Norwich marks historic anniversary with bells, cannon, speeches

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Wed., Jan. 9, 2013
The Freedom Bell, cast in Norwich this summer, was temporarily installed in the City Hall courtyard for the anniversary events.
The Freedom Bell, cast in Norwich this summer, was temporarily installed in the City Hall courtyard for the anniversary events.

Bells, cannon and speeches rang in the new year in Norwich, as the city marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1. Starting at noon, bells in steeples throughout the city rang out, just as they did on Jan. 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The proclamation declared that “all persons held as slaves within any state [including the rebellious Confederate states]… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Lonnie Braxton II and his son, Lonnie III, patiently waited in line in front of City Hall for their turn to pull the cord and ring the Freedom Bell, cast last summer to commemorate the proclamation. “This is an auspicious occasion,” said the elder Braxton. “I grew up in Mississippi. [My son] is a big history buff. This is very important to us.”

Lincoln portrayer Lewis Dube fielded questions from a sizeable crowd at the Wauregan Hotel, where the real Lincoln stayed during his 1860 campaign swing through Norwich. Dube told his listeners that the Emancipation Proclamation would have been “nothing more than a bunch of words but for the soldiers who put their lives at risk for our country.”

Later, the Slater Museum’s theater hosted re-enactors portraying a cast of characters from Civil War-era Norwich. The characters ranged from Lincoln to his staunch supporter, Norwich native Gov. William Buckingham, to escaped slave turned Methodist preacher James Smith, to Aaron Dwight Stevens, a Lisbon native who was hanged for his role in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom presented State House Deputy Speaker Kevin Ryan (D-139) with a replica of the Freedom Bell, which ultimately will be presented to President Barack Obama.

Keynote speaker at the Slater event was former Rhode Island chief justice and Lincoln authority Frank Williams, who drew a loud ovation when he told the crowd that "this is the only city and [Lincoln-related] event I’ve been to where African-Americans and Anglos are together in the same room. In our broken nation that we have today, as we did during the Civil War, we need this more than ever.”

The day’s events also included a 100-gun artillery salute by members of several Civil War re-enactment units at Howard Brown Park, and the sale of first-day covers with commemorative stamps marking the anniversary.


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