Hundreds gather in Bedford for pole capping ceremony

Roy Kring of the Bedford Minutemen was nabbed by British soldier after climbing the pole.
Roy Kring of the Bedford Minutemen was nabbed by British soldier after climbing the pole.John Blanding/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Roy Kring was ready to defy the British Redcoats - again.

Dressed in Colonial garb, he put down his snare drum Saturday, shimmied up the 22-foot wooden pole, and placed a knitted red cap - bearing “Liberty’’ embroidered in white yarn - on top, just as he had done in 2005.

For the past 47 years, Kring and his fellow Bedford Minutemen have preluded Patriots Day by marching a quarter-mile through town and capping a pole in Wilson Park with a red hat, a traditional Colonial symbol of protest against British rule.

“When I got to the top, I shouted ‘Huzzah! Huzzah!’’ Kring, 62, said in a phone interview. “[That] is what the original Minutemen supposedly shouted when they were rallying.’’


With a crowd of nearly 400 gathered to watch, Kring climbed down to a group of uniformed

Roy Kring of the Bedford Minutemen gestured in triumph after climbing the pole,
Roy Kring of the Bedford Minutemen gestured in triumph after climbing the pole,John Blanding/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Redcoats, who promptly “arrested’’ him and hauled him off. But the hat - a historic symbol of liberty known as a Phrygian cap - will remain on the pole for the entire year.

“It’s a celebration of our freedom as Americans,’’ said Chuck Hacala, 47, the captain of the Bedford Minutemen. “It serves to remind us of the sacrifices that our forefathers made and people are making today around the world.’’

Cathy Cordes, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the event draws Minutemen companies to Bedford from surrounding towns a week before Patriots Day, making the pole-capping a warm-up celebration for the region.

“It’s a way for them to get into the spirit,’’ she said in a phone interview. “It is a celebration of all that democracy is.’’

The Phrygian cap, which resembles an oversized, slouching red beanie, is a symbol of freedom dating back to the ancient Greeks, whose slaves, when emancipated, donned the caps to prove their status as free men. The hats were revived repeatedly throughout history, especially during the Revolutionary War, as an emblem of protest against oppression.


“It fell to Colonial America when the Colonists felt that they were unjustly treated by the king,’’ said Hacala. “They felt they had a way of declaring their desires for liberty and independence, so they would put a red cap on top of a pole or a tree.’’

As he marched through the town, a band of drummers and fifers behind him, Hacala followed the footsteps of Captain Jonathan Wilson, the Revolutionary War leader of the Bedford Minutemen whose eponymous park is home to the ceremonial liberty pole. Wilson was one of the first to fall at the Battle of Lexington, one of the skirmishes that sparked the war.

“I definitely have a sense of pride, especially when the townfolk are cheering us on,’’ Hacala said. “You feel a sense of pride and patriotism in doing this.’’

But even as he led his militia this year, he said nothing could top his first year marching in its ranks, just four days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was very powerful after 9/11,’’ he said. “That was our Bedford Day parade that year, and that was really, you know, the sense of patriotism - it was just amazing.’’

Alexander C. Kaufman can be reached at akaufman@globe .com. Follow him on Twitter @AlexCKaufman.