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September 2023
Page 13
 Ring them bells for the time that flies
Ring them bells for the child that cries
Ring them bells for the fighting is strong
As we lose the distance between right and wrong...
in earlier decades. These include bells that rang to call workers to the mills along the rivers, and bells that heralded the approach of locomotives to the crossings and stations of Grafton County. Bristol’s Baptist Church bell traveled from a locomotive to International Packings Com- pany (where Freudenberg NOK is presently) before settling in its current steeple home. Other tower bells no longer with us in- clude the one that chimed at the former St. Timothy’s Catholic Church on School Street, calling worshippers to church and chron- icling the hours of each passing day. Today, silent bells include the great bell in the steeple at the Tapply Thompson Community Center, which was last rung by Doug Williams fifteen years ago. The venerable bell above the Bristol Historical Society no lon- ger rings as the town fire alarm.
Newer churches, such as Our Lady of Grace at the foot of Newfound Lake, are often built without the expensive “adorn- ment” of steeples and thus have no bells.
The loss of the sound of many bells notwithstanding, hu- mans continue to need the joy, the exhortation, and the succor conveyed by the chimes ringing from church towers. Exempli- fying this need, several decades ago, the townsfolk of Alexandria, helped by friends from Hebron, came together to build a steeple to hold a bell for their church. It was a challenging task. The stee- ple was built on the ground and had to be lifted to the top of the church roof by a large crane do- nated by a local contractor.
In a few days, as we ap- proach the recollection of Sep- tember 11th, I am mindful that voices expressing our nation’s collective sadness include the muffled chimes of bells tolling over the loss of so many loved ones on that awful day in 2001. In many towns and cities, that sorrow is expressed on the an- niversary of that day at four distinct times in the morning. Those moments of tolling cor- respond to the minute each of the four hijacked planes crashed, tragically killing not only Americans, but other na-
By william nieman
Tower bells have many voices. There are the single bells of small-town steeples like those here in the Newfound Region. There are multiple bells of large churches and cathedrals. These bells can respond to “change ringing” and sound varied chimes. There are also carillons, multiple bells that play beautiful tunes signaled from a keyboard. All these bells call us to harken to their voices.
At age 11, I climbed to the rope room of a belfry and rang my first church bell. I didn’t accomplish this on my own. An elderly sexton named Tom Bradley joined me in gripping the bell’s rope. Together we tugged, and the chime rang over the streets of Madison, New Jersey. I can remember how the ringing was more than an audi- ble experience. My young body was literally trembling from the vibrations. Ironically, Tom, bald- headed, well-muscled, and with a prominent underbite, was afraid of most loud noises. He was a veteran of World War I and suf- fered from shell shock, but ap- parently, the sound of the tower bell awakened memories of that war’s welcome conclusion. As such, the chimes chased away his dark fears. Reflecting on this, I am struck by how similar his relief must have been to the re- assurance felt by those folks from ages past who believed the ring- ing of church bells could dispel their dark fears by driving away evil spirits.
As a teenager, I drifted away from church life and found es- cape in the world of rock and roll, which at that time meant listening obsessively to Doo- Wop. Even under that some- what miasmatic influence, it was the sing-along, innocent sounds of church bells that I loved the most. My favorite Doo-Wops to
this day are “Church Bells May Ring” by a quintet of young men of color who called themselves “The Willows.” Next to that great song, I always found time to ignore homework while listen- ing to “Whispering Bells” by the first racially integrated Doo-Wop group, the “Del Vikings.”
Seven decades have passed since I first rang that church bell in New Jersey. I am honored now with the special task of ringing the church bell that chimes from the tower of Bristol’s United Church of Christ. Its venerable voice has a long history. Hung in 1882, the 1,500-pound bell replaced a bell that cracked after four decades of calling the faithful to worship and celebrating, on one joyous occa- sion, the end of the Civil War. During the last half-century, the men of the Patten family (with a brief hiatus from 1982 to 1984) have been this great bell’s official bell ringers (campanologists). Bob Patten was the latest member of the family to ring the bell begin- ning in 1991. During the past three decades until his death ear- lier this year, he was also Bristol’s timekeeper, maintaining the four- sided clock that replaced Bristol’s original single-faced tower clock installed in 1836. Peter Patten, Bob’s son, now monitors the clock.
In Plymouth, chiming still, are two of the most renowned tower bells in the Lakes Region. The Rounds Hall bell at Plymouth State University and the great bell above the Plymouth Town Hall have well-documented historical significance. Both of these storied bells rang first in the 1800’s. The town hall bell can trace its lineage to a foundry once owned by the son of Paul Revere.
In the present, Bristol and the Newfound Region have lost the voices of many bells that rang
tionals as well. Another sad com- memoration is the tolling of bells to mark the day and time school children have been killed in what should have been the sanctuary of their classrooms. Not long ago, the tower bell of Hebron’s Union Congregational Church rang as townsfolk reflected on one such tragedy at The Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Fortunately, the tolling of muf- fled bells is less frequent than bell ringing conveyed in moments of joy and celebrations of new beginnings like births, baptisms, marriages, the end of war, the advent of peace, and the con- firmation of governments. On September 17, communities in America will ring bells to make special note that it was almost two and a half centuries ago that our nation’s Constitution was ratified. On September 21, people throughout the world will celebrate a Day of International Peace by ringing bells. The day will begin with the chiming of the United Nations Bell of Peace in
New York City, a gift to that inter- national organization from Japan. Another event that recently drew international attention was the peaceful transition of the United Kingdom’s monarchy, which culminated in the ringing of the bells of Westminster Abbey.
I hope that our next transition of a national leader, whomever that may be, will allow for a time of joy and celebration and that Americans will replicate the dig- nity and decorum demonstrated by our English cousins as they gathered at Buckingham Palace to pay respect as they welcomed a new monarch. I hope that I will be alive and well enough to join others across our nation to ring bells on January 6, 2025, to celebrate the certification of our next President, casting out our own dark fears as we reaffirm our belief in the value of a de- mocracy that embraces political and lifestyle diversity. I hope on that January day, we will harken to the bells.
Adapted from Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells”
Harken To The Bells
    Your “Favorite” Decorator ~ Jodie Favorite ~
Office: 603-744-9433 Bristol, NH Cell: 603-738-3399

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