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Groups raising cash to honor Underground Railroad figure in Wilkes-Barre

Henry Brown is buried in the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery, and groups are fundraising to place a marker on his final resting place.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Joan Cavanaugh and Kathleen Smith work hard to make sure history in the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery and beyond doesn't get forgotten.

When walking around the graves, Joan says something stands out the most to her.

"I heard a priest once say the most important symbol on the grave marker is that dash between the date of birth and the date of death. That symbolizes a person's life, so it's very meaningful to have a marker," said Cavanaugh.

This is why it's upsetting to these women that Henry Brown, buried with black Civil War soldiers, doesn't have one.

"He was born in 1800, and he died in 1884," said Smith, a member of the Shawnee Fort Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution based in Plymouth. "He was an old man. He did a lot, and that dash of his life, it was a full good. He was a very brave man, good life."

"He helped rescue the slaves through the Underground Railroad. And he did work with William Gildersleeve, who's an abolitionist, and he is buried over in the Hollenbeck Cemetery," explained Cavanaugh.

Gildersleeve has a grave marker, but Brown does not. So these women are working with the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society to fundraise enough money to get him one.

"This is American history. This is the Valley history. And it's important that we remember it," said Smith.

On October 9, they will host a fundraiser for the marker at Rodano's on Public Square from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

"$25 in advance, $30 at the door, all-you-can-eat pizza, stromboli, draft beer, soda, and it helps to raise money. The stone is about $1,600," said Smith.

Any funds raised over that goal will go toward other preservation efforts. You can get tickets in advance by emailing Kathleen Smith at Shawneefort@gmail.com.

They hope to install the marker next summer. Until then, a lantern will mark the life of Henry Brown in Wilkes-Barre.

"And that is a symbol that they used in the Underground Railroad, the symbol with the lanterns. Somehow, they had their signals, so I have that there, and it glows at night," said Kathleen Smith.

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