BENNINGTON — It won't be quite the same, but a local group plans to make Bennington Battle Day 2020 memorable despite the loss of the annual parade amid the coronavirus epidemic.
The committee formed following cancellation of the traditional Battle Day Parade earlier this month because of the difficulty of holding planning meetings while COVID-19 remains a threat to public health.
While the form of this year's commemoration will depend on public safety considerations and compliance with distancing restrictions in place on Battle Day, Aug. 16, the committee resolved at its first videoconference session that some kind of public commemoration should take place.
"This group has come together to commemorate Battle Day in order to keep this important day alive in the community's mind," Town Manager Stuart Hurd said Wednesday. "As we move towards Vermont's 250th anniversary of the [August 1777] battle, it would be too bad to lessen the celebration that the Fire Department works so hard to bring the community every year. We'll see what comes of the effort."
Commemorations of the historic Revolutionary War battle have been held in Bennington every year since 1778, the first anniversary of the encounter between American forces and volunteers and a contingent of a British army invading from Canada.
"Bennington Battle Day is our own unique piece of history, and hopefully the day we fail to celebrate it never comes," said Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell. "But like everything else in the near future, this summer's celebration will be shaped by keeping people safe and healthy. It may not be the same but it can still be great."
Battle Day festivities normally are held throughout the week, leading to the parade on Sunday afternoon. The parade and many of the events are planned and overseen by the Bennington Fire Department, which in mid-April said the necessary planning would be impossible because of distancing requirements imposed by the state at least through mid-May and likely longer.
Citizen input sought
"We know that this year's commemoration will be different in form and tone from what we're used to," said Jonah Spivak, one of the leaders of the effort, "but we see that as an opportunity to create an event that is responsive to these challenging times."
In a media release Wednesday, the committee said it welcomes input from the public on what would make for a meaningful Battle Day celebration this year, and the group has set up and email account to receive suggestions. Those can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Bennington Battle Day 2020 committee said they also are happy to be contacted individually.
They are Jerry and Mary Lou Albert, co-owners of Bennington Cooling and Heating and past presidents of the Bennington Rotary and Bennington Lions, respectively; Shannon Barsotti, town Community Development director; Marylou Chicote, site director of the Bennington Battle Monument; Mary Ostrander Crawford, secretary of the Bennington Fire Department; Mike Cutler, creative content coordinator with CAT-TV; Rick Knapp, past chief of the Bennington Fire Department; Phil Holland, writer; Hurd; Deana Mallory, director of public programs for the Bennington Museum; Don Miller, president of the Bennington Historical Society; Sarah Perrin, co-owner of Green Mountain Concessions and member of the Select Board; Jonah Spivak, co-owner of Hawkins House and past president of the Chamber of Commerce; Joshua Torrance, executive director of the Bennington Museum; Patrick Winburn, attorney and moderator for the Village of Old Bennington, and James Wright, chief of the Bennington Fire Department.
After holding the initial organizational meeting, the committee now expects to begin discussing specific plans during a May 8 meeting via videoconferencing.
Members said Wednesday they wanted to hold off discussing ideas for the commemoration until the public has an opportunity to weigh in.
One suggestion previously floated by several residents is to hold a commemoration at Monument Circle, which surrounds the 306-foot battle monument and offers space for social distancing.
Another idea was to dedicate the commemoration this year to the medical personnel working under a threat to their own health and that of family members to treat those affected by CORVID-19.
It is expected that state historic preservation officials will be asked to attend the commemoration and that Gov. Phil Scott and other officials will be invited.
Among those who first urged an alternative celebration to avoid a year without a Bennington Battle Day were members of a group planning for the 250th anniversaryof the battle in 2027.
Supporters of that effort here and around Vermont propose an expanded 250th anniversary celebration, and they are backing proposed state legislation creating a commission to oversee planning of events in several Vermont towns.
Among events being planned in the same year as the Battle of Bennington's 250th are those marking the signing of Vermont's Declaration of Independence in Westminster, on Jan.15, 1777; the Battle of Hubbardton, on July 7, 1777, involving British troops from the same army that later sent a contingent to attack Bennington, and adoption of the Vermont Constitution in Windsor on July 8, 1777.
The legislation establishing a 250th anniversary commission also proposes coordinating with other states that sent militia to Bennington during that crisis, such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and with New York, where the British army under Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered to American forces in October, 1777, near Saratoga, N.Y.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien