Brooklyn Bell Is Rung for Gerald Ford, As for All Presidents Since Washington
Much History 'Told' by the Sound of the Bell
BROOKLYN - For 30 months the old bell in the tower at the New Utrecht Reformed Church,
in Bensonhurst, had been silent. Not since the death of Ronald Reagan had anyone climbed up through the scaffolding, dust and dirt to strike its side with a "funeral clanker." Not until Sunday morning, at precisely 10 o'clock, when again the bell in the historic Brooklyn landmark was heard.
Robert Buonvino, president of Friends of Historic New Utrecht,
and Robert Tycenski, put on gloves and carried flashlights as they made the climb up into the tower which is so sorely in need of repair that the bell can only be rung in a very careful way. Underneath, the church sanctuary is undergoing a $2 million repair and restoration.
"We struck the bell 38 times, in honor of the 38th president, Gerald Ford," Mr. Buonvino said, "with a pause of 10 seconds between each strike." The bell has rung upon the death of every president since George Washington. "We took a chance going up there," he added, "but we did not want to break the tradition." It had last been rung on June 5, 2004.
The New Utrecht Reformed Church was founded in 1677. According to church records, the bell, which cost 786 guilders or $314.40, was brought over from Holland in 1701. At first, it was in New Utrecht's original, octagon-shaped church, several blocks from where the church stands today. It was recast to increase its size before it was installed in the tower of the new church building, at 18th Ave. and 84th St., in 1830.
"Much of the history of the United States has been 'told' by the sound of that bell," the historian said. Occasions of grief and celebrations he listed include:
- the death of Washington in 1799,
- the deaths of all American presidents since then,
- the end of wars, including the Civil War and World Wars I and II,
- the deaths of Cardinal Spellman, Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Hope.
After ringing the bell for former president Ford, Mr. Buonvino and Mr. Tycenski, a Friends member who also who serves as the surgical officer for the 14th Brooklyn Regiment, Co. H,
re-enactment organization, waited five minutes and then rang it one more time as a signal that 2007 will be observed as the 350th anniversary of establishment of the old town of New Utrecht.
As part of the observance, the historical group plans to pull together writings on the town's earliest years, drawing upon the records of Mr. Teunis G. Bergen in the 1800s, Mr. Nicasius de Sille's account of the years from 1657 to 1660 and archives of the New Utrecht church which are now in storage, some of them at the New Brunswick (NJ) Theological Seminary.
The church is in the mainline Reformed Church in America (RCA).
"Our objective is to provide a detailed, accurate report that we can publish in print and perhaps on the Internet," Mr. Buonvino said. He said a book by Mrs. Bleecker Bangs, written in 1911, contains some inaccuracies. This will be a "big but important educational undertaking" for school students and anyone interested in the earliest history of Brooklyn, Mr. Buonvino said. "The research will give us another tool as we expand our cultural-educational programs," the Friends president added.
Also on Sunday, the New Utrecht Friends raised a large flag on the "Liberty Pole" on the church lawn, and then lowered it to half-staff, in honor of the former president. The flag, which measures 15-by-18 feet, with its 50 stars, was hoisted to the "Liberty Eagle" that sits atop the pole, before it was brought part way down. The pole, the only remaining one of its type in the nation, is 106 feet high.
Persons interested in learning more about Brooklyn's early history are invited to call (718) 256-7173 or (718) 234-9268. They also may log onto the Friends of Historic New Utrecht's Web site at www.historicnewutrecht.org
or send inquires to mail(at)historicnewutrecht.org.
PR services donated by bhprEspeciallyForChurches January 1, 2007