Recently published in the Manchester Cricket

First Parish Bell Strikes 26 Times to Honor Those Lost in Newtown School Tragedy

The Bell of the First Parish Church, Congregational, Manchester-by-the-Sea, was struck 26 times this past Friday, December 21, 2012, at 9:30 a.m. at the request of Governor, Deval Patrick, in honor of the 26 people of Newtown, CT who recently lost their lives in a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, December 14, 2012. The Bell was also struck at 7:15 p.m. the same day, also 26 times, at the request of Manchester’s Board of Selectmen in respect for the Newtown community. Our community has rallied behind the community of Newtown to show its support, as we, and the nation, grapple with the shock and aftermath of this most unspeakable tragedy.

First Parish’s Bell is rarely struck except for special requests. In recent times, it was struck on January 20, 1981 on the release of hostages that had been held 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, in Iran. At the request of President Ronald Regan, First Parish Church struck its Bell 52 times, once for each prisoner held.  At the request of the World Council of Churches, the Bell was struck for Lech Walesa, who was  incarcerated by the Communist Government of Poland, at a proscribed time, as bells of churches rang their bells in procession “around the world” (starting in Poland and heading east).  Lech Walesa was released a few days later as international pressure came to bare.  It was struck 125 times on July 4, 1986 to mark the 125th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty at the request of the White House, to honor the restoration of the statue and the values and freedoms it represents. The Bell was struck 200 times in 2009, on the 200th Anniversary of the building of the First Parish Church, Congregational on the Town Green. And also many times to rember the victims of 9/11. And now, the bell is struck in honor of the innocent victims of Newtown, CT.

Historic significance of First Parish Bell

First Parish’s Bell (known as the “third bell”) was the result of a donation from Capt. Benjamin Allen of $500 (to which other donations were added), and was hung in the steeple in 1845. All went well until July 4, 1915 when it was cracked by a shot from the “old cannon on Powder House Hill” during the town’s 4th of July celebration. It was never established if a shot hit the bell or that the sound wave cracked it. The town selectmen had the bell “fixed” and it was “alleged” that when they had it melted down the metal to recast it, “certain individuals” stole the silver and the bell lost its beautiful C-Sharp tone. It now has a dismal “frying pan” tone not found on any musical scale. This caused a great furor in the town and when the bell was inspected it was found the selectmen had their names cast into the surface of the bell.  The town had the names chiseled off. The striking mechanism (known as the “tapping device”) was added to the bell in the late 18th century, pulled to sound the alarm for fire. This was before the horn was used (powered by steam) from Dodge’s Mill and later moved to a horn (powered by air) in the fire station. As a result there are 2 ropes to the bell, a large, heavy rope, used to swing the bell on its wheel house to call people to worship each Sunday, and a thinner rope used to the “hammer” to strike the bell. Since the larger rope swings a very heavy bell and cannot control the momentum, the “striker” is used when a specific number of rings is required.

The historical information and the significance of requests for striking the bell at the First Parish Church was kindly contributed by the Rev. John Hughes, Pastor, First Parish Church, Congregational.