Bells will ring far and wide in Norwich Jan.
1 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It will be Norwich’s own Freedom Bell, cast here last June, that will lead the way.
Story by Lisa miceli Feliciano Photos by chris Hetzer
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The Rev. Nicholas Dellerman, in the bell tower at St. Nicholas.
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City Historian Dale Plummer, enveloped by nearby bells.
ivil War re-enactors, dignitaries and a 100-gun salute are scheduled to kick-off festivities Jan. 1 at City Hall and Howard Brown Park. But perhaps most anticipated that day will be the chorus of bells ringing out from churches, firehouses and historic buildings throughout the city, in commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States 150 years ago. For the city’s Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee, the bell ringing is a culmination of nearly two years of planning. Led by Norwich City Historian Dale Plummer, NAACP Norwich Branch education Chairwoman Shiela Hayes and Friends of Norwich Bells President Kevin Harkins, the committee was responsible for planning a series of events in 2012 to bring attention to the commemoration and Norwich’s Civil War history. The idea to bring bells centerstage began when Plummer and Harkins had a discussion about the historic significance of bells and the multitude of them in Norwich. Soon after, Plummer approached local NAACP President Jacqueline Owens with the idea of casting a commemorative bell celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation. A core group interested in the idea formed in February of 2011. “We realized, this is bigger than just the city of Norwich,” said Hayes, vice chairwoman of the committee. A kick-off at City Hall in July 2011 was followed by the launch of an educational
For architect Barun Basu and his team at Barun Basu Associates, designing Norwich’s Freedom Bell tower was “a very special project.” Community projects and historic preservation are among the firm’s many specialties. Basu, who is Hindu, finds bells to be an integral part of ritual to awaken the soul. “Using the bell for the Emancipation Proclamation is significant in terms of conscience; Abraham Lincoln’s spiritual values.” The bell’s tower, a sweeping arch of both brushed and polished steel surrounding the warm bronze of the bell, is a marriage of both historical and modern; a nod to past and future generations. The arch, with black granite at its base, will be lit from underneath, much like a rainbow with solar lights around the perimeter, “reflecting all colors, all people,” according to Basu. A small garden will also complement the structure. Basu hopes for a big impact on school children who will join the celebration, “that they know they helped cast the bell and make history.”
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The Verdin Company, founded in 1842, is a world-renowned, sixth-generation family manufacturer, pioneer and innovator of cast bronze bells, clocks and towers, with the only traveling bell foundry in the world. Verdin’s national manager, Dan Winterich, participated in June’s bell casting of the Norwich Freedom Bell. Recalling Norwich’s warm welcome and excited children, Winterich said that the Norwich Freedom Bell casting event was “the best that we’ve done in one of the most beautiful locations we’ve ever been to.” Verdin is currently working with Norwich-area churches in preparation for January’s festivities. Winterich said the Emancipation Proclamation bell would never be duplicated again and predicted it to be a tourist attraction. “Norwich is a great town; it’s important for Norwich people to ring their bells.”
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Friends of Norwich Bells President Kevin Harkins outside Grace Episcopal Church in Yantic. The church is among those that will participate in the citywide bell ringing Jan.
Friends of the Norwich Bells President Kevin Harkin loves a good party and if bells are included, he’ll be ringing one. Harkins, who is blind, plays piano and organ and with a radio background, has always relished recording audio, especially nature—and bells. About 20 bells, including four circa 1923 bells at his church, Grace Episcopal, will participate in January’s celebration. “It’s going to be beautiful,” said Harkins. “I’m most excited about the kids, giving them an appreciation about history, why it’s important and fun.” Harkins’ focus has been recording and producing album featuring more than 100 bells, from church and railroad bells to ice cream trucks. Recording and pre-production of the album are done. Studio work remains to complete the master and then package the CD, with help from advance orders/ contributions. The group is hoping to raise money through advance orders/contributions to complete the project. To order a Norwich Bells CD for $10, visit the Friends of the Norwich Bells website (www.friendsofthenorwichbells.com) or call 860-319-5717 for more information.
component at Norwich Public Schools and NFA, including student participating in the casting of the Freedom Bell in June. The city manager commissioned a new Lincoln portrait to replace the one stolen from City Hall in 1994. With momentum, the Committee reached out to corporations and financial institutions, Governor Malloy and southeastern Connecticut delegates. Their goal: to reel in $150,000 to cover the casting of the Freedom Bell by the Cincinnati-based Verdin Company, and other events. With $100,000 in state appropriations raised, $75,000 of that made the Freedom Bell casting a reality – and a historical event; it was the first bell cast in Connecticut since 1778, the first ever in Norwich and the first to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation. September saw a Freedom Bell ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (the Civil War’s bloodiest, where 22 Norwich-area Union soldiers lost their lives). In October and November, the Slater Museum presented the exhibit “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” featuring booksign40 • December 2012
ings, panel discussions and walking tours in Lincoln’s path. The New Year’s Day celebration at City Hall Plaza and Howard Brown Park will be a grand finale, cannons at the ready (literally).
