As far as the names of historic events go, “Evacuation Day” doesn’t exactly sound like cause for party.
But Nov. 25, 1783, called Evacuation Day, was actually celebrated for decades in the United States, with annual, often over-the-top festivities, historians say. Its signifigance was said to have rivaled the Fourth of July.
The former U.S. holiday marked the last British troops shipping off from The Battery in Lower Manhattan, ending Britain’s occupation during the Revolutionary War.
A soldier ripped down the British flag (which, apparently, was difficult and involved wearing wooden cleats, since those tricky Brits greased the flag pole) and George Washington triumphantly marched through Lower Manhattan to Bowling Green.
All that history is commemorated with a small plaque at Bowling Green.
Now a local history group, the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, wants to focus more attention on the mostly forgotten day, with a co-naming at the Bowling Green street sign. That would put a second sign that reads Evacuation Day Plaza underneath the sign for Bowling Green.
That brings us back to the unfortunate name.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible name,” said Joel Kopel, a member of Manhattan Community Board 1, as the historical group presented recently before the CB1’s Financial District committee. “I mean, it’s terrible.”
At issue for most on the committee was the seemingly ominous sound of Evacuation Day, especially in a neighborhood still feeling the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I think we’re having a visceral response to the name,” said CB1 member Pat Moore. “You’ve got to make it sound more revolutionary and less like its somehow connected to 9/11.”
Adam Piccolo, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, bristled at the idea that the name was connected to Sept. 11, as he tried to remind CB members of its historical significance.
“This is simply a ceremonial distinction,” Piccolo said, trying to persuade the group that it would be a small change, though an important one. The historical society hopes to start celebrating the day again with larger commemorations, perhaps a parade — and a new sign would bring attention to the day.
In the end, a compromise was found at the meeting. The committee gave its support to the co-naming, though not unanimously, if the street sign would read "1783 Evacuation Day Plaza."
Piccolo was on board with the change — but some hurdles remain.
The full board needs to vote on the name addition at the end of the month. So does the City Council, which votes on street sign names changes in October.