Treasures: St. Francis de Sales Bells
One of the bells at St. Francis de Sales Church (Walnut Hills, Cincinnati) will never be rung again — the usual way, that is.
“Big Joe” is the largest swinging bell ever cast in the United States. Seven feet tall and nine feet in diameter, Big Joe weighs 35,000 pounds. It was cast here in Cincinnati by the E. W. Van Duzen Company in 1895 and, according to the parish’s history, it took 14 horses to haul Big Joe from the foundry a 2nd and Broadway. It occupies the main floor of the church steeple.
Big Joe got its name from the largest donor to the $12,000-$15,000 project, Joseph Beddeke, and “Big Ben,” a London bell that has never been swung.
When it was rung in January 1896, the parish history continues, it was heard for a 15-mile radius. Local historian Alvin Harlow wrote, “all of Walnut Hills nearly jumped out of its collective skin. The earth trembled, windows nearby broke from the concussion, and tiny bits of cement were seen falling from between the stones of the church tower.”
Big Joe is still rung, but by a foot hammer that strikes the edge of the bell, not the 640-lb. clapper. Four smaller bells mounted above it have never inflicted any damage.
See more photos of the bells, and photos of the city taken from high in the bell tower, at the St. Frances de Sales Facebook page.
Photos courtesy St. Francis de Sales.