The Box Trick

Henry stood outside of his rented Richmond home staring at the approaching wagon. He’d had time to consider this moment for some time but now that it was upon him, his mind drew blank. The tears that had left their tracks on his cheeks were gone and his mouth was dry and numb, unable to form the words he’d wanted to say even if the words had come.

He stepped out into the road as the wagon passed slowly by. In the back, covered with a canvas awning, sat a pregnant woman and three children, all in chains and crying. Henry reached out and grasped the woman’s hand and walked beside them until the pace of the wagon quickened. He remained motionless in the middle of the street as the faces peering back at him grew smaller and smaller.

“Out of the way, slave!”

Henry narrowly avoided the second wagon coming from behind and he felt the hot breath of the horse team on his neck. He looked up blankly at the driver. It was the Methodist minister who’d purchased his wife of twelve years, along with their children, for work in the swamps of North Carolina. The minister leaned over and spoke down to him calmly.

“Don’t pout; you’re permitted to find another wife...”

Twenty-five years later, Henry was living the good life. He’d become a successful author, speaker, and showman in England – as a magician. He worked hard to refine his act and the crowds that came to see him as the “African Prince” had their favorite tricks and would call them out to him at each show. But Henry Brown’s best trick, he’d only performed once – on March 23, 1849, when he stuffed himself into a 3’ x 2’ box and express-mailed himself to freedom in Philadelphia.


Dr. Rob Rob said...

A neat trick too; these 300 words of yours compelled me to find out more about Master Brown.

cyurkanin said...

Thanks for the comment Dr! It appears that the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester has an interactive presentation of Box Brown too, or at least they used to.

Enbrethiliel said...


Heartbreaking and mindboggling all at once.

(Oh, look! Six words!)

cyurkanin said...

I didn't have a way to fit it into the story but there's something else "mindboggling" about him also: In his book, there is plea for donations from readers (added in by his co-author) for help in raising the $1200 that the slave-owner was asking to buy his wife's freedom. Brown became very wealthy from the sales of his book, his speaking-tours, and from his mesmerism shows but never again showed the slightest interest in even finding anything out about what became of his family. His partner and co-author, actually broke off his own relationship with him over it while in England. I guess Brown ended up taking that Methodist minister's advice because he even married an Englishwoman and returned with her and their new children to the States in 1879 as a family act... kind of puts a damper on the "neatness" factor of his sole heroic act, huh?

Enbrethiliel said...


Yes, it does. =(

And you know, I wondered about that. (Anyone would, after the way this post begins.) I already thought it was strange that you didn't mention him reuniting with his family in this post--and even stranger that the link didn't give any closure to that chapter of his story--but then again, it's what overshadows everything else about him.

Prixie said...

I can't believe I found this blog. Reason I say this is because I have been procrastinating with my 300 Words a Day Challenge for my short stories/fairy tales for ages!

This is more than a sign, it is my muse kicking my butt!

cyurkanin said...

Muses rock :)