Norwich, Lincoln and the Civil War
Norwich is deeply rooted in Civil War history with an intricate industrial past from armaments and textiles to railroads and shipping. To explore Norwich’s connection to the Civil War and to Abraham Lincoln is to understand the emphasis placed on January’s ceremonies— and the unique legacy it will leave. According to City Historian Dale Plummer, Connecticut was a “bell weather state,” a signal of how the country would swing politically in the 1860 national elections. Plummer said that after Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech in New York City in late February of that year, he cannily solicited invitations to give speeches all over southern New England and New Hampshire. Visiting his son Robert Todd
The Rev. Michael Cagle of Norwich rings the Freedom Bell at a ceremony in September at Norwich City Hall. In the foreground, dressed as President Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln, are Lewis Dube and Eileen Baird.
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Lincoln at New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy, he tested the waters as a prelude to pursuing the presidential nomination while supporting Republican candidates along his route with stops in Bridgeport, Hartford, Meriden— and Norwich where anti-slavery Republican “Wide Awakes,” whale-oil lamps in hand, escorted Lincoln from his speech at City Hall to another at the Wauregan Hotel on March 9, 1860. Lincoln came to Connecticut to bolster Norwich Mayor William A. Buckingham’s run for Governor and Buckingham’s win, Plummer said, was in no small part due to Lincoln’s success in attracting big crowds in the state. Buckingham and Lincoln forged a mutual respect and friendship. Buckingham had a defacto office at his Norwich home. He was fervently anti-slavery, and the Connecticut State Library notes that
he rallied support for the boys in blue, overseeing recruitment. Once Congress authorized the enlistment of black troops in 1862, Buckingham pushed to make the state’s first black regiment, the Connecticut 29th, a reality and they mustered the following year.
President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, after rebels ignored his decree (issued following the Yanks’ victory at Antietam in September of 1862) to return to the Union by that date. When Norwich Mayor James Lloyd Greene learned that the signing was complete, he ordered bells throughout Norwich to be rung for one hour on January 2, along with a 100-gun salute that he paid for himself after five Democrats filed an injunction
against payment by the city. “Norwich had the largest and noisiest celebration in Connecticut. It was the biggest salute you could give,” Plummer said. “We thought, ‘What if we could recreate that?’” The notion not only sparked the Freedom Bell project and its bigger picture of the Emanicipation Proclamation Celebration, it jumpstarted Plummer’s and Harkins’ scavenger hunt for every possible bell for ceremony inclusion, from churches to forgotten factories. Norwich would ring again. As of late fall, several churches had signed on including Central Baptist, Grace Episcopal, Greeneville Congregational, Park Congregational, St. Nicholas Orthodox and the Cathedral of St. Patrick.
January 1, 1863 Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation and Norwich celebrates with bells rung, 100-gun salute
February 2011 Norwich Emancipation Proclamation commemorative committee formed
March 2011 Worldrenowned Verdin Company selected for historic Freedom Bell casting
July 2011 Barun Basu Associates selected for freedom bell tower design
June 15 & 16, 2012 Norwich Freedom Bell is cast and polished in Howard Brown Park, Norwich
June 16, 2012 Norwich Freedom Bell presented at Norwich City Hall
September 22, 2012 Norwich Freedcom Bell Tower is dedicated at Norwich City Hall Plaza on Battle of Antietam’s 150th Anniversary
January 1, 2013 The Norwich Freedom Bell – 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation Celebration Freedom Bell rings, Norwich bells ring again
The United Congregational Church, at 87 Broadway. Right: The Central Fire Station bell has been around since the 1850s. Pictured here are: Front row (L to R): Chris Zaugg, Scott Beaudry, Mike Stadnicki, Will Krukoff. Middle row (L to R): Battalion Chief Bradley Keltonic, Capt. Larry Balsley, Lt. Nathan Kannas, Derek Ouillette, Terry Cooper. Back row (L to R): Adam Griffin, Andrew Thomasson, Glenn Watts, Lt. Scott Suplita.
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Grace Episcopal Church in Yantic.
Remembering the past, looking to the future
January’s Freedom Bell-Emancipation Proclamation celebration will crown what has been a steady build of interest in the 250-lb. bronze bell and its resonate meaning. Included on the agenda: a special musical program, honoring participants and delegates from Haiti and the Cape Verde Islands, reflective of the African Diaspora. A special invitation was extended to President Barack Obama, part of the Emancipation Proclamation’s legacy, and is being followed-up. “It would be absolutely spectacular to have him,” said Plummer.
Shiela Hayes spoke of the African American tradition of the Watch Night Service. The service took place in many churches and homes in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed, and as a tradition that continues today, with meaning beyond just ringing in a New Year. Plummer remembers children who, at the June event, gently passed bronze ingots to the Verdin Company’s foundry team. He imagines those children 50 years from now, bringing their grandchildren to see the bell that they helped cast. “I think this bell truly belongs to the city of Norwich. I think Lincoln would be very pleased,” said Plummer.
(Schedule is tentative)
What: The Norwich Freedom Bell – 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation Celebration Where: Norwich City Hall Plaza and Howard T. Brown Park at Chelsea Harbor, Norwich, CT When: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 from noon to 3 p.m. Ceremony will start in front of City Hall at noon. The firing of cannons will commence at 1:10 p.m. in Howard T. Brown Park. A reception will follow at 3 p.m. Visit the Friends of the Norwich Bells website at www. friendsofthenorwichbells.com for more details on the celebration closer to Jan. 1.
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