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Sheet Metal Man Sweezor returns to downtown Norwich

Norwich — Sweezor, the Sheet Metal Man, made a triumphant return to the downtown Thursday where it will adorn the lobby of the Foundry 66 shared workspace facility, ushering in holidays, dressing for the weather and promoting local events.

Longtime Norwich residents and shoppers might recall Sweezor — a 7-foot-tall statue made of sheet metal and ventilator ductwork — from his original home in the window at Sweezey Sheet Metal Works at 238 Boswell Ave. from 1959 until the shop closed at the end of 1999. The Sheet Metal Man has been stored in a shed since then.

On Thursday, Matthew Forbes and Stephanie Fraijo took a break from their construction work at the Foundry 66 building to take an enclosed truck to the Sweezey shed. There they partially disassembled Sweezor and carefully loaded and hauled him to 66 Franklin St., the former Norwich Bulletin building.

Following in the Sweezey family tradition, Foundry 66 Community Manager Jill Fritzsche plans to dress Sweezor for the holidays, give him an umbrella on rainy days, a scarf or hat on cold days and let him announce upcoming events. She’ll start with hearts for Valentine’s Day next week.

“We have a new tenant!” Fritzsche said as Sweezor’s arms were reattached and the round metal base was placed in the lobby corner.

Fritzsche was excited to learn that Sweezor’s eyes are wired to light up, however the wiring needs to be replaced. Fritzsche hopes to rig it with motion sensors to light up when people approach.

Foundry 66’s welcoming of Sweezor thrilled Francis Sweezey, son of metal shop founder Francis Sweezey Sr. and keeper of the statue for the past two decades. Sweezey Jr. said it’s a fitting new home for Sweezor, since his father worked in semi-retirement for many years tending to the ductwork at the former Bulletin building.

Sweezey Jr., now in his 90s, declined to be interviewed for the story, preferring to remain in the background. But he provided a three-page written history and commentary on Sheet Metal Man and the family business.

“It is so comforting to know that this representative will still be keeping watch over the Bulletin property he knew so well and tended for so many years,” Sweezey Jr. wrote. “As are we, his family, he also would be so proud and pleased that his creation of so long ago has found his permanent home and will continue to be enjoyed by adults, and particularly children, for time to come.”

Sweezey Jr.’s sister Barbara Sweezey, lives in Ledyard. Their brother, Richard, died in 2010.

The wooden sign accompanying Sweezor was the metal shop’s first business sign, Sweezey Jr. wrote. It was hand-painted by an Occum businessman, whose grandson, Fran Houle, now owns Prokop Signs, located in the former Sweezey Metal Works building at 238 Boswell Ave.

The Sheet Metal Man originally was a cartoon illustration that dominated the Sweezey Sheet Metal Works ads in the Norwich Business Directory and the Yellow Pages telephone book — the phone number at one point was TUrner 7-9503.

In 1959, the elder Sweezey created the 7-foot tall statue for his large front display window, “which drew immediate attention from passers-by,” Sweezey Jr. wrote, “especially children.”

For the 1959 celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Norwich, Sweezor was dressed in a Pilgrim hat with a musket at his side. And that Christmas, he was dressed as Santa, with a bookcase full of gifts and hanging stockings, a Christmas tree and a crib with a life-sized doll “peeking at Santa,” Sweezey wrote.

“The display won first prize in the commercial category that year,” he wrote, referring to Norwich’s long-running Christmas house and business decorating contest.

A decade later, in 1969, the younger Sweezey, now working in the shop with his father, tried his hand at creating a metal man. It was a custom order for a customer who wanted it as a surprise gift for his young sons. The “duplicate” metal man was yellow and 5½ feet tall. Sweezey Jr. has a photo of his father inspecting his work before the duplicate was delivered to the customer.

The original Sweezor’s return to downtown Norwich was orchestrated by Jackie Quercia, owner of Norwich Coin and Jewelry, a 32-year business located across from Foundry 66, which just celebrated its first anniversary.

Quercia said Sweezey Jr. came into her shop about 18 months ago as a customer, and the two quickly struck up a friendship, talking about the changes in downtown Norwich over the years. Sweezey told her about Sweezor and said he was looking for a new permanent home for the statue. Quercia took on the task.

“I called libraries, schools and got no response,” Quercia said. “Then I put it on Facebook and (NCDC President) Bob Mills texted me. Mr. Sweezey was so happy.”

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of the Sweezey family name, which was incorrect in the photo captions.


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