Norwich marks Benedict Arnold’s birthday by turning off holiday lights

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Norwich ― Many cities and towns hold festive events to turn on holiday lights, only to quietly shut them off and put decorations away in early January.

Norwich has created a unique event to go dark each year on Jan. 14. Lights Out for Benedict Arnold turns off the city’s holiday lights to mark the birthday of infamous native son, Benedict Arnold.

Arnold was born in Norwich on Jan. 14, 1741, making this the 282nd anniversary of the Revolutionary War general turned infamous traitor’s birth.

The Lights Out for Benedict Arnold event is growing into a two-day, three-part affair Thursday and Friday, with educational and musical entertainment components that planners hope will solidify the event on the city’s calendar.

All events are free, open to the public and family friendly, planning committee member Faye Ringel said.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, an online Zoom panel of three history scholars and Arnold experts will be discussing the historical impact of Arnold’s military successes and treason. Panelists will be Brian Carso of Misericordia University in Dallas, Penn., Arthur B. Cohn, director emeritus of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and Joyce Lee Malcolm, professor emerita of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University.

The Zoom event is free, but participants must register on the Norwich Historical Society website, to receive an email link to the Zoom session. The panel discussion was coordinated by the Connecticut League of Historical Organizations and the Norwich Historical Society. Regan Miner, executive director of the Norwich Historical Society selected the participants, all of whom have published or have pending books on Arnold, Ringel said.

At 4:30 p.m. Friday, the Lights Out ceremony will begin indoors on the second floor of City Hall, with speakers and music by former state troubadour, Tom Callinan of Norwich, and the Colchester Continentals fife and drum corps.

Participants will move outside to the David Ruggles Freedom Courtyard, when the holiday lights will be extinguished.

The event then moves across the street to the Donald Oat Theater at Norwich Arts Center at 62 Broadway for a concert featuring Callinan performing his original songs about Arnold and the duo of Rick Spencer and Dawn Indermuhle performing Revolutionary War-era music. Handicapped access to the third-floor theater is at the Church Street entrance.

Norwich has held small Benedict Arnold birthday events since 2017, whether it be a lecture, lights-out ceremony or themed pub crawl. This year, Norwich Historical Society and Norwich Arts Center members have been discussing its plan for months.

“We made a concerted effort to make it a bigger event this year,” Miner said. “COVID prevented us from doing bigger events, and we wanted to make this bigger.”

Callinan has performed at each event, and Ringel said the 75-year-old folk singer lobbied for an indoor component, Ringel said.

“Tom always has done a song, in the past outside, freezing his fingers off,” Ringel said “So, we will have a brief program inside City Hall.”

Miner credited former Norwich Alderman William Nash for pushing the city to capitalize on Arnold’s Norwich roots and use it to promote tourism.

Nash said Thursday he envisioned elaborate events to mark Arnold’s birthday, including a dinner with characters portraying Arnold, George Washington and others, a march to City Hall and a midnight ceremony to turn off the lights.

“Use the lights to recognize the darkest period of our history, when our greatest general became a traitor,” Nash said. “It turned into this much smaller event. I’m a big fan of utilizing Arnold in our history. So many big things happened here in our history that we could make money off of, but we don’t.”

Organizers received grants from Connecticut Humanities and its Book Voyager program, the Chelsea Groton Bank and the Charter Oak Federal Credit Union foundations to pay for this year’s events.