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Freedom rings in Norwich

Norwich — There were a few sparks, streams of bright orange molten bronze heated to nearly 2,200 degrees, and within seconds the declaration that "the Norwich bell has been cast."

The 104th bell cast by the Verdin Bell Co. of Cincinnati was the first in the nation to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Company Vice President David Verdin gave the more than 100 people who gathered near the company's unique mobile bell foundry a play-by-play of the 10-minute operation.

The 250-pound bell will be broken out of its mold this morning at about 10, and after Verdin crews spend much of Juneteenth Day sanding and polishing the bell, a parade will accompany it from Howard T. Brown Memorial Park to City Hall, where a frame will be built as its permanent home.

Dozens of elementary and middle school students from Norwich got the chance Friday morning to "make history" as they formed a bronze-ingot brigade and passed along small nuggets to be placed in the Verdin Bell Co.'s vat.

"This is a spectacular turnout of school kids," Verdin said. "We're here casting a bell for freedom."

The city's Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee contracted with Verdin to forge the $75,000 bell to commemorate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's declaration that slaves in the southern rebellious states were freed.

Friday morning's ceremony featured leaders of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes giving greetings to more than 400 Norwich schoolchildren on hand for the ceremony on their final day of school.

Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, executive director of the Mohegan Tribal Nation's Department of Culture and Community Programs, offered a blessing for the bell in both English and the Mohegan language. "Great spirit, we thank you for our freedom," she said. "We thank you for our ancestors, who fought for our freedom."

Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, reminded the crowd that Native Americans were among the first slaves in the Western Hemisphere, as captured tribal members were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves. He also noticed President Lincoln, portrayed by Lewis Dube, standing at the back of the crowd.

Lincoln was invited to the head of the ingot parade, which featured students in second through eighth grade who had participated in an essay contest on the Emancipation Proclamation.

The bell casting is part of a three-day celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation that includes a Juneteenth festival today at Brown Park, a Civil War encampment on the Norwichtown Green and the first visit to Norwich by the historic replica schooner Amistad at Brown Park.

The Friday evening ceremony started with the Amistad's tradition of ringing the ship's bell 53 times for the 53 kidnapped Africans aboard in 1839 in the voyage that made the Amistad famous. The Africans broke free of their chains, captured the crew and ended up in Long Island Sound. In a landmark trial, they won their freedom.

The Amistad rang its bell a 54th time "for the millions who were lost in the transit," emcee Art Mueller said.


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