Deale Bell Maker Giving Uss Annapolis Its Soul

He's Carrying On A Ringing Tradition

February 17, 1992|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Staff writer

One of the Navy's newest nuclear submarines, the USS Annapolis, willcarry a piece of the city for which it is named near its heart when it joins the fleet next summer.

John Meneely, who has worked in Annapolis marine businesses since he was a child, has been commissionedto cast the ship's bell, considered by sailors to be the very soul of any ship.

"The ship's bell marks the time at sea. All the ceremony revolvesaround it," Meneely explained. "It's a tradition that goes back to the beginnings of navigation. And every ship still must have one to sound in fog."

The Annapolis resident, whose forebears were operating a bell foundry in upstate New York when Andrew Jackson was president, has continued the family vocation. But instead of casting bells for a living along the shores of the Hudson River, he operates a tiny foundry in the shop of Shipwright Harbor Marina on Herring Bay for thefun of it.

The old foundry, which cast bells that still ring in Harvard Yard, on the Green at Dartmouth, and from the towers of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and St. Mary's Church in Annapolis, closed down in the early 1950s, the victim of changing times and a lack ofraw materials.

"During World War II, you couldn't get the tin andcopper you needed for the bells. And after the war, it was no longerthe fashion to donate carillons to your college," Meneely explained."You endow chairs or build a stadium instead."

But Meneely, whosefather left the bell foundry to race sailboats and run yacht yards, rescued the patterns and wooden sweeps used to make bell molds from agoat barn outside of Troy, N.Y., site of one of the family foundries, and has kept them stashed away.

He has made several bells over the last 10 years, melted them down and re-used the metal to make others. The remains of some of those efforts are scattered on a table in the shop near the foundry, which looks like an oversized coffee can with a gas jet attached.

"My dad and I made a bell together in the early 1980s, and we tried another for practice," he said. "He has since passed on, but I'm trying to keep up the tradition. It's going back to your roots."

The family bell foundry had its roots in Connecticut shortly after the revolution, but was moved to Watervliet, N.Y.,near Albany, in 1825. At the outbreak of the Civil War, George and Edward Meneely were running the foundry and their younger brother, Clinton, went off to fight.

Clinton, John Meneely's great grandfather, came back from the war a full colonel. But he was still "the boy" to his brothers. Angered, he moved across the river to Troy and openeda second foundry that competed with the original operation until both of them closed for good in 1951.

By the end of World War II, Meneely's father, Henry, had developed a greater interest in sailing than bells and left the business to move to Annapolis where he already had an interest in a marina.

Years later, John Meneely rekindled the family tradition in the shop at his marina. And friends with Navy connections who knew of his hobby decided he should cast the ship's bell for the Annap

olis.

Apparently, it was Frank Pierce Young, publisher of the Public Enterprise, an Annapolis biweekly, who first raised the idea.

"I knew a ship has to have a bell, I knew the Meneely family background and I knew that John hated to see the old plantgo and still had all the old forms," recalled Young, a naval historybuff. "So I suggested to John that he ought to cast the bell for theship. He thought it was a bloody marvelous idea."

Young and members of a local commemorative committee that is raising money to stage receptions and provide gifts for the submarine's commissioning ceremonies

contacted officers on the sub, who agreed to accept the bell even though the manufacturer's specifications already include a bell.

"But that bell has no meaning to it. It's just a clanger," said Knute Aarsand, chairman of the commemorative committee. "This one willmean something."

It is a long-standing tradition for a city to donate a ship's bell to the Naval vessel that carries its name, explained Lt. j.g. Kevin Thomas, the Annapolis' supply officer.

"There's a history of having special bells cast with the seal of the ship on the bell and things like the names of the original crew members' children inscribed inside. It's something very personal to a ship," he said.

Meanwhile, the Annapolis Yacht Club has raised $5,000 in a raffle to pay for the ship's bell, a duplicate for City Hall and one for the yacht club. The bells won't cost that much, Aarsand said, but theleftover money will help pay for the receptions and other gifts, which include a silver punch ladle and cups -- the punch bowl from the first USS Annapolis' silver service is being polished at the Naval Academy.

The gifts from the city are to be presented to the submarineduring its commissioning ceremonies. The bell is to be presented at a separate ceremony at the Annapolis Yacht Club during the Naval Academy's Commissioning Week in May.

Aarsand said yacht club members are planning receptions for the crew during the week and a farewell party at the week's end.

But there's one hitch. Meneely still hasn'treceived the specifications for the bell.

Thomas promised that the brass bell that came with the ship and its mountings are on their way to the marina in Deale so Meneely can begin work.

As the commissioning ceremony approaches, "you can see the excitement growing" on the part of Naval Academy graduates on the crew, said Thomas, who came up through the ranks.

"But just about every one of us in the Navy has some connection to Annapolis," he added. "So getting on board the Annapolis is really like going home."

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