Yearly tradition of reading Declaration continues

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BENNINGTON — A gathering of about 30 people watched a reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the Bennington Battle Monument on Saturday afternoon.

A yearly Fourth of July tradition, this year's event saw fewer people but still drew a socially-distant crowd. The reading began at 1 p.m. and lasted approximately 25 minutes.

Marylou Chicote, the site administrator for the Bennington Battle Monument, said that the site had been planning on a way to have the event in a safe manner.

"We've been working on how things were going to be done for a long time," Chicote said. "This past week, I had so many phone calls every day about whether we were going to do it or not."

Chicote said she received a call from Bob Dwyer, who has attended the reading every single year since it began in the 1990s. That is when she called Mike and Phyllis Chapman, who have been doing the reading for the past six years, to see if they would be comfortable participating in the event this year.

Dwyer said he was excited the event took place.

"The Fourth of July, this is what it's all about," Dwyer said. "This is a unique place to come and they do a good job. It's something I look forward to every year."

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Phyllis Chapman believes it's important to understand our history as a country, and that is why she participates in the reading.

"It's always important to know where we came from and why, and what people have done before us that have given us the lifestyle that we have," Chapman said.

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Mike Chapman echoed Phyllis's sentiment.

"We try to keep those ideas alive," Mike Chapman said.

Chicote also contacted her superiors, who gave her the green light as long as social distance measures were put in place.

Chairs carefully placed 6 feet apart from one another provided appropriate distance for the crowd to listen and watch the reading. Masks were worn by everyone at the monument except one gentleman, who said he had a medical condition that prevented him from wearing one. He sat on the outskirts of the group.

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Phyllis Chapman said she and Mike felt comfortable participating because of the measures that the monument crew took to ensure everyone watching the reading was a safe distance apart. They took their masks off while doing the performance.

"I didn't hesitate to take it off because of the distance between me and the first row," Mike Chapman said.

Chicote said having the reading brought a sense of normalcy to the Fourth of July during a time where many events have been canceled because of the coronavirus.

Bob Hoar, a local historian, set up a table with numerous books about the Battle of Bennington as well as other local historical events near the monument on Saturday afternoon. Hoar was there to answer any questions people might have before the reading took place. Hoar said he has been volunteering on the Fourth of July at the monument site for about three years. Hoar said he enjoys watching the reading.

"Everybody really listens to Mr. Chapman and he does a really great job of getting you to really understand the words," Hoar said. "So that you can really understand the patriotic meaning behind the speech."

Chicote admitted she was "a little apprehensive" at first when she decided to go ahead with the event, but ultimately was "glad because the public really appreciated it."


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