White oak trees to be dedicated in Norwich to WWI war dead
Norwich ― City Historian Dale Plummer has spent the past three years gathering hundreds of acorns from white oak trees descended from the state’s famous historic charter oak.
He planted them in pots, enlisted help from others to foster the sprouts and cared for them as they grew. In spring, seven healthy charter oak descendant trees were planted at their permanent grounds in Norwich.
These seven trees are the first to be dedicated this fall to the memory of Norwich servicemen who died during World War I. The effort is reviving a post-war tradition of planting trees to honor the war dead. Many of those trees are long gone. Some were short-lived species and have died. Many were planted on private property and have been removed or their purpose forgotten, Plummer said.
“These men should be remembered,” Plummer, chairman of the Norwich World War I Memorial Committee, said.
The dedication of the first four trees will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Park Congregational Church, 283 Broadway, Norwich. The ceremony will be moved inside the church if weather is inclement.
The trees planted on the church lawn honor four soldiers with ties to the church, Robert O. Fletcher, William A. Weeden, Raymond E. Gibson and William E. Perry.
Following the dedication ceremony, participants will walk across Chelsea Parade green to the World War I monument, which lists more than 50 Norwich men who died in the war.
Plummer said the actual number is likely 60 or 70 men. The Norwich World War I Committee has been researching both the number and the backgrounds of the young men to bring their stories to life.
The group learned that Norwich resident John R. Ogden had seven grandsons who served in the war, three of whom, Fletcher, Gibson and Weeden, died either in combat or of illness. Wheeden was married to Ogden’s granddaughter. Fletcher and Weeden lived in the Ogden family home on Lincoln Avenue, a few blocks from the church, Plummer said.
“So, we have two residents in the same house who died in the war,” Plummer said. “That brings home the losses people suffered as the result of this war.”
Three more charter oak descendant trees will be dedicated this fall. At 11 a.m. Oct. 6, a tree planted at the University of Connecticut Agriculture Extension System grounds at Three Rivers Community College will be dedicated to the memory of Wladislaw Szablinski.
Two trees will be dedicated to Italian American descendants, Pasquale Pappagallo and Domenick Barber, at the Norwich Italian Heritage Monument on Chelsea Parade.
“It’s very interesting,” Plummer said. “We’re finding out a lot. Most of these young guys were single without children. But you have people like Szablinski and Wheeden, who were married and had young children, who probably grew up not remembering them.”
To ensure that the memorial white oak trees are maintained in perpetuity, the Norwich World War I Memorial Committee is seeking host sites on public or institutional grounds and business sponsors for future tree plantings.
Anyone interested in hosting or sponsoring a memorial tree should contact Plummer at email@example.com.
Outside Park Church, somewhat protected by the brownstone structure, 10 pots bear trees growing from acorns planted in 2022, ready to be planted in the ground later this fall or in early spring.
Beneath a screen-topped garden box nearby, another 14 acorns collected this spring have sprouted in their pots.
The original charter oak in Hartford became famous, when, according to legend, in 1687 Connecticut Colony officials frantically hid the colony’s 1662 charter that allowed self-governance in the hollow of the giant tree to keep it from being seized by the royal governor-general.
The charter oak blew down in a storm on Aug. 21, 1856, and the state held a funeral for the venerable tree, Plummer said.
“White oak acorns germinate rather quickly,” Plummer said. “Someone had the foresight to plant them.”
In 1976, charter oak descendant trees were planted in towns across the state to mark the nation’s bicentennial. Plummer got permission from the first selectman in Woodbury to collect acorns from the “very productive tree” in that town, he said.
Plummer recently collected 596 acorns from the charter oak descendant tree, planted in 1944 in Windham Center by students at the Windham Center School.
Plummer enlisted help from committee member and former state Troubadour Tom Callinan and from master gardener Terri Groff to plant and nurture the sprouts. Not all the sprouts have survived, so the committee decided to wait several months after initial planting before dedicating the trees.
“Each one has a different shape,” Plummer said. “Some are kind of bushy, some are tall.”
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