Bells, cannons, Lincoln re-enactors to mark proclamation's 150th

Norwich - The New Year won't ring in quietly in Norwich.

Years of planning and preparations will come to fruition on Jan. 1, 2013, as the city marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation with a bang. The celebration will be a re-enactment of the city's response to then-Mayor James Lloyd Greene's call in 1863 for bells to ring and shots to be fired in celebration of Lincoln's landmark document.

"It's going to be rather noisy in Norwich on New Year's Day," warned Dale Plummer, city historian and chairman of the Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee. "Don't drink too much on New Year's Eve."

The celebration will begin at about 11:45 a.m., when Lincoln re-enactor Lewis Dube will give brief remarks in the second-floor lobby of City Hall in front of the 1860 Lincoln campaign banner. He will then sign a replica copy of the proclamation that declared slaves freed in the rebellious southern states.

Current Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom then will lead the bell-ringing celebration outside in the City Hall plaza by ringing the city's new Freedom Bell, a 250-pound bronze cast last summer as the nation's first bell to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation. The bell will be erected in its temporary frame; in spring, a new permanent bell tower will be constructed in the plaza to house the bell.

Everyone in attendance will be offered the opportunity to ring the Freedom Bell, Plummer said, perhaps for the last time.

"Once it's in the tower, they won't be able to do that," Plummer said.

At noon, bells throughout the city in churches, schools and other locations will join in the ringing for an hour.

During that same hour, Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (portrayed by Eileen Baird), will make their way to the Wauregan Ballroom, where they will greet the public.

In the Wauregan lobby will be a Postal Service station offering custom-designed First Day cover envelopes depicting the Emancipation Proclamation and a draped American flag and a special postmark cancellation stamp for the "Let Freedom Ring Station, Norwich, CT."

At 1 p.m., the Lincolns will lead a procession from the Wauregan to the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, where six cannons will be at the ready for a 100-gun salute aimed across Norwich Harbor and down the Thames River.

Civil War re-enactors from the Second Connecticut Light Artillery, the Ninth Massachusetts Light Artillery, Battery B of the First Rhode Island Light Artillery and the Mounted Artillery of New England will fire the Civil War period cannons.

When the last echo of the cannons' roar dies down after about a half hour, the celebration will move to the Slater Memorial Museum at Norwich Free Academy.

There, at 2 p.m., a speaking program will feature several re-enactors of notable Civil War figures, including a different Lincoln re-enactor, Howard Wright. Other speakers will portray Connecticut Civil War Gov. William A. Buckingham of Norwich, Frederick Douglass, Norwich Mayor James Lloyd Greene, James L. Smith - an escaped slave who became a successful Norwich businessman - and David Ruggles, who helped escaped slaves make their way to safety.

The Rev. KR Al'Quhhaar, who lost a leg fighting in the Vietnam War, will portray a wounded Union soldier from the 29th Connecticut Volunteers, a unit of mostly black soldiers.

Music for the event will be provided by Tom Callinan, the first official state troubadour, a Norwich resident and also a Civil War re-enactor. Callinan has written several songs about Connecticut's role in the Civil War and a song about Norwich's rich tradition of bell ringing.

The AME Zion Church Choir also will perform.

All events are free and open to the public. The Emancipation Proclamation Committee has been raising money for the Freedom Bell and for the Jan. 1 celebration.

The committee has a limited number of smaller replicas made by the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, which cast the city's Freedom Bell, available for sale.

"The bells are of bronze," said Kevin Harkins, president of the Friends of the Norwich Bells, "and are made by casting molten bronze into molds, just as the Norwich Freedom Bell was made this summer."

Fifty numbered collectors' edition 8-inch bells with a handle have a duplicate of the inscription on the Norwich Freedom Bell and are $250.

Smaller 5-inch bells are being sold for $75 each. The replica bells are available at the City Clerk's office at City Hall.

c.bessette@theday.com

Jan. 1 Norwich celebration

11:45 a.m., City Hall: President Lincoln, portrayed by Lewis Dube, signs the proclamation and gives brief remarks.
Noon, City Hall: Mayor Peter Nystrom leads hour-long bell-ringing to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Noon, Wauregan Hotel: President Lincoln and wife Mary Todd Lincoln greet visitors at the Wauregan Ballroom. Postal Station with special cancellation open in Wauregan lobby.
1 p.m., Howard T. Brown Memorial Park: 100-gun cannon salute to mark the anniversary.
2 p.m., Slater Memorial Museum: Speaking and music program on the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War.
For more information, contact Plummer at cityhistorian@norwichct.org, or call (860) 859-5349.

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