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144-year-old St. Louis bell survives fall

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The bell from St. Louis Catholic Church in downtown Cincinnati is seen having fallen from its supports after a bolt broke loose from the wooden base. (CT/John Stegeman).

By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph

For decades, the several blocks around 8th and Walnut streets in downtown Cincinnati have echoed the sounds of the St. Louis Church bell. Sometime in late June, it was noticed that the noon bells, which signal to many daily Mass goers that its time to head to the 12:10 p.m. liturgy. fell silent.

The cause for the silence wasn’t a failure of the bell ringing mechanism, or some kind of power disruption, but rather that the 36-inch diameter, 900-pound, bronze-cast bell in St. Louis’ bell tower had fallen. Pictures show that a bolt from a metal A-frame supported the bell had torn through it’s wooden base, causing the bell to fall sideways about six to 10 inches.

Fortunately, the bell is undamaged. The bell was cast on Second Street by the now-defunct VanDuzen Bell Company in 1869. The Verdin Bell Company, which now services the bell, eventually took over the VanDuzen Company. 

“They slipped apart and we have to get new supports on the bell, the A-frames we call it,” Verdin Chief Executive Bob Verdin Sr. said. “The bell’s fine. It’s cast bronze, 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin. VanDuzen made some beautiful bells all over Cincinnati.”

The current structure of St. Louis Church was built in 1927. Prior to that, near the current site, was an earlier structure known as St. Ludwig, the German name for Louis. Since the bell was cast in 1869, and St. Ludwig was dedicated in 1870, it could be that the bell in St. Louis’ bell tower was once part of the previous structure. The building that became St. Louis/Ludwig was a former Campbellite church purchased by the archdiocese.

Verdin reported that the bell is small compared to the size of the bell tower, indicating that it may not have been designed for St. Louis specifically. Unfortunately, that record isn’t clear. Verdin didn’t service the bell until 1950, and then again in 1997.

“What happened to it between 1869 and 1950, I don’t know,” Verdin said. “We did work on it in 1950.”

Accessing the bell tower is no easy feat. A wall-mounted ladder provides roof access, but the bell is in an upper part of the tower and requires an extension ladder to reach. From the top of the extension ladder, one must climb over a parapet to a space just wide enough for the average person. After that, unzip the pigeon netting and you’re in. Verdin said the bell will not need to be removed for repairs to take place. All the equiptment will be brought up from the outside.

Father Steve Angi, pastor of St. Louis and archdiocesan chancellor, said repairs on the bell will cost $10,690. A sign was posted in the St. Louis vestibule in late June explaining to parishioners and Mass goers that the church is in need of air conditioning repair and perhaps a new boiler system, in addition to fixing the fallen bell.

Total costs of all repairs could exceed $80,000. Donations can be mailed to 29 East Eighth Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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