Sure, Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino were familiar with the story of John Brown. The abolitionist fought slavery across the country, helping to kill seven pro-slavery settlers in Kansas. After an unsuccessful attempt to start a slave revolt at Harpers Ferry, Va., Brown was tried for treason and hanged.
But Artzner and Leonino, a married couple who performs as the folk duo Magpie, couldn't help but think there was more to Brown's story. The couple performed regularly at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, which piqued their interest in Brown. They asked a ranger for reading recommendations to learn more about Brown and immersed themselves in a thick stack of books.
What they found so fascinated them that they were soon devoting the same kind of time researching Mary Brown. Eventually, the Middleburgh couple took the information they compiled and turned it into a two-person play, Sword of the Spirit, which they will perform at Old Songs in Voorheesville on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m.
Artzner was an actor through high school and college, but his wife had never been on stage before "Sword of the Spirit" debuted some 10 years ago. It was a leap of faith she felt comfortable making because she believed people needed to hear more about the Browns.
"It's such an important story in history that's never been told," she said. "We're trying to make them both human beings."
It's an angle that Artzner and Leonino believe has been lost through the ages. Brown, Artzner said, has been "reviled" in the south, and even many who shared his disdain for slavery were wary of him.
"They say he was a crazy man " 'He was fighting for freedom, but I can't endorse his methods,'" Artzner said.
Artzner said with a laugh that Brown probably was crazy, but there was so much more to him than that.