Here is a story that I share with you that was published in the July 23, 2008 edition of the MetroWest Daily News, covering the area just west of Boston, Massachusetts. I lived there for many years and check the news back "home" nearly every day. Here is an interesting account of the bell's status:
Kleinkauf: "John Brown's Bell Should Be Returned"
I'm ashamed to admit that until I read about it again in Sunday's Daily News, I had temporarily forgotten about the saga of John Brown's Bell.
Here is a tale of an historic battle between two communities, which has become so petty it makes Natick's squabble over the Redmen name look almost sane by comparison.
As the story goes, in 1859, anti-slavery crusader John Brown raided the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Md., (now located in West Virginia) in hopes of rallying slaves to insurrection. Brown was captured by Marines in the arsenal's firehouse (which has become known as John Brown's Fort), and later hanged as a traitor.
In the early days of the Civil War, a Union Army contingent of Marlborough men was assigned to Harpers Ferry to prevent Confederates from crossing through to attack Washington, D.C.
Among them, according to the City of Marlborough Web site, were "members of the 'Torrent' Fire/engine Company in Marlborough (the 'Torrent' being a hand-tub)." They "decided that the bell still hanging in the belfry atop the engine house at Harpers Ferry was just what their engine house in Marlborough needed."
The bell was liberated, hidden for the duration of the war and later shipped to Marlborough, where it remains, now sitting in a brick tower on Union Common.
I first heard the story about 10 years ago when I worked in the News west bureau in Marlborough. Some folks from Harpers Ferry had come to town in an attempt to negotiate the bell's return.
And, it became a big enough story that even WCVB's "Chronicle" aired a segment on it.
Walton Danforth Stowell, then mayor of Harpers Ferry - and ironically a Massachusetts native - had made the case that the bell's only real meaning would be in the context of the armory building at Harpers Ferry National Park.
But, George Whapham, then commander of the Marlborough American Legion Post, which owns the bell, said in no uncertain terms that the bell belonged in Marlborough and would stay there.
Marlborough resident Jim Bell (no relation), a past commander of the post who met with the representatives from Harpers Ferry, told them he would post a 24-hour guard at the bell tower if necessary.
And Marlborough Mayor J. Michael McGorty backed the Legion in refusing to give up the bell.
The only voice of reason in the city at the time was the Rev. Richard Weber, pastor of the First Church of Marlborough, who advocated that the bell be returned to its rightful owners and replaced with a replica.
And then the story seemed to fade away until recently, when Pete Manuel, an Army reservist and native of Harpers Ferry, decided the saga of the bell should be more widely known.
"I feel like it would reach a broader array of people on (Harpers Ferry) National Park," said Manuel. "Right now, the only people who know about the bell are from Harpers Ferry and Marlborough. My ultimate goal is to get the stuff in local schools and tell the story."
Current Harpers Ferry Mayor Jim Addy also thinks Marlborough should give up the bell. "I think they ought to return it because next year is the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid," he said. "(But) it's a donnybrook."
That it is. And Marlborough's position seems to have become even more intractable.
"The young men from Marlborough saved it from obliteration, so tough noogies," said Gary Brown (no relation), chairman of the city's historical commission. "Had they not taken the bell, it wouldn't exist. Virtually every bell in the South was melted down for munitions. It's ours and it's going to stay ours. Neener, neener, neener."
In addition to being juvenile and combative, Brown's argument doesn't hold water.
And neither does that of fellow historical society member Joan Abshire, who argues, "How can (the bell) be stolen? They were U.S. troops on U.S. property, and they were told to go find everything of value."
The same could be said of artworks and other valuables plundered by the Nazis when they occupied most of Europe. Yes, the stolen property might have otherwise been destroyed in battle, but it wasn't. And it still belongs to the rightful owners.
Some members of Marlborough's American Legion and Historical Society may believe their ancestors stole the Harpers Ferry bell fair and square, and so it's theirs to keep. But they're wrong.
They should grow up, and do the right thing.
Marlborough should return the bell in time for the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid.
The Harpers Ferry bell is a national treasure and an important symbol of the historic anti-slavery movement, and it belongs in a national park.
(Jim Kleinkauf is the South regional editor of the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-4422 or email@example.com.)