In Commenoration of John Brown's Birthday

John Brown was born in May 1800. His 202nd birthday was commemorated at the home of John Ritchie, 1116 SE Madison, Topeka, Kansas on May 9, 2002. The last time John Brown was seen in Topeka, he was shaking hands with John Ritchie in front of this modest stone house. Brown had been a guest the night before, and he left never to see his friend, or Kansas, again. He died on the gallows later that year.
Ritchie and Brown had much in common. Both were ardent abolitionists: both were fearless in their opposition to those who would make Kansas a slave state. But there was a key difference. While Brown's mission was to end slavery, Ritchie sought not only to end slavery but to create a new society--an inclusive society with White and Black, male and female, participating fully. This was his vision for Topeka.
Rarely are perfect people found in the study of history, and we find no perfection in the lives of John Brown, nor John Ritchie, nor Jim Lane. What is found in these individuals is a sense of duty, the courage to bring about change, and a willingness to sacrifice personal comfort for a greater cause.
They would not care that we remember them here today, but they will surely haunt us if we fail to live our lives with such passion and commitment.
--from a handout distributed on-site, May 9, 2002
Ritchie House
The John Ritchie House is currently owned by the Shawnee County Historical Society. Under the directorship of Dr. Bill Wagnon, restoration work continues. The structure of the building has been secured. Soon the home's interior work will begin.

west facade, Ritchie house
west facade,

Ritchie House

interior view
Ritchie House
desk with portrait of John Ritchie
portrait of John Ritchie and historic photos

flag-draped speakers' platform
flag-draped speakers

Reanactors represented the principal characters in this "Bleeding Kansas" story.

Brad Woelhoff as John Ritchie
John Ritchie
/Brad Woelhoff

Alan Shirrell as John Brown
John Brown
/Alan Shirrell

Diane Eickoff as Clarina Nichols
Clarina Nichols
/Diane Eickoff

Tim Rues as Jim Lane
Jim Lane
/Tim Rues

Marvin Stottlemire as Rev. John Brown Sr.
John Brown, Sr.
/Marvin Stottlemire

Rev. Thomas Johnson and Sam Jones
Rev. Johnson and Sheriff Sam Jones
/Aaron Barnhart
and Ed Hoover

Cake and Bustle
History lovers converged on Ritchie's front lawn for birthday cake, punch and conversation.

John Brown's saber cuts the cake.
John Brown cut his birthday cake

lawn tent
A tent on the lawn provided shade, but the weather was beautiful.
Crowd listens to speakers, above.
Rick, SCHS, Deb, Ritchie House
Local historian,
Rev. Richard Taylor, talks with John Brown.
Party Time
Tours, Civil War music (played by Stuart Yoho) and sharing history.
making way for a hooped-shirted entrance
Jacque's hoop skirt fills the doorway
Stuart plays Civil War music on the banjo
Stuart plays
Stuart sings and plays
Stuart sings
Ed accompanies
juice harp accomaniment
birthday cake
John Brown's
birthday cake remnants
Actors, close up
Characters continue to tell their stories as refreshments are served.
Ed Hoover
Sheriff Sam Jones, pro-slavery Territorial Sheriff, from Lecompton
Brad Woelhoff
John Ritchie,

our host
Aaron Barnhart
Rev. Thomas Johnson, Shawnee Indian Mission, slave holder
Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart
Clarina Nichols was probably discussing women's issues with the Reverend Johnson
Herschel and Jacque Stroud
Herschel and Jacque Stroud portray governor-to-be Sam Crawford and his wife, Isabel

Guest speaker,
Dr. John Sellers, of the Library of Congress toured the Ritchie House with Curriculum Coordinator,
Debra Goodrich.
Deb Goodrich and Dr. John Sellers
Dr. John Sellers
and Debra Goodrich
   An interesting detail: a door on the south side of the Ritchie House, half way up the outside wall.
south facade
south facade,
Ritchie House

Read Topeka Capital-Journal article about these events * Debra Goodrich's editorial about Brown
John Brown historical research * Battle of Black Jack * Brown's Osawatomie * Brown's Farm in Guys Mills, PA
Topeka's Ritchie Cemetery and Photos 1 and Photos 2

© 2002 by Carol Yoho
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