The small city of New London, Connecticut is not somewhere people across the US are making plans to visit. Yet every year, their 27,700 residents say hello to people from all walks of life and from all over the county. Originally done as a way for small cities and towns around Boston, New York, and Philadelphia to have a day of remembrance. “Burning of Benedict Arnold Festival” is a tradition steeped in American history.
The British had their loud and fire-riddled Guy Fawkes Night. Done to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. That fateful night Fawkes and others were executed for plotting to blow up King James I of England and both Houses of Parliament. This very English holiday just didn’t sit right with the Americans. While they died off after the Civil War, people like organizer Derron Wood started organizing them.
With actors in period-correct costumes, the paper mache Benedict Arnold is marched through town. Chants of “Remember New London” and “U-S-A” could be heard echoing through the streets. As Arnold burns, the townspeople and their visitors are reminded of the hard-fought days just a few hundred years ago. These battles have been largely glossed over or outright ignored by historians and educators.
Learning the truth and the honest story behind Arnold is important for students. Seeing it brought to life in such an over-the-top and blunt manner is a bit shocking for some, but it isn’t excessive in violence or inaccurate, either. It’s a fair and honest but safe depiction.
Mind you, there have been two exceptions.
A few years in, organizers forgot to coordinate with the local police. Alarmed and caught off guard by a flood of calls and reports of musket fire, people in turncoat costumes, burning, and excessive chanting. That firmed up a relationship between organizers and the local PD and got their events better coverage and protections.
Another year a group of people arrived in full costume and with muskets in an attempt to defend and rescue Benedict Arnold. With full-on powdered wigs, they got people talking, which is the whole point of the day. Remembering the history. A part of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, these flames represent a lot to the area.
Speaking with the Associated Press about the event, Wood said, “I like to jokingly refer to it as the original Burning Man festival.”
Victor Chiburis, the Flock Theatre’s associate artistic director and the festival’s co-organizer, added, “This project and specifically the reaction, the sort of hunger for its return, has been huge, and the interest in it has been huge.” The two-year hiatus they were forced to take due to COVID they worried could close the festival, but not it is surging.
Events like these are consistently under attack by the liberals. Even the Civil War reenactments are now being targeted as fanning the flames of hate and distrust, and not memories of those who passed on while fighting for the America that they believed in. Of being proud in standing up for themselves and not simply bowing to kiss the ring.