown raided the town in October of 1859, it was one of those spikes that hit the throat of Dangerfield Newby. He was killed instantly.

The people of Harpers Ferry, frustrated and angered by John Brown and his raiders, took the body of Dangerfield Newby and stabbed it repeatedly with their rusty knives. They left the mutilated body in the alley to be eaten by the hungry hogs.

Some night, if you are walking down Hog Alley and see a man dressed in baggy trousers and an old slouched hat with a terrible scar across his throat, you will know you have met Dangerfield Newby. He is still roaming our streets, trying to free his family.

Hog Alley, 1940s. Source
Back in high school, my friend's family invited me on a weekend trip up to Harpers Ferry with them. While we were there, we were lucky enough to catch one of the last ghost tours the famed Shirley Doughtery ever gave. After the tour, my friend and I took a walk (by ourselves) around the darkened streets of the historic town. 

After a bit we came to Hog Alley. Even before the tour, she and I were well-versed with Dangerfield Newby's ghost. And, I'm ashamed to admit it...but we were a little...apprehensive. As we stood at the top of the street, staring down Hog Alley, we kept daring each other to walk it alone. I couldn't do it, lol. Every time I began to step foot into the alley, my mind would go straight to this WV PBS special on the ghosts of Harpers Ferry. I have desperately searched for a copy of my own (my friend had an old VHS her family had taped off the television years before) but have been unsuccessful. Anyway, this video featured a teen boy who goes on vacation to Harpers Ferry with his family. He scoffs at the idea of a ghost tour, but then later on finds out there may be some truth to the legends. The man who played Dangerfield Newby did a great job of eerily scuffling along, neck wound gaping. That's the image I had in mind as I stood there.

All of a sudden, my friend asked, "uh, what is THAT?!" Down the alley we could see what appeared to be a large, inky-black shape...and it was MOVING! Was it coming towards us? We didn't stick around to find out. Her parents were waiting for us about a block or so over, so we ran over to them, freaking out about how we had seen Dangerfield Newby walking up Hog Alley. Once we had sufficiently calmed back down, they walked us BACK over. Feeling a little braver with her family along, we all took the stroll down the haunted alley...and soon came upon our 'ghost.' 

What had appeared to us as a dark, bulking human shape was actually a large trash can. The black trash bag was flapping in the breeze, which had caused the movement that scared us so badly. In some ways I was disappointed that we didn't see a ghost that night. However, deep down, I really was quite relieved!  

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