Norwich making big plans for Emancipation Proclamation anniversary in 2013

Norwich - The New Year arrived quietly here this weekend, with no public celebrations or fireworks or fanfare.

But one year from today, reverberations might still be in the air and ears might still be ringing with the aftereffects of what organizers hope will be an authentic re-enactment of the euphoria that struck the city Jan. 1, 1863.

On that day, President Abraham Lincoln's historic Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in the southern states took effect. Norwich, a hotbed of abolition sentiment, broke out in celebration. The mayor ordered bells throughout the city to be rung for one hour and a 100-gun salute fired. It is said the noise caused livestock to stampede and horses to rear out of control, says city Historian Dale Plummer.

To mark the 150th anniversary, the Norwich Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee plans a re-enactment of the 1863 celebration, with church and tower bells to be rung for one hour at noon and a 100-cannon salute to be offered by military re-enactors.

The committee also hopes to make history by commissioning what could be the first Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Bell in the nation. The committee is working with the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, a bell manufacturing company founded in 1842, to bring the company's mobile bell casting trailer to the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park to cast a 155-pound bronze bell for Norwich.

Fundraising is under way for the project, dubbed "Freedom Will Ring," to pay for the custom casting of the bell on June 15 as part of the NAACP's annual Juneteenth festival, which also celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation, and to erect a specially built tower outside City Hall to hold the bell permanently.

The Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee, co-chaired by Plummer and NAACP Education Coordinator Shiela Hayes, has raised about $20,000 in donations and pledges and has several fundraisers scheduled in the next several months.

The committee hopes to have the $75,000 bell paid for by the June 15 casting. The first ringing of the bell is planned for the following day at Juneteenth. NAACP President Jacqueline Owens, a member of the committee, has donated $1,000. Mayor Peter Nystrom, also a member, has pledged to match her donation.

The committee also has received $250 each from United Community and Family Services and the Thames Valley Council for Community Action.

Norwich Public Utilities has pledged to provide the propane needed to fire up the bell furnace at no charge.

Members hope to have another $75,000 in hand by Sept. 22, when the tower is slated to be erected and the bell will be rung again to mark the date of Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The committee is selling memorial bricks for $100 and $200 for the patio that will surround the tower.

Then they'll need more money - an uncertain figure at this time - to cover the Jan. 1, 2013, celebration.

Despite the ambitious goals, Plummer is optimistic that enough money will be raised to cover all three aspects of the project.

"We're finding a lot of enthusiasm for this project," he said.

The committee sent letters last week to individuals and businesses seeking donations, ranging from $25 to the $1,000 diamond level sponsorship. Those who donate $500 or more would receive a small commemorative bronze bell. Those donating $1,000 or more would have their names listed on a permanent plaque at the bell tower.

Fundraiser events start this week with the annual popular Twelfth Night Medieval Feast. The Norwich Lions Club will co-sponsor the event, a collaboration that likely will be repeated for future fundraisers, Plummer said.

In February, the first re-enactment event is planned, with a "rematch" of the famous debate between 1858 U.S. Senate candidates Lincoln and incumbent Stephen Douglas. Lincoln will be portrayed by Lewis Dube, who has visited Norwich in the past as Lincoln, and Luke Boyd, a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University, will be Douglas.

Other events and fundraisers also tied to historic events of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation will be planned throughout 2012 to gear up for the main event Jan. 1, 2013.

Ideas for the Jan. 1 celebration also are pouring in, Plummer said, with one suggestion for an Emancipation Proclamation Ball that night.

c.bessette@theday.com

Anniversary details

Fundraisers
Friday, Jan. 6:
Twelfth Night Medieval Feast, 6:30 p.m., Central Baptist Church, 2 Union Square, Norwich. Tickets $30 at the door if available. $50 for high table. Call 860-887-0370 for information.
Friday, Feb. 10: Lincoln-Douglas Debate, 6 p.m., Three Rivers Community College, 574 New London Turnpike, Norwich. Tickets $10 including dinner, $5 for children and students. Contact city historian office at 860-859-5349 for information and to make reservations.
Sunday, Sept. 23: Concert by "Take Note," a 23-member a cappella choir, 3 p.m., St. Mary's Church, Central Ave., Greeneville. Donations welcome.

Donations
Donation checks for Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee (EPCC) should be made out to City of Norwich EPCC and sent to City of Norwich - EPCC, Finance Department, 100 Broadway, Norwich CT 06360.

Volunteers, sponsors
For information, contact Dale Plummer at the city historian's office at (860) 859-5349.

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