Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for KPCC comes from:

The strange story of the abolitionist buried in the Altadena hills

Ways to Subscribe

Owen Brown's grave marker, paid for by the people of Pasadena, stood on its plateau from 1898 to 2002 — when it vanished without a trace.

For some, California in the post-Rancho era seems like a place without a past. But on a remote plateau high above Altadena California, there's a gravesite that says otherwise. 

It's the burial ground of Owen Brown, the abolitionist and son of the notorious anti-slavery activist John Brown, and for over a century it has been a pilgrimage point for local hikers with a taste for history.

Owen Brown's grave, photographed in 1907
Collection of Paul Ayers
Owen Brown's grave, photographed in 1907

Owen stood with his father as part of the Harper's Ferry raid in 1859, an attack launched by the Brown clan and others against the Federal government, which was intended to cause a slave uprising. In 1856, Owen also served under his father's command in Kansas as a guerrilla warrior during a bloody period of slavery-related unrest. He is believed to have taken part in the massacre of five unarmed pro-slavery militiamen there, acting on his father's orders. 

After the Civil War, Owen Brown followed his sister Ruth west to Pasadena, where he became a hero to the local population as the last surviving participant in the Harper's Ferry raid. Shunning the spotlight, Owen moved up into Altadena's hill country, and died there. 

An abandoned car marks the former spot of the Owen Brown cabin
R. H. Greene
An abandoned car marks the former spot of the Owen Brown cabin

Owen's grave marker was paid for by public subscription of the people of Pasadena, a sign of the town's respect for him. It remained on its plateau from 1898 through 2002, and then vanished without a trace.

And therein lies a tale.   

Click the blue bar to listen to R. H. Greene's story about Owen Brown's grave marker.

Stay Connected