Opinion

American history lives again at Federal Way's Centerstage Theatre | Firearms Lawyer

“The Belle of Amherst” opened in 1976 and ran for 116 performances on Broadway. The one woman monologue that starred Julie Harris depicts the life of Emily Dickinson by mingling her poetry and emotional experiences with biographical details of her life.

Imagine my exuberance to be present for such a performance on a recent opening night at Federal Way’s own Centerstage Theatre.

The entire monologue is set in Dickinson’s family home. Her father, a lawyer and pillar of the Amherst community, was a stern product of Dickinson’s Puritan forebears. The poet’s grandfather founded Amherst College in 1821. Emily lived in a house that her grandfather built nearby. In fact, Dickinson was a recluse. Dickinson wrote one poem that opened, “Some keep the sabbath going to church — I keep it, staying at home.”

Dickinson lived through the Civil War, but the events of the war only resulted in the poet’s obsession with death and eternity.

Abolitionists that took the strongest positions against the institution of slavery were descendants of Puritans that had settled in New England. John Brown, however, took the most radical approach by advocating armed force against Southern slaveholders. Brown had no patience for “men that are all talk.”

“What we need is action — action!” Brown cried to all that would listen. First he led volunteers against violent pro-slavery Southerners, killing several in Kansas in 1856. Wealthy abolitionists in New England began to secretly support Brown’s militant activities and allegedly backed a raid on Harper’s Ferry. In 1858, the Massachusetts Committee assisted Brown with 200 “Beecher’s Bibles” (i.e., .52-caliber Sharps Rifles).

Brown seized the armory in 1859 and killed seven people while attempting to arm slaves with weapons from the federal arsenal. The U.S. Marines and local volunteers captured Brown. The public acclaim showered on John Brown in the North nearly climaxed in religious exultation on the part of influential New England abolitionists. After Brown was hung, a painting depicted him as Christ-like with Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Northern portrayal of John Brown as a martyr convinced Southerners that abolitionists had lost all reason. Even today, historians debate whether he was a terrorist. Sixteen months later, the South seceded from the Union.

In some respects, our time seems almost like Emily Dickinson’s time. Some Americans focus on legislative and electoral infighting while some of us, like Emily Dickinson, look for refuge.

I also attended another recent event at Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way. An actress skillfully recreated the character of Harriet Tubman, the woman who operated the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman took heroic risks to smuggle human beings toward freedom, and assisted Brown with his efforts at recruiting freedom fighters. Tubman and Brown traveled up and down our great land, and Dickinson rarely strayed from her home in Amherst, Mass.

Thus, a craggy armed fanatic, a primly proper spinster in love with the mysteries of her own soul, and a former slave girl (who would later spy for the Union Army and crusade for women’s voting rights) all contributed to making their world turn upside down — and the United States slid into the Civil War.

I sometimes wonder whether we even want such dangerous knowledge taught in our schools. Nevertheless, I learned much of this information — and more — at our own little Centerstage Theatre.

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