City Hall bell set to toll anew

January 05, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

City Hall has never been short on noisy debate or loud personalities, but for nearly two decades the building itself has been muted - its large bell pealing meekly and only once a day.

But after nearly $28,000 in repairs, Lord Baltimore, the 119-year-old bell atop City Hall, will begin ringing every hour - as it did for nearly a century - and with more bravado and volume than before, city officials said yesterday.

"For a long time there's been an acknowledgment that this has been one of those pieces of City Hall that really needed to be taken care of," said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works. "It's up there but you don't even notice it."

Cast in 1889

The 7,100-pound bell was cast in 1889 by the McShane Bell Foundry on Guilford Avenue, which has since moved to Glen Burnie. Back then, Lord Baltimore was used as a fire alarm and to commemorate the deceased as well as to keep time.

But for the past several years, the bell's 4-foot, 200- pound striker had been so worn that the bell's sound was more stifled than sonorous. It rang only at noon, striking 12 B-flats in a row.

City officials hired McShane last year to make the repairs. In addition to a new striker, Lord Baltimore also will be equipped with an updated digital control panel, a new clock and a wireless remote control system. McShane will maintain the bell for $600 a year.

A quiet 20 years

"It really hasn't been operating for 20 years," said Bill Parker Jr. a co-owner of the McShane Bell Foundry. "It has been ringing hardly at all because the striker system in the bell was pretty worn out. It's been working off and on but not the way it's supposed to."

Kocher said the newly repaired bell made its reintroduction by chiming on New Year's Eve this week.

Parker said his company will head to City Hall soon for some last-minute adjustments, and that the bell will begin ringing on the hour next week.

Lord Baltimore, which is 72 inches in diameter and 80 percent copper, was not the first bell placed in the dome. It replaced Big Sam, which was installed shortly after City Hall was built in 1875. After about a decade in service, though, the bell cracked and had to be removed from its perch.

The new bell was cast on Aug. 24, 1889.

A newspaper report from the time noted: "After 3 o'clock the shop began to fill up with stalwart men and maidens fair, and in a little while there was a gathering of over a hundred within the enclosure."

Original cost

At the time, the bell cost taxpayers $2,943.

Since then, Lord Baltimore has chimed as many of the city's most famous residents wandered through downtown - from baseball great Babe Ruth to civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois to journalist H.L. Mencken. It survived the Great Fire of 1904, not to mention 23 mayoral terms.

"When the bells chime every day at noon, it is a historic sound returning to the city," Mayor Sheila Dixon said in a statement. "City Hall is something we can all take pride in."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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