We present and discuss
broad band CCD UBV(I)C photometry and low resolution spectroscopy for stars in the
region of the open cluster NGC 6996, located in the North
America Nebula. The new data allow us to tightly constrain the
basic properties of this object. We revise the cluster
size, which in the past has been significantly underestimated.
The width of the Main Sequence is mainly
interpreted in terms of differential reddening, and indeed the stars'
color excess E(B-V) ranges from 0.43 to 0.65, implying the presence
of a significant and evenly distributed dust component.
We cross-correlate our optical photometry with near infrared from 2MASS,
and by means of spectral classification we are able to build up
extinction curves for an handful of bright members. We find that the reddening
slope and the total to selective absorption ratio RV
toward NGC 6996 are anomalous. Moreover
the reddening corrected colors and magnitudes allow us to derive
estimates for the cluster distance and age, which turn out to be
760 ± 70 pc (Vo-MV = 9.4 ± 0.2) and ~ 350 Myr,
respectively. Basing on our results, we suggest that NGC 6996 is located in
front of the North America Nebula, and does not seem to have any apparent
relationship with it.