BENNINGTON -- Despite holiday Willow Park activities and fireworks being postponed until Sunday night, some first-time Independence Day activities brought residents out on Friday.
Roughly 100 Bennington residents turned out for the very first "Old Bennington Sidewalk March to the Monument" at noon. With no formal parade usually held on the Fourth of July, social media video-marketing expert and new Benningtonian Jeff Grimshaw came up with an idea to start something new for the fourth this year.
"I moved here from the (Washington) D.C. area about a year ago," Grimshaw said. "I went to the reading of the Declaration of Independence last year, and it was attended by about 30 people. Then that evening, I went to the fireworks and there were 15,000 people and I thought, what's wrong with this picture?"
Shortly thereafter, Grimshaw joined the Friends of the Bennington Battle Monument and helped the group develop a presence on social media. He wanted to help give the historical landmark more of a voice when it comes to historical events.
"What if we could create an event to bring more people right to the doorstep for the reading of the Declaration of Independence," Grimshaw said. "There's no parade: Let's have a parade."
To incentivise families and children to come to the makeshift parade, participants were given coupons for free ice cream at the Vermont Confectionery, free tennis lessons at the Bennington Tennis Center and two-for-one passes to Vermont historic sites.
Using media and bringing people in by word of mouth, the Friends of the Monument gathered residents at the catamount statue at the corner of Monument Avenue and Main Street. Led by digital recordings of historic songs and a marching percussion of children, the community marched up the sidewalk to the monument.
Vt. Rep. Mary Morrissey, Bennington 2-2, Bennington Select Board Chairman Greg Van Houten, Selectman Michael Keane, Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Director Joann Erenhouse and state representative candidates Kiah Morris and Brandy Reynolds attended the event.
"It's the right thing," Keane said. "I'm glad that one of our new residents (and his family) have decided to take this on. It really says something about the value of new people coming into Bennington with new ideas."
Keane called the march a "citizen movement," unlike a really organized parade. "People come and they can march 10 yards or they can march all of the way up for the reading of the Declaration of Independence," he said.
A much greater turnout than last year, about 80 people gathered inside the Old First Church Barn for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, recited by local actor Willy Jones.
After the reading, the Bennington Rotary Club held a "traditional" bell ringing ceremony in front of the town offices using the USS Bennington Bell on South Street. Simultaneous with many other New England towns, the bell was struck 13 times at 2 p.m. by various community members, one for each of the original 13 colonies.
Miss Vermont Outstanding Teen Alexina Federhen struck the bell once more for the 14th state to become recognized by the union: Vermont.
Though this was Bennington's first time participating in the bell-ringing event, it has been traditional for many municipalities. American landscape painter, patriot and author Eric Sloane believed that churches and public bells should ring for four minutes at 2 p.m. on Independence Day to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The Bennington fireworks show is now scheduled for Sunday, July 6, as a rain date, at 8:45 p.m. in Willow Park.
Contact Tom Momberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg