Friday, May 31, 2013

Masonic Temple Bells

 Photo by Virginia Keith

Photo by Virginia Keith

Photograph by Alex Meszler

I met Gerald Coggeshall in 1971, at the time of the Village's Centennial Celebration. He was a little gnome of a man, descendant of illustrious ancestors, who had lived in Waterville all his life. I don't know how many years he had been playing the bells, but it was probably something in the neighborhood of fifty, and he did so without music and with never so much as a frown on his face.

The way he told the story of the bells was fun, memorable and only slightly inventive! Stephen Gates (an historian who was also a chime afficianado and could play using a regular hymnal) complained bitterly that it was inaccurate and no way to record history, -------however ---- here it is!

Once upon a time a rich man named Ruben Tower decided to build himself a house across the street and, therefore, away from his parents’ home! And wanting to make sure that everyone knew that this new building was HIS house, he decided to put a tower on the front of it.

He knew, right away, that there should be a large clock in that tower, one that had a bell that would sound the hours, and so he wrote to the Seth Thomas Clock Company and asked them to make him a suitable clock.

“Of course, Mr. Tower. We’ll be glad to design an appropriate clock for your home, with visible faces that may be seen by all around the village. May we take the liberty of suggesting that a Mr. Meneely, of Troy, New York, be engaged to cast just the right bell so that it may be heard across the land when it strikes out each hour?”

Tower thought this was a dandy suggestion, and wrote straight ‘way to Mr. Meneely asking for a perfect bell.

Mr. Meneely not only knew his metels, he knew his money as well, and said to Mr. Tower,

“Why, sir - with such a magnificent clockworks one really should have four bells so that a tuneful chime such as that heard at Westminster Cathedral in London may likewise signify each quarter-hour in Waterville.”

Mr. Tower thought it anther marvelous idea and so, bit by bit, the tower rose; the clock faces appeared* and - finally - four enormous bells were lifted to the topmost canopy of the tower. His dream was complete!

Only to one such as Mr. Meneely would it occur that there was still a potential profit to be seen:

“It has occurred to me, Mr. Tower, that you now have four bells and that number is, of course, just one half of a full scale of notes! It would be so easy for us to cast the remaining bells - don’t you see? - and then entire tunes could be played and enjoyed throughout the community.”

Another chord was struck -- Mr. Tower agreed with the proposal (which actually included 5 more bells) and so we have it that in mid-July, 1889, the day after Mr. Meneely left, Miss Flora Garvey came by train from Utica and played the “chime” for the very first time.

*The Seth Thomas clockworks were actually installed a few weeks after the chimes were complete.


"Playing the Bells"

We don't worry about exactly where the hammer will hit .....

....we just worry about which wheelbarrow handle to push down!

That basic action is determined by the "chimer's" ability to count from 1 to 9,  following a "musical" score of numbers.

Depressing a handle sets in motion a combination of straps and chains that finally signal the hammer to strike!

The bells hang nearly 100 feet above the ground, two levels above the chime console.

The Bells

The largest bell ("F") weighs 2,062 lbs. The others are as follows:
"G" bell, 1,589 lbs.
"A" bell, 1,025 lbs.
"B-flat" bell, 814 lbs.
"C" bell, 517 lbs.
"D" bell, 410 lbs.
"E-flat" bell, 370 lbs.
"E" bell and "F" bell each weigh 287 lbs.

Total weight of the bells alone: 7,400 lbs.

Being cast of 78 parts of Lake Superior copper and Malay Straits tin, they are genuine cast bronze bells. Meneelys made the finest bells obtainable. The original cost was in the neighborhood of $2,800.

The "Hanks" bell (Masonic Memorial) weighs 800 lbs. It is dated 1824. Andrew Meneely was apprenticed to Julius Hanks* and started his own foundry in 1826.

* An interesting bit of speculation makes Julius Hanks' daughter, Nancy, the bride of Thomas Lincoln and the mother of Abraham.

(The "Hanks Bell" is often referred to as the "Baptist Bell", having - presumably - once hung in the present Baptist Church.

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