Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hail Columbus: You're a grand old bell!

There’s something sad about a bell, intended to sing, that hangs quiet, brought down from its tower and silenced. Tap knuckles on the old Columbus School bell a half block northwest of here and the sound is rich and melodious. Look inside --- the clapper’s gone.

A harsh electronic bell now calls youngsters in from recess and we hear that when school’s in session. But I want to hear this one.

It’s been silenced for a very practical reason, according to the Columbus staffer I visited with this morning when I walked over to take the bell’s picture. The kids wouldn’t leave it alone, he said, so the clapper was removed and is kept inside the building. Probably a good idea, since a removable clapper also would be a target for thieves.

The bell still swings in its cradle, however, so it’s nice to know that it could be rung if someone wanted to. But the habit’s been broken, and the guy I visited with said it hadn’t sounded during the 26 years he’d worked there.

The first Columbus School, a massive ungainly three-story brick-walled structure with a wooden frame, was built on our hill in 1868, but was struck by lightning nine years later and burned.

The newer Columbus (above), for which this old bell was cast during 1878 in St. Louis by L.M. Rumsey & Co., was completed during that year and served until the 1960s.

In 1964, after reorganization, it was taken down, its bell silenced, and the new Columbus --- a more efficient but bland sprawler --- opened for business. Some time later, the bell was mounted on a brick and concrete platform in front.

It used to be a custom in many towns, as the 4th of July dawned, to fire powder shots from cannons and ring the city bells. In Chariton, the courthouse cannon was disposed of at some point --- no one remembers when and we still fuss now and then about where it went (Buried under what’s now parking lot? Sold for scrap?). And the bells no longer ring.

But maybe on the 4th I’ll walk over to the old Columbus bell and give it a gentle whack --- just for old time’s sake.

Columbus School as it appeared in later years.

1 comment:

Ed said...

I've got a brass hammer I could loan you so you could give the bell a proper ringing.