BENNINGTON -- The Bennington Battle Monument opens for the season Saturday, but the historical site has been receiving visitors all along.
"We get people all the time, whether we're open or not," Marylou Chicote said, as people toured the grounds Friday. The state historic site's administrator since 1991, Chicote said between 30,000 and 35,000 visitors saw the inside of the monument annually.
But "I think that's one-third of what we see (at the site itself)," she continued.
A trip up the monument is warranted by General Burgoyne's cooking kettle and the turn-of-the-century construction -- as well as the views from the top of Bennington and the surrounding states. Don't forget to sign the guestbook: Chicote said the journal of people who signed in from 1913 would be open each day to the appropriate date 100 years ago. (A reunion last Sept. 12 found an entry with the same family name on that date in 1912, she said.)
"We get people from all over the world. ... In one day, we'll have Pittsfield, Hoosick Falls, Clifton Park, the Netherlands, Germany."
Opened in 1891 after four years of construction, the 306-foot monument is the tallest man-made structure in Vermont. Commemorating the Battle of Bennington -- which took place Aug. 16, 1777, across the state border in Walloomsac, N.Y. -- the monument stands on the ground of a Continental military storehouse that was the objective of the British attack.
As students of history know, the Redcoats were repelled, marking a turning point of the American Revolution.
Chicote said the same site was also the location for Battle Day celebrations prior to the obelisk's construction, "so when they decided to build the monument -- this (location) made sense."
The lightbulb at the top is a regular 90-watt incandescent "traffic signal" bulb that has to be changed slightly more often than once a year. A red cap goes over to warn planes per Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Events at the monument this year include:
* May 18: The 5th annual Climb for Air monument climb, a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. The local event is one-of-a-kind in that it's the only ALA stair climb that takes place inside a historic monument, according to organizers. Last year's event raised nearly $44,000.
* June 23: "Yoga on the lawn." Enjoy the summer solstice and the longest day of the year with yoga on the monument grounds, and a salutation to the sun.
* July 4: Reading of the Declaration of Independence. A long-running annual tradition, local actor Willy Jones will read the declaration at the monument's steps at 1 p.m. Discussion and audience input will follow with the event free and open to the public.
* July 13: Stepping Up -- guided tours up the monument's steps. A once-a-year event (if not climbing during the ALA fundraiser), the full flight of steps up the monument will be open to the public for guided tours. (Normally, visitors must take the elevator two-thirds of the way up before climbing to the observation floor for insurance reasons.)
* Aug. 17-18: Living History Encampment during Bennington Battle Days. Drill presentations, musket and artillery demonstrations, education exhibits, and children's activities are ongoing and free and open to the public. The Battle Day 5k road race is Saturday, Aug. 17.
The monument is the first state historic site in Vermont to open each year, and it will remain open daily through Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission tickets are available at the gift shop for $3 for adults, $1 for children. Group rates are available if arranged in advance while scheduled school groups can get in at no cost. For more information visit www.benningtonbattlemonument.com or call (802) 447-0550.
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