Hear the tolling of the bells, electronic bells

SANDUSKY For generations, the softly haunting ring of church bells has echoed through Sandusky's streets. Some of the
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



For generations, the softly haunting ring of church bells has echoed through Sandusky's streets.

Some of the church bells in town are still the iconic metal mammoths perched at the top of towering belfries. Others have taken on a strikingly modern tone.

Atop the 140-foot steeple of St. Mary's Catholic Church, 429 Central Ave., rest three bronze bells with a combined weight of more than two tons.

Along the narrow and winding wooden staircase to the belfry, candle wax still clings to the windowsills from before the church had electricity.

With each step, the worn wooden stairs become steeper and seemingly smaller. The climb is exhausting, but the view from the top of the steeple is worth every step.

Suddenly, the crisp air more than 100 feet up the century-old tower is shattered by the deep ring of two bronze church bells.

Church bells were originally used to let church members in rural areas know when it was time to pray or attend service, or to announce a wedding or funeral.

St. Mary's belfry has more bells than any other church in town, said Timothy Claubaugh, music director at the parish.

In 1880, the smallest of the three bells was brought to the newly completed church from the first St. Mary's church. The parking lot beside Sandusky Central Catholic schools at Jefferson and Decatur streets is the former site of the first church, built in 1855.

There was plenty of room in the belfry for more bells, so Sanduskians Joseph Obergefel, who ran a saloon in town, and Constantine Zipfel, a local butcher, each bought another bell. Both of the newer bells were cast in 1880 by the Van Duzen and Tift Foundry in Cincinnati.

Though the bells are now operated by an electric switch, the black metal pipes that once encased the ropes to ring the bells can still be seen running down the wall of the church.

The middle bell has been silent for years because of a crack that would be very expensive to fix.

The smallest and oldest bell weighs in at about half a ton and rings a G sharp. The middle bell, at 1408 pounds, rang F sharp in its operable years. And the largest bell, which rings E, weighs 2,300 pounds.

At 4,500 pounds, the bell at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 510 Columbus Ave., tips the scales as the heaviest bell in town.

Some area churches have put a new twist on the familiar tone.

St. Stephen United Church of Christ, 905 E. Perkins Ave., is one of several area churches that have brought their bells into the next century.

The church has an auto-carillon digital bell system, which plays the equivalent of MP3s, said the Rev. Rob Patton.

"We have different songs that we can program it to play for the different seasons," Patton said.

The carillon system was installed at St. Stephen in 1969, but was in disrepair throughout the 1980s and 90s. The new system has been in service at the church since 1998.