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Marine Corps museum gets historic hammer page 2
Family donates hammer head Marines used in capturing insurrectionist John Brown at Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

 Alice J. Rissler shakes hands with one of the ceremonial 'guards' dressed in an 1839 field uniform after her family's gift of a 28-pound sledgehammer head during a ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle.
photos by ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/11/2011

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They attempted negotiating with Brown, but when that failed, three Marines wielding sledgehammers tried to break down the firehouse's wooden doors, Winterer said.

When that didn't work, the Marines grabbed a heavy ladder, penetrated one of the doors, crawled inside and seized the raiders. One Marine, Luke Quinn, was killed. Brown was captured, tried for treason and hanged.

The raid and Brown's trial inflamed sectional feelings over slavery, and set the stage for the war to come.

Winterer accepted the artifact on behalf of the museum, calling it "an honor and a privilege" to work with the Risslers on their donation.

"Artifacts such as this connect us with our past," she said. "This one shows us that Marines answered yet another call to duty to defend our nation. I can't imagine a better place for it to be than the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where we represent the Marines who wielded this sledgehammer and continue to represent their brothers and sisters."

With that, family matriarch Alice J. Rissler rose from her wheelchair and walked to a table to sign the legal paperwork conveying the hammer to the museum, as two Marines in pre-Civil War-style uniforms looked on.

Ron Rissler of Uinta Farm near Charles Town, the family's home place since 1855, said its members unanimously settled on the museum as the best spot for it.

They were prompted to act after he heard retired Marine Lt. Gen. George R. Christmas, the museum foundation's president, speak in Harpers Ferry on the 150th anniversary of Brown's raid, Rissler said. Christmas, who hosted the family yesterday, smiled at the memory.

"The Marines were told to take part in this assault with unloaded muskets, just bayonets, because they didn't want to harm any of the hostages," Rissler said. "These men, within 24 hours of being on guard duty at the Navy Yard in Washington, led the assault. That's what I believe the Marine Corps is all about."

Emails exchanged with Winterer, followed by a visit to the museum this spring with his wife, persuaded Rissler and the family to donate the sledge, which had been sought after by the National Park Service and two local historical societies near Charles Town, Rissler said.

The Marine Corps museum has welcomed 2.5 million visitors since it opened in 2005, Ezell said.

"But people don't come here because we have a nice building. They come for the real stuff of history. They want to be up close and personal with real things," she said.

"For us to collect 20th- and 21st-century things, that's not so hard. But to go back to the 19th century? That's hard. Not many times does something come along that's over 150 years old."

usmcmuseum.org 1.usa.gov/plYPar

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com


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One of three sledgehammers used by Marines at John Brown's Raid Only two are known to still exist. The other is part of the National Park Service's collection at Harpers Ferry, on display at the John Brown Museum. This sledge was picked up by Dr. Robert Randolph, an eyewitness to the events at Harpers Ferry on Oct. 18, 1859. Upon Dr. Randolph's death, the sledge was left to Joseph A. Seward, who subsequently sold it at auction in 1914 to Richard Johnston. The donor is Alice J. Rissler; her late husband, John, was the great-nephew of Richard Johnston. The sledge has been in the Rissler family for 97 years.

--National Museum of the Marine Corps