Lincoln's ghost in Norwich Tuesday

Norwich When presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln came to Norwich on March 9, 1860, Connecticut was abuzz about the rousing anti-slavery speech he had recently delivered in New York.

The Connecticut chapter of the Wide Awakes, a political rallying committee for Lincoln, prepared fitting welcomes for his tour through the Nutmeg State, while Gov. William A. Buckingham was looking for an election boost of his own.

That scene of political fervor and angst will return to Norwich on Tuesday, the 150th anniversary to the day of Lincoln's campaign swing through Gov. Buckingham's hometown.

As was the case 150 years ago, organizers of this event hope the public will shout cheers of welcome and support as the presidential candidate makes his speech and then parades with the crowd to the Wauregan Hotel for an evening of talk and songs both political and patriotic.

"We certainly hope people get into it and shout and cheer for Lincoln," said Vic Butsch, chairman of the Norwich 150th Civil War Anniversary Event Committee, which organized the Lincoln re-enactment.

The committee printed 250 free tickets for the portions of Tuesday's event with limited seating. Butsch was amazed that all have been claimed. A few seats, an overflow room and the outdoor procession will be open to those without tickets.

Tuesday's event will kick off the committee's five-year 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War.

Lincoln, portrayed by Howard Wright, a real-bearded man nearly as tall as Lincoln, will arrive at City Hall escorted by Gov. Buckingham, played by retired history teacher Richard Silocka. In 1860, Lincoln spoke at City Hall, then located on Jail Hill near the downtown. For the re-enactment, the ornate modern City Council chambers will serve.

Current Mayor Peter Nystrom, also a Republican, will welcome the honored guests and the public. Norwich Free Academy students who have researched the era will give the audience an overview of events leading up to the election and the resulting Civil War.

In 1860, Lincoln spoke for two hours. But on Tuesday, the entire City Hall program will take about 50 minutes.

The gathered crowd will await at the front steps of City Hall, where a dozen torchbearers from the Wide Awakes will be ready to line the processional route to the Wauregan.

The 21st century unavoidably will invade Lincoln's visit Tuesday, but organizers have tried to cut the intrusion with real torches, costumes borrowed or rented from theater groups and the cooperation of Norwich Police. Union Square and lower Broadway will be closed to traffic from about 6:50 p.m. until about 7 p.m., and most streetlights will be shut off to allow the real torches to light the way.

At the Wauregan, the public will get about a half hour to mingle with Lincoln and take photographs. They can view several historical displays on the Civil War, Lincoln, 1860 Norwich and Connecticut's role in the Civil War.

Norwich resident and original state troubadour Tom Callinan will emcee the Wauregan program. The singing group the NFA Ambassadors will kick off that event with the modern National Anthem. Callinan later will sing "Hail Columbia," the unofficial national anthem of the era.

Callinan discovered the Wide Awakes 1860 songbook, with campaign songs hailing Lincoln and telling opponent Stephen Douglas to "get out the way." The lyrics were set to popular tunes still familiar today. Callinan wants the audience to join in on the choruses.

Lincoln then will take the podium to talk casually about himself and recite the Gettysburg Address.

Modernity again will intervene, but this time for fun. NFA history and journalism students have made a DVD of 1860 election night coverage that will be broadcast at the Wauregan Ballroom.

Students preparing for the event attended a final planning session Tuesday at City Hall. Committee member Brian Kobylarz offered a bit of costuming advice to the torchbearers.

"The important thing is to remove the modern accoutrements, the cell phone, the I-Pod," Kobylarz said.

Lincoln Re-enactment

Schedule of the re-enactment of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln's visit to Norwich on Tuesday, March 9.

6 to 6:50 p.m.

City Hall

• Welcome by Mayor Peter Nystrom

• Historical overviews by Norwich Free Academy students Stephanie Burke and Victoria Dearborn

• Gov. William A. Buckingham speech

• Keynote address by candidate Lincoln

• Historical perspective by NFA student Stephen Piotrkowski

• Departing words by Mayor Nystrom

6:50 to 7 p.m.

Public torch-lit procession to Wauregan Hotel

• Traffic will be halted along Union Square and lower Broadway.

7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Wauregan Hotel

• Patriotic and period campaign songs by NFA Ambassadors and Tom Callinan

• DVD broadcast of the 1860 election results

• Musings by Lincoln

• Gettysburg Address by Lincoln

• Questions and answers

Event sponsored by Norwich 150th Civil War Anniversary Event Committee

Funded by Dime Bank, Norwich Public Utilities

Services provided by City of Norwich and Norwich Free Academy and Miranda Creative

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