At the Armory Pub, I took a seat on the downstairs patio and waited for my waitress, who was sitting on a bench singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight in an eastern European accent. What she lacked in promptness she made up for in personality, and by the end of my meal she had taken a seat at my table and told me about life in Romania and her summer in the U.S.
By 9:30 p.m. the restaurant was closing, and the streets of Harpers Ferry - except for a ghost tour - were empty.
Other than the ghosts - or like them - Harpers Ferry is dead at night, maybe because visitors are worn out from hiking, biking or rafting. Merchants say they don't stay open because nobody comes to town, but one wonders if that's because nobody stays open.
Seeing few other options, I headed to my car. (Note: Don't leave your wet tennis shoes and bathing suit in the back of your car for an extended period of time. Foul odors result.)
Back at the hotel, the bar was open and a band was finishing up. I had gone looking for nightlife when the only nightlife in town was where I was.
Seeing Harpers Ferry
After a free continental breakfast at the hotel, I checked out Sunday and was lucky enough to get a parking space in Harpers Ferry.
Parking is limited and, after noon, chances are you will be redirected to the park visitor center, two miles away, to board a shuttle bus into town.
I got a space by the railroad station, and set off on the first of two planned hikes.
I decided to save for later the half-mile hike to Jefferson Rock. It takes you up a steep path, past St. Peter's Catholic Church, the only church in Harpers Ferry to survive the Civil War, to the rocky bluff that Thomas Jefferson - on his way to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia - proclaimed "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature."
Instead, I crossed the Potomac River Footbridge into Maryland, following the C&O Canal path to the Maryland Heights trail, which ends atop a cliff overlooking Harpers Ferry. There is a birds-eye view of the town, which is what made Maryland Heights a vital piece of real estate in the Civil War.
Up on the ridge there were few other hikers, and the silence was broken only by chirping birds, whistling trains and the pealing of church bells below.
Hiking back into town, I walked past docents in period garb, demonstrating laundry-washing and musket-firing, 1860's style.
After lunch, I was off to the John Brown Wax Museum, opened in 1964 by Dixie Kilham, a Baltimore attorney who hired a Baltimore wax-figure maker to make the statues. When Kilham died seven years ago, the museum was purchased by another Baltimore attorney, Stephen Brown - no relation to John.
"It's the only wax museum I'm aware of anywhere in the world that tells the story of one individual," said Brown, who, growing up in Harpers Ferry, worked next door to the museum.
Paying my $6 admission, I followed the hallways and stairs, looking at the glassed-in displays, many of them featuring audio:
John Brown as a boy, witnessing a young slave friend being whipped for displeasing his master - said to have been the beginning of his hatred of slavery; Brown watching as a slave family is auctioned off to different owners; Brown operating his station on the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania; Brown preparing for the raid on the 100,000-weapon armory at Harpers Ferry; Brown's capture, trial, last visit with his wife.
The last scene shows Brown walking up the steps of the gallows, where, the moderator intones, he waited with "majestic serenity for the drop into eternity." The music swells - the Battle Hymn of the Republic, aka John Brown's Body - then stops, and in the silence, Brown slowly raises his head and stares up at visitors.
At the Hilltop House Hotel, the desk clerk, noticing I'd been sweating, recommended I drink some V-8 juice (for the potassium), told me West Virginia is 32nd in per capita income (I have no idea why) and handed me my room key - not a card, but an actual key.
Right off the bat, I liked this place - not just for its spectacular views, not just for being easy walking distance (downhill at least) to town, but for its eccentricities. And they are many.
It took a firm shoulder push to open the door of my room. The carpeting was stained. The mini blinds looked like they'd been through a tornado and the window itself, while maybe once rectangular, was now a right-leaning parallelogram. All the room's lines were slanted. But considering the hotel's heritage and its modest room price, it was perfect.
The first Hilltop House Hotel was built in 1888 by Thomas Lovett, an African-American whose parents worked at Storer College, a school designed primarily to educate former slaves. The school served in 1906 as the site of the second conference of the Niagara Movement, which sought to ensure that the promises of freedom and equality for blacks were fulfilled, and led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.