(Host) Bennington Battle Day is Monday. The anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle is a state holiday in Vermont, but it’s observed primarily in Bennington, where Battle Day is a bigger holiday than the Fourth of July. The town has dozens of events planned between this weekend and next.
For anyone who wonders, a new exhibit at the Bennington museum should illuminate the source of the celebration.
VPR’s Susan Keese reports.
(Keese) The Bennington Museum was founded by the association that built the Bennington Battle Monument in the late 1800s.
Stephen Perkins, who became the curator a few years back, says the museum’s purpose was to tell the battle’s story.
(Perkins) “…And I felt like this gallery wasn’t doing that.”
(Keese) For one thing, there were too many artifacts. Uniforms, relics and swords spanning Vermont’s military history through World War II were jumbled all together without any real narrative connection.
The first thing you notice now is an enormous 1930s WPA painting mounted at eye level on a brick-red wall.
(Perkins) “What the artist was portraying is the green at Bennington, so he’s showing the old meeting house and Mount Anthony in the background — that gives you the direction that the viewer’s looking. And then all of the prisoners were brought back to Bennington; a lot were kept in various houses. Leroy Williams as the artist was showing the moment when all these prisoners and victorious troops were returning.”
(Keese) All the characters are there: The German mercenaries under the British General Burgoyne. He hoped to cut New England off from the other colonies and seize the horses and supplies stored in town. The battle was actually fought on the outskirts of town in New York State.
There’s General Stark, who rode across the now-famous Molly Stark trail to help defeat the British backed raid. The Green Mountain Boys are there, and the un-uniformed farmers who picked up their muskets and joined the battle.
On another wall is a large map. It traces the progress of the battle in relation to the roads of today.
(Perkins) “So you can go out there today. You can go to the battlefield and you can stand up on the hill, and you can look out and see this whole landscape here.”
There are artifacts too. One display case shows unauthentic items passed on proudly by local families. A musket made too late, and lots of wrong-sized cannonballs.
(Perkins) “Some are painted and they say, you know, shot at the Battle of Bennington, crushed my grandfather’s foot, that sort of great story that goes with them.”
(Keese) Perkins says these things may not say much about the Battle itself. But they say a lot about a town that values its history and wants to keep the memory of the battle alive.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.
(Host) The Bennington Battle Day parade begins at 12:30 on Sunday.