Norwich ready to celebrate Emancipation Proclamation

Norwich - A number of different events will come together later this week during a four-day festival to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, including the schooner Amistad's first visit to the city, creation of the nation's first bell to mark the historic event, a Civil War encampment, live music and a visit by the governor for a tourism luncheon.

"It's an adventure, I'll tell you that," said Norwich City Historian Dale Plummer of the logistics involved in planning Norwich "Freedom Will Ring" weekend to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln that freed slaves in the rebellious southern states.

Plummer is co-chairman of the Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee that has raised money and coordinated events for the June 14-17 event at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park and the Norwichtown Green.

The committee was formed in February 2011 to plan a year's worth of activities to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation with lectures, historic re-enactments - including a truncated version of the famous 1858 Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates - and public celebrations.

The committee is close to reaching its goal of raising $150,000 - thanks to a recent $100,000 grant from the state - and contracted with the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati to bring the company's mobile bell foundry to Brown Park Thursday to cast the first Emancipation Proclamation Bell, a 250-pound bronze bell.

If tide and time come together as planned, the bell foundry will arrive between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Thursday as the Amistad - a replica of the 19th century ship that made famous a group of kidnapped Africans' fight for freedom - makes its way up the Thames River to dock at Brown Park.

The Amistad, making its first port of call in nearly two years since it suffered damage on a voyage to Cuba, will need to lower its tallest mast to navigate beneath the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge. Amistad America President Greg Belanger was excited to join the Norwich celebration and waived the normal port fee. The ship will be open for free tours on Friday and Saturday.

When it arrives, the Amistad will hold its own bell ceremony as it docks. The crew has a tradition of ringing the ship's bell 53 times for the number of African captives aboard in 1839.

The bell casting is expected to take nearly two hours Friday evening, with live music and other entertainment filling the time as the foundry crew does its work.

The bell will be broken out of its mold Saturday morning as part of the opening ceremony for the annual Juneteenth Day festival. Live entertainment, award presentations and demonstrations will take place while Verdin Co. crews polish the bell and prepare it for its inaugural ringing that evening.

At 5:45 p.m., a parade is expected to gather at Brown Park and march to present the bell to its permanent home in the plaza in front of City Hall. The cornerstone of a bell frame - designed by New London architect Barun Basu Associates - will be laid by the Masonic Prince Hall Grand Lodge F&AM.

Norwich Harbor won't be the only setting for the weekend festival. On Friday evening, re-enactors with the 8th and 14th Connecticut regiments will arrive at the Norwichtown Green for a re-enactment to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Camp Aiken in Norwich.

According to participants Don Hamel and Alan Crane, two regiments of volunteers were mustered and trained in Norwich before marching south to fight in the Civil War.

This weekend, Union troop re-enactors will recreate scenes of what life was like for the Norwich soldier in the Civil War.

In a period-style encampment, visitors will be able to visit an authentic Civil War camp, talk to re-enactors and hear presentations on equipment, camp life, drill, period food and musket firing. Drill and firing demonstrations are planned for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

All Freedom Weekend events at Brown Park and the Norwichtown Green are free and open to the public. Copies of the Freedom Weekend program with a full schedule of events is available at Norwich at City Hall and the city historian's office at 307 Main St. and is online at

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