Thru the Glasses of: Gene Meyer

img_1379-headshotI am having a bad case of writer’s blog. Just kidding. But, I hope to keep these blog posts reasonably light, in keeping with the headline I just dredged up from a humor column I wrote back in the day (What day? Monday? Tuesday?) for the Hilltop Beacon at Roslyn High School, Long Island, New York. (Go Bulldogs!)

Mostly, though, what I do now ranges from the whimsical to the investigative, from hard news to light, bright and (maybe now not so) tight features. Most of my career has been in newspapers, two long gone and one that continues to publish but boasts more online than print readers (if not also paying subscribers, who make great journalism possible). Oh, and did I mention, I also write books?

1115683_1Currently, in addition to my editing duties at the quarterly B’nai B’rith Magazine and occasional stories for The New York Times, I’m embarked on a great journey, to tell the story of the five African Americans who were with John Brown at Harpers Ferry in 1859, how fate and circumstance brought them together at this critical time and place in American history. They have long been treated as footnotes to the towering figure of the martyred Brown, and they deserve better.

In addition to solving old mysteries and discovering new ones, my challenges are not to be overwhelmed by the massive amount of material and also how to source the story without interrupting my narrative flow as I write it. In this effort, I’m looking for suggestions, shortcuts if you will. What are “tags” anyway? I want to write a book that is well-documented but not academic, that links past and present. I’ll have more musings about this as the work progresses. Stay tuned!


  1. Dan Schlieben on September 13, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Sounds like a worthy project, Gene. Among several, I’ve been re-reading two books by Joseph Ellis, The Quartet and Founding Brothers, as a reminder of the period between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War as background to 1860 when my farmer grandfather (yes) was born near Cooperstown, NY. I’m trying to put together a family story around my two aunts and my mother who were born there near the turn of the century as well and represented the family move from agriculture to business to the arts and other areas. I’m distantly related to Horace Greeley, publisher of the NY Tribune, an influential paper of the day, and Hiram Sibley, founder and first president of Western Union, the “internet” of the day. Have made several trips to Cooperstown and Albany for land records but it’s slow going as governmental agencies are not always up on their record keeping, as you well know.
    Keep us posted on your efforts. best, Dan

    • Gene Meyer on September 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      Joe Ellis is a college classmate, though I haven’t seen him since. Eric Foner graduated a year ahead of me at Columbia. We all took courses and seminars with the late great Jim Shenton. I have a signed picture of your distant relation Horace Greeley. I repatriated it from Ontario, Canada several years ago. Sounds as if you are also working on an interesting project!

  2. Jean Libby on September 20, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Your journalists’ perspective will be very effective, and your search for accuracy that goes with it. Best wishes on the venture.

    Glad to be of help as you continue the journey.

    • Gene Meyer on September 20, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks, Libby. I am truly time-traveling. It is an exciting trip full of new discoveries and surprising insights.

  3. Betty Medsger on September 20, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Good luck, Gene. Glad you are doing this. The Harper’s Ferry project sounds wonderful.

    How do we follow your blog? Simply by bring a friend on FB?


  4. Richard Prince on September 20, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Gene, what an interesting project re John Brown! When I was in Rochester, N.Y., I wrote about Shields Green, who lived in Rochester and told Frederick Douglass, “I believe I’ll go with the old man,” referring to Brown. I believe I urged that a school in Rochester be named after Green.,&source=bl&ots=sXCHiEtuS0&sig=-h6tzXs4E4xv5LWUX6Xvk5iWvk0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI_Iqdmp_PAhXIKh4KHepDCoUQ6AEISDAI#v=onepage&q=%22Shields%20green%22%20Rochester%2C&f=false

    • Gene Meyer on September 21, 2016 at 8:44 am

      This is a famous exchange, which Russell Banks has included in his novelized version of events. I’d be interested to see what you have written. Of the 5 men, the least is known about Shields Green, other than his decision to go “with the old man.” He was a fugitive slave from Charleston, but who was his owner, and was there an advertisement for his capture? Supposedly, he left a son after his wife had died. How did he become acquainted with Frederick Douglass, and even come to live in his home in Rochester, and when and for how long? It is said his former name was Esau Brown, possibly a slave name given him by his owner, and that he was the son of an African prince, hence his nickname “Emperor.” Many, many questions to answer. Any help will be most appreciated.

  5. Gene Meyer on September 21, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Trying to figure that out. I signed up for Mail Chimp, and I think I need to send you an invite. But I’m a babe in these technological woods. AuthorBytes has suggested this would be good fodder for my next Blogpost. Hopefully, I will have solved this mystery before then.

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