23 bells arrive for carillon at Old St. Paul's

December 11, 1990|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

George T. Harrison thinks this town could use some bells.

Before moving to Baltimore 26 years ago, Harrison had lived in the Southern and Southwestern United States. He remembers those places for the chiming of bells from churches and town halls.

"I've always liked bells," says Harrison, who, at 78, remains active in local oil and real estate companies. "A big city like this, with so many churches, needs some bells. You rarely seem to hear them, except maybe on Sundays."

Thanks primarily to Harrison's efforts, bells will be ringing daily in downtown Baltimore after a carillon is installed this week at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The carillon's 23 bells, valued at about $100,000 and cast in bronze by the Royal Dutch Foundry of Petit and Fritsen, were delivered to the church yesterday.

Although Harrison belongs to St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Garrison, he had served on the vestry of Old St. Paul's during the 1970s. A current church member, recalling Harrison and his interest in bells, turned to him when Old St. Paul's decided a few years ago to put a carillon in the tower of the church at Charles and Saratoga streets.

The parish has had six churches at the same site since being established by the Church of England in 1692. The present church, built in 1856, never had bells before this week. The previous structure, which had one bell, was destroyed by fire in 1854.

At first, Harrison set his sights on obtaining used bells. He advertised for them in the Wall Street Journal and appealed to the national offices of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches, but came up empty.

His final resort was to buy new bells. He put together a group of local companies and foundations to underwrite the purchase. Old St. Paul's is paying for preparation of the bell tower and installation of the bells, and will cover the cost of the maintenance that will be required through the years.

The bells, which can be played manually or by an electronic computer program, vary in size. They weigh from 100 to 1,500 pounds, stand from 2 to 5 feet tall and measure from 1 1/2 to 4 feet at the base. Harrison, who went to Holland in October to have the bells tested by a professional carillonneur, says each bell has five tones when rung.

The bells will be heard in public for the first time at a dedication on Dec. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to attend and receive a small bell cast in Holland with his name on it, according to church spokeswoman Laurie Rockwell.

After that, Harrison says, the bells might be rung at noon and 5 p.m. daily.

"These bells are for the city," he adds. "I think cities and the sound of bells go together."

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