Autobiography of the New Providence Academy Bell + Timeline
—Originally published in The Independent Press, Wednesday, July 14, 1976—-
I am your New Providence Academy school bell (after March 14, 1899, known as “Borough School” bell) which you heard all along the parade route on July 10, 1976. I was so pleased and deeply grateful to have the opportunity to share in the Bicentennial as a part of the New Providence Historical Society’s float, a replica of the “Academy.” It took five or six men to lift me onto the prominent spot on the float and I was in my glory because not only did I sound my vibrant tone, but I feel I contributed to my float being awarded “first place” in the “local” category.
I weigh 137 pounds, including my yoke and clapper. Once I am assembled onto my wooden frame and cast-iron stand, I weight 187 points. Back in June of 1973, one-hundred years after I was cast, four men carried me into the attic of the Historical Society Museum where l have remained since Mayor Bien and Borough Council, at their May 29th 1973 meeting (recorded on page 54 of the “Minute Book”- 8 Jan. 1973 to 30 Sept. 1974) granted permission to the Board of Education to loan me, “the old school bell”, to the Historical Society, with the stipulation that I be returned if I was needed in any future Borough or Board of Education activities. In fact, I hope that I might be allowed to continue to ring. It is my desire to be returned to the cupola of the Borough Hall, my proper and useful place, and installed to ring automatically every day, at least at noon. I am sure that one of our dedicated Borough citizens could engineer an automatic motor-control and timing mechanism which would accomplish this.
In the hope that I may convince everyone of my historic significance, please hear my story beginning with the inscription on my casting, which tells that I was cast at “The Meneely Bell Foundry, West Troy, N.Y. – 1873.”
When I was installed in the cupola shortly after being cast in 1873, I noticed the inscription carved into the wood of the cupola, “This cupola was put up and enclosed by James Quinn a native of Berwick-on-Tweed, England, and David L. Baldwin of New Providence from June the 22nd till June the 27th, 1870. Signed – J. Quinn, D. L. Baldwin, Asa Baldwin, Contractor and Builder, Wesley Clark, Architect – 1870 – Glory be to God, Amen.”, which no one else remembered until it was discovered by Richard Badgley in August 1954 as he was removing the original cupola. (He did this as a part of his contract to make alterations and to add wings to the Borough Hall.) These carved words tell us that the cupola was ready at least three years before I was cast but, after being installed in 1873, I sounded during the next thirty-four years to summon Township and Borough of New Providence youngsters, as well as children throughout the Passaic Valley, to the area’s first public school.
I rang to summon Carl Totten, the oldest resident of New Providence (living at 388 EIkwood Ave.) and Edward Miller, who were the last two and the only students to graduate from the eighth grade of the “Borough School” in 1907 and which in 1910 was the first class to graduate from eighth grade of Lincoln School, consisted of five girls and five boys: Elsie Parcells Jacobus, Frances Wahl, Jeanette Burnett Lewis, Mabel Wirsching, Louise Bittner Dulay, Robert Woodruff, Harry High, George Burnett (Jeanette’s twin brother), Arthur Kipple and John Adam. My call went out to many others who attended the “Borough School” prior to 1907: Alonzo Burnett, Lilian Burnett Stahl, Clara Burnett Miller, Henry Seibert, Helen Seibert, Florence Seibert, Frank Kipple and Edith Kipple. I also rang for a short time after 1907 to call the first graders (second floor) and Kindergarten children (first floor) for which the Academy building was used until 1910 during which time I summoned Ernie Fischer, Dayton Parcells, Frank Sharp, Allen Roberts and Gus Furneld to the school.
In 1917 the Borough Council purchased the school building, including me, for $1 and it was converted into our Borough Hall, where I was sounded to toll specific events during the next 47 years of my existence; at the end of World War I (Nov. 11, 1918), “D” Day (June 6, 1944, V.E. Day (May 8, 1945) and V.J. Day (Sept. 2, 1945), the end of World War II.
On V.E. Day, Helene Harms, then the chairman of the New Providence Red Cross with headquarters in the General Store at Springfield Ave and South St., rang me, with the permission of Police Chief Harry High and Mayor John W. Oakwood, just as President Truman announced the Nazi surrender in Europe. Helene pulled my rope also that day to’ toll the death of Louise Genetti, a New Providence child who had just been killed in an automobile accident. Helene had, for the entire morning, attempted to contact Louise’s brothers, who were in service, so that they could get leave to come home and they were all able to arrive for their sister’s funeral.
I rang with joy and with sorrow until my rope broke, at which time the fire engine was put into service to announce the victory to the people. I rang for the last time in the cupola over Borough Hall on V.J. Day, when Dayton Parcells, with the able assistance of “Rickie” Badgley, who scrambled up into the Borough Hall hatch and retied my bell rope which Helene Harms had broken, sounded me to toll the victory over Japan. After the rope came untied, Dayton, together with other townspeople, used the fire siren and rode the fire truck through town proclaiming the end of World War II.
My bell rope was never again replaced, and I was not sounded again until the day I was taken down, in the summer of 1964 when Allen Roberts, Superintendent of Schools, requested that I be given to the Board of Education for permanent display at the new high school. As I was being taken down by the Fire Department, the operation of the fire ladder was observed by Mayor Francis J. Farley, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Robert Lackenhauer and Borough Administrator, John Clark. The mayor listened to my tone, announced that it was “very fine” and that I was in “good shape”. He then had me sent to J.K. Smit to be cleaned – to remove 90 years of accumulated dirt and dust. Mv casting and stand were mounted on a framework, and I was sounded on Sept. 9, 1964, to call the students for the first time to the newly completed $1,700,000 addition onto the New Providence High School.
The Board of Education had planned to have me on permanent display in a prominent spot, but they couldn’t find the proper location where I wouldn’t be vandalized or possibly even stolen by pranksters prior to a rival football game, or the like. So, I laid unused and quiet in a maintenance garage of the Board of Education until May 1973 when I was placed in the Historical Society Museum for safe keeping. Finally, I was taken from my resting place in the museum attic and was displayed and sounded throughout the Bicentennial Parade. By 2 pm that same day I was back in the museum, this time in the basement and I hope only temporarily until the Mayor and Borough Council can arrange to have me reinstalled over Borough Hall. My one wish is to be reinstated, rededicated as “The New Providence Borough Bell”, rung by each of those remaining who I had summoned so many years ago, and then allowed to toll our history for at least another century.
—–Originally published in The Independent Press, Wednesday, July 14, 1976—-