Roll #24: Stepping into the Past

Updated: Feb 20

At the confluence of the Potomac with the Shenandoah, there exists a town frozen in time. A town surrounded by what Thomas Jefferson deemed as "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature." A town which changed hands eight times during the Civil War. A town where on any given weekend (when the weather is good), you have a solid chance of finding me aimlessly pushing a stroller through its cobblestone streets. A town called Harpers Ferry.


I vaguely remember an AP US History class in high school where John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was the topic of conversation. Let me clarify. While other classmates were focusing on the historical significance of this event, my attention was turned towards a weird desire to add an apostrophe to every appearance of the word "Harpers," in my textbook.


Fast forward 6 months---I was in the middle of the AP exam, trying my darndest to write 3 pages about an obscure political cartoon from the late 1700s. I failed the test but the apostrophes I added to the textbook will live on until the publisher comes along with another edition. At the end of the year, US History and I went our separate ways, and until recently, Harpers Ferry laid in wait in the dark recesses of my mind.


Then, in May of 2017, my vague high school memory of Harpers Ferry was replaced with a vivid one.


With a freshly minted MBA in hand, I'd found a job 1,400 miles away. We'd be moving from Fort Worth, Texas to Ellicott City, Maryland. Our cross-country trip eastward toward our new home was mostly uninspiring, consisting of pulling a massive U-Haul trailer behind an under-powered SUV and budget hotel breakfasts. On the last day of the trip, a light fog hugged the earth, giving the outside world the appearance of a watercolor painting. The drive was beautiful; however, it became majestic when we crossed the Shenandoah and unexpectedly got a glimpse of Harpers Ferry. Words cannot describe how unbelievably perfect the view was. In that moment, I knew I wanted to go back.


After settling in, I did go back and I continue to go back. I continue to go back because there is no place in the world quite like it. When you go to Harpers Ferry, you leave the present and step into the past.


On a recent trip to Harpers Ferry, I came across the unique opportunity to take some pictures of a Civil War reenactment at Bolivar Heights. The resulting images were, in my opinion, timeless.

The sound of fifes and drums danced through the humid West Virginian air.

Deafening canon blasts bounced of nearby mountains to whisper in the ears of onlookers.

A teenage boy armed with a black powder rifle blew a squirrel out of a tree, field dressed it, and roasted it over an open fire. Little patches of fat on the squirrel's haunches popped and sizzled as it went from medium-well to well-done.


Eventually, I grew tired of the unique body odor produced by wool-wearing folk in 90 degree heat and headed back to Harpers Ferry proper where I was greeted with a flood of tourists and NPS workers in period costume.

Shenandoah Street (the main drag) and nearby buildings are immaculately preserved but as you venture up High Street, things begin to change. Well preserved historical buildings transition to beautiful private residences overlooking the Potomac. Beautiful private residences eventually make way to abandoned buildings and lots where rust, peeling paint, and faint reminders of what once was.

As you get closer, the uniqueness of the cracks, peels, and patina becomes beautiful.

Before departing, we cooled off in the calm waters of the Shenandoah. The sun penetrated the water's surface producing bands of dancing light. A smooth, yet uneven rock bottom created a series of tiny continuous waves easily manipulated with a finger.

After drying off, we headed home.

Camera: Canon AE-1

Film: TMAX 100

When: July 2019

Where: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia


Last but not least, since I'm posting this on October 16th, a very happy birthday to my brother Kyle.

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©2019 by Taylor Mackay