By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, July 1, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
[Atlantic News Photos by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON -- Hours before their eighth grade graduation ceremony on Friday, June 24, 2005 the Class of 2005 at Hampton Academy Junior High School gathered on the front lawn of the school to "ring in" another very special occasion.
"As president of the Hampton Academy Trustees, I welcome you to the ringing of the Academy bell that was hung in the belfry of the Hampton Academy building in 1859," said Russ Merrill as he addressed those who were present.
Merrill explained how the bell "was probably last rung in 1939, prior to the building being torn down after the New Hampton Academy and High School building was built during the year 1939-1940. This old building was sitting just feet from the original building on your right," he told them.
The bell "was taken out of the old building and stored in the basement of the new building. About 26 years later, it was taken out of storage (without a clapper) and put on permanent display as you can see," said Merrill, indicating the stone base and metal frame upon which the bell has been sitting since that time in school history.
"The clapper was still in storage until recently, and was in a mess of stuff (junk) that was being hauled to the dump," Merrill continued. "Alan Jones, who worked for the town, realized what it was and asked if he could have it. He in turn told John Holman, another trustee, that he had it, and John suggested it be turned over to the trustees, and have a board made to display it in the school’s archives."
For the bell ringing ceremony, Merrill proclaimed that "the clapper is now attached to the bell for which it was made." This particular truth rang loud and clear when Student Council President Laurel Weatherby pulled on the rope attached to the bell. Its deep, solid tone resonated across the front lawn of the school — and was music to the ears of those who had been awaiting the moment.
Also speaking from the podium that day was Trustee John Holman, who related a 1958 story by Carl Joplin about the day "when the school bell did not ring" when Joplin was a janitor at the Academy in 1900-01. Painters had left a long ladder extending up into the school’s belfry, and someone apparently climbed up the ladder and removed the tongue (clapper).
"The next morning I pulled the rope as usual at 8:45, but there was no sound and several of the students on the playground came running in saying, 'The bell isn’t ringing!’" Holman read. "I reported to the principal. He got the key to the door leading to the lodge hall on the second floor, and from there we had to climb a ladder to the belfry. We looked all around and I climbed up as high as I could and looked about the dust rafters, but no tongue.
"The principal sent an order to Boston for a new tongue, and when it arrived I had to go to the express office and bring it to the school [and] take it to the belfry and put it in place. It wasn’t light. There are still some alumni and alumnae of Hampton Academy who will remember the day the bell didn’t ring."
That wasn’t the case when the bell rang once again on June 24, and though Merrill said the clapper will be removed for now, it "will be put back in the bell again on August 30, 2005, to bring the students into class on the first day of the new school year. It is our hope that the ringing of the bell will continue greeting each new school year on the first day of school in the future, thereby continuing a new tradition for the community and Hampton Academy."