In 1899, a large but ordinary trunk arrived in Saranac Lake village at the home of Miss Katherine E. McClellan. It contained the bodies of eight men killed at Harper's Ferry 43 years before. The story of John Brown at North Elba and his burial is a familiar one. Little known to the general public, however, is another interesting story of the sending and arrival of the trunk. Miss McClellan at the time operated a photographic studio in Saranac Lake. She was widely known for her pictures of Adirondack scenery. Her name was often associated with John Brown's farm through her illustrated sketch of Brown, which was on sale at the farm for a number of years. It was through this association with the place that led to her receiving a letter from an utter stranger who revealed to her the rather startling plan to exhume the bones of several of John Brown's followers and have them brought to North Elba to be buried beside their leader.

In 1896 McClellan wrote "A Hero's Grave in the Adirondacks", which was about John Brown's life and death, and so apparently she seemed a proper person to interest in moving the remains of Brown's men to North Elba.

The stranger was Dr. Thomas Featherstonhaugh of Washington, D. C. He pleaded with Miss McClellan that he could not leave Washington, and begged her to carry out his scheme at this end. For the moment Miss McClellan was enthusiastic, not realizing the responsibilities she would assume in agreeing to be a partner. After consenting, however, she carried out the plans successfully.

Of the 22 men who took part in the Harper's Ferry attack, seven escaped, and ten were killed. Two of the bodies of the last group were given to a medical college for dissection. The other eight bodies were interred in two large, crude boxes on a bank of the Shenandoah River, a short distance from Harper's. It is the bones of these eight men that Dr. Featherstonhaugh recovered and sent in the trunk, accompanied by a confidential agent, to Miss McClellan.

The bodies were disinterred on July 29, 1899 by Featherstonhaugh, a Captain Hall of Washington, and Professor Libby of the University of Wisconsin. Libby later turned out to be the agent who brought the mysterious trunk to Saranac Lake. Dr. Featherstonhaugh felt that the identity of the bodies was beyond questioning, owing to the fact that James Mansfield of Harper's Ferry, who was paid five dollars to bury them, was hired by the three men to dig them up. Their correct identity was further assured by the remote spot at which they were buried, and by the unusual boxes in which they were buried. The boxes were found to be in a fair state of preservation. Inside these rough boxes, much of the clothing was found to be preserved, especially parts of coats and vests with the buttons still attached. In a pocket were found two short lead pencils, sharpened for use.

Also there were some woolen fibres in abundance which indicated that the men had been buried in blanket shawls shawls in which they had fought. Records show that the men had been made a gift of these garments a few days before the raid. The small bones of the bodies had completely mouldered away, but the larger ones were intact for the most part. The greatest secrecy was necessary in the shipment and arrival of the remains. They had been taken from the grave without the consent of knowledge of anyone, except for the owner of the land in which they were burried. Dr. Featherstonhaugh, his aides, and Miss McClellan worked with a constant fear of discovery and interference by the authorities.

At the last moment, a man in Massachusetts heard of what was going on and asked permission to send on the bones of an uncle and a companion who had been caught and hanged as an outcome of the raid, and who had been buried at Perth Amboy. N. J. These made a total of ten bodies sent to Saranac Lake. Miss McClellan hid the bodies in her house on Old Military Road during the entire month of August. The exact house has not been determined Miss McClellan owned three houses on that street.

Miss McClellan lived at 22 Old Military Road.

During this period she persuaded the Town to furnish a handsome casket in which the bones of all ten men were eventually placed. The men were buried at North Elba on August 30, 1899, the final episode that began in Harper's Ferry nearly a half century ago.

The names of the people who exhumed these remains are: Capt. E, P. Hall of Washington, and Prof. X G. Libby, of the university of Wisconsin, who is a nephew of C. P. Tidd, one of the seven who escaped after the fray. The names of those buried are as follows (negroes marked with an asterisk. Two negroes were hanged at Charlestown), Greene and Copeland, Watson Brown, Oliver Brown, William Thompson, Dauphin Osgood Thompson, Stewart, Taylor, John H. Kagi, Jeremiah, G.j. Anderson, William H. Leeman, *Dangerfield Newby, *Lewis S. Leary, killed in the Harper's Ferry fight; Aaron D. Stevens and Albert Haiett, hanged, but remains buried at North Elba. These last two were hanged with John Brown.


Note: Katherine McClellan's father was Dr. Ezra S. McClellan, who developed Highland Park (Park Avenue section) and put together the sanitation code for Saranac Lake. Katherine Elizabeth McClellan (1859-1934) was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey. After graduating from Smith College in 1882 she worked for eight years in private schools and as a tutor in New York and New Jersey. Her career as a photographer began in the Adirondacks in 1892 when the McClellan family moved to Saranac Lake, NY so that Katherine's sister could be treated for tuberculosis at the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium. Katherine McClellan took up photography as a hobby, concentrating on landscapes. She turned her hobby into a thriving business. In addition to selling her photographs, McClellan also published two viewbooks, John Brown, or A Hero's Grave in the Adirondacks (1896) and Keene Valley: "In the Heart of the Mountains" (1898), and planned two more Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. It is not known whether these two were ever completed.


Another interesting Saranac Lake footnote:
Pat Fina built and operated the RIVERSIDE GRILL in 1942. He found a rifle buried in an old cellar on his property while constructing it.