"Every Time A Bell Rings..."
“Every Time A Bell Rings…”
In that holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you will recall one of the closing scenes when little Zuzu hears a tiny bell on the family Christmas tree tinkle, and tells her parents: “Teacher says ‘every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings’”.
The movie’s little jingler was made by the Bevin Brothers bell company in East Hampton, a Connecticut town once so identified with the makers of melodic metal it was nicknamed “belltown.” It is amazing how many iconic American bells are from Bevin’s: the Salvation Army hand-ringer bells, the bells on all the Santas past and present in the Macy’s holiday parades, the bells that announced boxing rounds in many championship fights, the bells on Good Humor ice cream carts, even the bells that opened and closed many New York Stock Exchange sessions.
So it was a tragedy of historic proportions that occurred back on May 27 when lightning sparked a major blaze that burned the Bevin Bell factory nearly to the ground. East Hampton residents watched in horror, fearing the town’s heritage literally had gone up in flames. Three days later, company owner Matt Bevin told Connecticut: “You start over. This is America.”
Photo by Steve Kotchko
Today a large American flag is draped on a remaining brick wall of the burned-out factory, further evidence of the never-say-die spirit of New England and the nation as a whole. Bevin Bell already is on the comeback trail.
The state has committed $200,000 in grants and loans to help Bevin Bell and a companion firm rebuild in temporary quarters in East Hampton. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and others in the Connecticut congressional delegation are working on federal help from several agencies, including the U.S. Commerce Department that may assist in exporting Bevin bells.
Owner Matt Bell announced last Friday, that to raise some revenue until production can resume, his firm will sell artifacts from the fire—cleaned up tiny sleigh bells in a presentation box with a printed history of the Bevin Bros. bell company that will sell for $10. Special tee shirts, bumper stickers, bricks, candles and other items will be offered so the public can help bring the company back to life.
The items will be available at some East Hampton retail outlets, and soon will be sold online as well at two company-related websites: www.keepthebellsinbelltown.com and www.bevinbells.com
Blumenthal bought some of the fundraising bell sets, had Bevin autograph them, and promised to give them to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden to impress them with the resolve of a town and an American small business ready to rise from adversity.
Sen. Blumenthal &
Bell Maker Matt Bevin
Photo by Steve Kotchko
The Senator said companies such as Bevin Bell need the support of all Americans. “If these bells are not made at this (company) the only place people can buy them is China---literally,” he said. Blumenthal declared: “Connecticut ought to be really proud and excited that this company is going to continue right here in belltown. Nothing is impossible if people are willing to commit--even rising from the ashes.”
It’s to get caught up in the enthusiasm generated by owner Matt Bevin. He knows his competitors in China are ready to eat his lunch while the East Hampton production lines are being built, but he vows to take care of his long-time customers such as the Salvation Army. “They had a huge order (for hand ringer bells) for us as they do every year and we’re going to fill that order,” Bevin promised. “When you hear the bells ringin’ on the street corners by the red kettles this Christmas, they will be Bevin bells.”
Detailing the rebuilding effort, Bevin said some equipment already is in place at the temporary factory site, more is being installed in the coming days. “We’ve made connections with some local metal shops who said ‘bring us your die and we’ll make the product for you’; so we’re going to be taking advantage of that.” The scrappy bell maker told reporters: “We’ll put one foot in front of the next until we are continuing to make bells in belltown.”
If all goes as planned, Bevin Bell will get back into production full-swing at its temporary facility in East Hampton to restore the business and fill out its time-tested product list that includes everything from tiny sleigh bells, to “teacher’s hand bells”, to call bells used at the front desks of hotel, motels, and stores, to trip gongs, and even cowbells.
After a full clean-up at the fire site, Bevin wants to construct a modern factory at that location, hopefully incorporating some of the old brick structure in the new plant to maintain the historic legacy of the nation’s last major bell maker. If that happens, it will add a special note to the American slogan “let freedom ring.”
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