Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Change in City Suggests It's Time to Ring Old Bell

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Change in City Suggests It's Time to Ring Old Bell

Article excerpt

It's hard to misplace a 300-year-old, one-ton English bell, but Pittsburgh has managed it.

It's been hiding in plain sight against a wall in the parking garage beneath the Westin Convention Center Hotel for decades now, a spurned gift believed to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 grand.

How did a bell forged by Henry Penn in 1709 come to such an ignoble place?

Funny story: This was a gift to the Sophie Masloff administration a quarter-century ago, and Mayor Masloff rang in a couple of new years with it in the early 1990s. But when Tom Murphy became mayor in 1994, nobody told him the city had a bell.

There wasn't much talking between those two administrations. There's likely to be even less between that of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his presumptive heir, Bill Peduto, who just won the Democratic primary on Tuesday. Those two get along like Iran and Iraq.

I called Mr. Peduto last week to tell him he might want to put this bell on his to-ring list. He seemed glad to learn about it. He's trying to track down everything and anything of value "so it doesn't disappear." (I wasn't kidding about that "Iran and Iraq" comparison.)

He lamented that the city hasn't had any luck finding the pedestal that goes with the head of former Mayor William Magee, a 3- foot bust that's been ensconced in a public works office for years.

Morton Brown, the city's public art manager, is the point man on such matters, so I sent him a column I wrote about our unrung bell four years ago. I had been prompted then by a historian from Peterborough, England, who'd emailed me a 1987 photo of the bell in what was then the Vista hotel.

That hotel has changed hands three times in the years since, but the bell has never budged from the garage. When I called there in '09, the management had no idea it had been hosting an 18th-century heirloom.

Meeting me at the hotel Thursday afternoon, Mr. Brown nearly drove his motorcycle right up to the bell. It's dusty and has the same fake Liberty-bell style crack drawn in with a Sharpie that I'd seen in 2009, but it's otherwise untouched. …

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