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Stonington — American flags peeked out from storefronts along the streets of the borough Sunday as a stream of 19th-century American military officers and musical groups made their way to the green in front of the library.
The Battle of Stonington bicentennial parade drew thousands of onlookers, eager to celebrate local history and reminisce about the history of the parade itself.
“Not too many places are like this anymore,” said Anne Larkin, of Long Island. Larkin said she was visiting town that weekend to see her sister and the parade.
A few blocks away, 10th-generation Stonington resident Rieta Babcock Palmer Park, 68, led the front of the parade, wearing the same bejeweled Athenian-looking helmet her grandmother Rieta Babcock Palmer did at age 38 in the centennial parade.
Deeper in the parade lineup, grand marshal Anna North Coit road in a minivan. Coit, age 106, saw the centennial parade at age 6.
The Battle of Stonington was not a strategically important moment in the War of 1812, according to local author James Tertius deKay, author of “The Battle of Stonington: Torpedoes, Submarines and Rockets in the War of 1812.” Still, the small group of villagers’ ability to repel British Navy forces during four days in August 1814 was psychologically significant at the time, deKay has said. The piece of history continues to stoke local pride.
The parade wound past Cannon Square, which holds the two large cannons used in the battle, before parade participants and viewers bled onto the green.
Two members of Sailing Masters of 1812 Fife and Drum Corps, Bob Miorelli, of Glastonbury, and Mark Chiarmonte, of Clinton, stood on the edge of the green with their fifes tucked into their boots as the parade slowed to a halt. Both donned U.S. Navy garb from the period of the war. Chiarmonte had removed his woolen jacket and draped it over his arm, while Miorelli remained fully costumed, shrugging off the sunny mid-August heat.
“What a great day for a parade,” remarked Miorelli, commenting on the historic significance of the commemorated battle.
As the drumming, humming and rhythmic marching tapered off, organizers introduced a series of politicians and others who spoke about the significance of the battle. Gov. Dannel Malloy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Joe Courtney, Sen. Chris Murphy and borough Warden Jeffrey Callahan were among those who spoke.
“They were outgunned, but they were not out-spirited or outmanned,” Blumenthal said of the villagers who defeated the British Navy 200 years ago.
Malloy referred to Stonington as “a special place here in Connecticut.”
“It is an American holiday. It is an American Gothic picture that I see before me,” he said to the crowd.
Stonington Historical Society President Henry “Rob” Palmer said he was “thrilled” with the parade. The event served as the capstone of a weekend of celebration, for which the society even ordered special neckties. Callahan wore a stylish bowtie with the phrase “Battle of Stonington” stitched into its pattern.
Palmer, who co-chaired the parade and is the brother of Park, estimated that roughly 3,000 people came out to watch the parade of 350 to 450 participants.
He said that the town had hosted a smattering of parades to honor the battle since the centennial parade, but had not planned a parade in the last 30 to 40 years.
“We know it’s the most important event in our town’s history,” he said of the battle.