April 16th Memorial Dedication Ceremony: Salem Fire Bell assists in honoring April 16 victims

April 16 Memorial Dedication Ceremony

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Salem Fire Bell assists in honoring April 16 victims

The interim memorial dedication ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 19, concludes with 32 rings of the Salem Fire Bell--each ring symbolizing and honoring one of the 32 victims of April 16.

Provided by the City of Salem, Va., this marks the second time the bell has been graciously loaned for such a solemn occasion on campus--the first time having been on April 23, 2007, exactly a week after the tragedy occurred.

The bell striker on Aug. 19 was Lieutenant Eddie Hite, of the Salem Fire & EMS Department. He was accompanied by Captain John Prillaman and Captain Richie Bolton, also of the department. Hite, Prillaman, and Bolton also made up the team that brought the bell to Virginia Tech on the previous occasion.

According to Salem's official records, the fire bell was purchased on Dec. 6, 1883, from John Chalmers, a predominant hardware merchant of both Salem and nearby Roanoke, Va., at a cost of $148.38.

The bell was mounted on heavy timbers in the tower of the frame firehouse on Calhoun Street in Salem, where it hung from 1883 until approximately 1921 when it was moved to the Fire Station on North College Avenue, next to the Old Courthouse.

The bell remained in a tower on College Avenue until 1986 when it was taken down and sent to Henry McShane Bell Foundry in Glen Burnie, Md.--the same company that originally cast the bell. There, the solid brass, 800-pound bell was reconditioned and a clapper was placed inside. The reconditioning cost $4,000.

The Commission of the Bicentennial of the Constitution planned a "ringing tribute to the Constitution" on Thursday Sept. 17, 1987, at 4 p.m. The commission requested that all bells be sounded for 200 seconds, beginning at 4 p.m. EDT, the time of the actual signing of the Constitution 200 years prior. This event marked the first public ringing of the bell since the since its refurbishment.

The trailer, on which the bell is mounted, as well as the gong, is kept at the Salem Fire & EMS Department, under the charge of the Fire Chief, C.G. "Pat" Counts.