Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Bethlehem Lutheran parishioners save church bell

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Bethlehem Lutheran Church Bell moved: Four parishioners accepted the task of moving a 2,332 lb. church bell from the belfry of the old Bethlehem Lutheran Church to its new church on 1100N. Pictured from top, Jim Wiebe watches as a crane moves the bell from the belfry of the old church. Center photo: left to right, Buck Gustafson, Dan Coffman and Sean Volmor (Wiebe hidden behind bell) load the bell onto a trailer. Bottom: pictured left to right, Sean Volmer, Dan Coffman, Jim Wiebe and Buck Gustafson pose with the bell at the new church at 2050 W. 1100N.(Photos provided)



Members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church have yet to build a new bell tower at its new church, but several loyal members recently transported the sonorous carillon from the old church in town to the new church located at 2050 W. 1100N.

After some restoration, it will be on display in the Narthex of the church until the tower is built.

“It weighs more than the Liberty Bell,” said Jim Wiebe, one of the parishioners who worked on the project. “Our bell weighs 2,332 pounds and the Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds.”

There is a connection in the comparison of the bells. Both the famous Liberty Bell and the original Bethlehem Church Bell each suffered a crack. And, the two bells were recently moved to new locations during the same time period. Albeit, the local bell was transported a farther distance and in a shorter amount of time.

The history of the local bell is recorded in church documents that were shared with the Chesterton Tribune.

The local congregation first announced on January 26, 1886 it would begin collecting for a bell. However, it was not until October 2, 1849 the Young People’s Society of the church agreed to pay for a church bell weighing 2,000 pounds from the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Md. Cost of the bell was $346 and its weight was 2,073 pounds.

A committee consisting of John B. Bennett, Daniel Lindahl, Charles Grans and John Lonnerberg determined the inscription to be inscribed on the bell: “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem, Praise Thy god, O Zion.”

According to a church bulletin on April 2, 1933, the bell developed a hairline crack. “On Dec. 25, 1932 our bell developed a defect...As its tone is no longer tuneful, it was decided to dispense with its use until repairs can be made.”

“The housing from which the bell hung had gradually gotten out of level, brought about by the swinging of the bell while ringing.

“This out-of-level situation caused the clapper to strike along side a spring brake which absorbed the weight of the strike. As a result, the constant direct strike eventually brought about the hairline crack,” says a church document.

That year, the church canceled its New Year’s Eve service because the bell no longer could be used.

The old bell was sold to the St. Louis Bell foundry for scrap at a higher price than cost of the bell when it was new. Also, a plaque was made from the old bell metal, but with an incorrect date.

In 1965 the Church Council approved contributions could to be made for a new bell. However, because the church underwent major refurbishing, the bell was not ordered until June 11, 1973.

The replacement bell, made of 80 percent virgin copper and 20 percent virgin tin was cast in the Verdin Bell Foundry, located in Aarle-Rixtell, The Netherlands. Charles Pratt did the electrical work so it could be operated electronically.

Bethlehem Steel hoisted the bell, 44 1/2 inches in diameter and 37 1/3 inches in height, into the belfry, 51 feet above ground level. It was first used on Easter Sunday, April 14, 1974 and dedicated on September 15 of that year.

Total cost was $10,985. Its pitch was E-natural.

“No one would move the bell from the belfry, so a group of us decided to do it ourselves because we wanted to keep the bell,” Buck Gustafson told the Chesterton Tribune.

According to Wiebe, Gerard Fritsen, whose name is on the bell, came to Chesterton to see the bell as they brought it to ground level. Fritsen, now of Deerfield, Ill., is a descendent of the family in Holland that co-founded the bell foundry in 1660.

Gustafson, Wiebe, Dan Coffman and Sean Volmor climbed up the belfry, took down the wall, and using two sets of ladders dismantled the bell from the steel frame, lowering it to the ground. They used a crane to move the bell to ground the pick up truck. They then loaded it on a trailer pulled by a pick-up truck and took it to the new church next to Dogwood Park. Mike Hrena, of Valparaiso, will polish the bell. Eventually the bell will swing from a new bell tower.

“There were bats in the belfry, but they didn’t bother us,” Wiebe said, adding that it was located 53 feet in the air - two feet higher than originally reported.

The men also had to reassemble the brick wall in the old church, before the mission was completed.

“We didn’t think about the danger involved, we just knew we had to do it, because we wanted the bell,” Gustafson said.


Posted 10/17/2003