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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - Golden anniversary of a familiar sound in town

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 11:58 AM

Through the years I have tried to write articles marking a special anniversary of an event. One I missed was the centennial of the 10 bells which reside in the tower of Norwalk's St. Paul Catholic Church.

The church was completed and dedicated early in 1893, but may not have had a bell in the tower until 1907. I could find no record of it, except a statement that the bell used since 1876 in the first St. Paul Church at Wooster and Monroe was still calling worshipers to services in 1899. I believe that this 1876 bell was eventually sold to the German Lutherans and placed in their church at 92 N. Prospect St.

Meanwhile, funds were being raised to purchase a set of bells for the present church. Ten bells were purchased from the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, and arrived in Norwalk on March 27, 1907, the Friday before Palm Sunday. The three largest bells were intended to be rung, while the seven smaller ones were to be played as a carillon via a keyboard.

Five priests were present to assist the pastor, Rev. J. A. Schaffeld, with the blessing ceremony on Palm Sunday afternoon. Each bell was washed and anointed while prayers were said and hymns were sung. More than 1,000 people witnessed the ceremony and heard the three largest bells rung on their temporary mounting.

During the following week the bells were raised to the bell room in the tower, adding an estimated 10,000 pounds of weight to the building. Easter morning there was a special ringing before each service, and other public concerts were given for a few days. My one question at this distant time is: how did they get the bells up into the tower? You don't really have to tell me, however. I know they had steam power, but one must wonder about that long distance trip.

The bells were used to traveling, however. In Baltimore they were shipped via the B & O Railroad to Monroeville and then brought to Norwalk without incident. Each bell was dedicated to a Saint of the Church, and each has a Latin inscription. Those persons or groups who gave more than $50 was immortalized by having their name inscribed. The entire project cost the church $4,000, and the bells are still there after a century and are still in use.

As I said earlier, the church was completed and dedicated in January of 1893, and stands as a monument to the hard-working pastor, Rev. J. A. Michenfelder. Rev. Michenfelder may have been a good fundraiser for buildings, but he did not get along well with some people. After the church was done he took a three-month vacation to his old home in Germany with Anthony Riester of Norwalk, an active member of the building committee.

Upon their return Rev. Michenfelder decided to remodel the rectory next to the church, but his views were contrary to several parishioners, so he resigned by mutual agreement. It is said that when the church was completed and the cross was not yet in place on the tower, Rev. Michenfelder climbed the scaffold and stood on the top of the tower.

This sounds daring, but I must add that at that time the spire rose 170 feet in the air and eventually had a cross 16 feet high mounted on it. In 1928 the tall spire was taken down and the tower shortened to look as it does now. So, Rev. Michenfelder was a long way in the air in the 1890s.

Remember My "Just Like Old Times" books are on sale at Colonial Flower & Gift Shoppe, at 7 W. Main St. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent, fully-indexed book form.

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