The Lincolnton High School band’s bell has been silenced. This 350-pound brass bell, which is an artifact from the USS Charlottesville, was put on indefinite loan with Lincolnton High School in 1976. Since then, it has become part of the fabric of the high school and the Lincolnton community being pulled in parades, taken to competitions and home football games and, of course, rung. Last year, the school was notified by the Naval Historical Center that bell had to be put on display in a static location and no longer be rung.
The bell was originally acquired by Donald Peach.
“The band was doing very well,” said Peach, who was the band director from 1973 through 1994. “I wanted to get something that would distinguish them from everybody else and something they could be proud of. So I called the curator from the Navy and told him what we’d like to do.”
After a few weeks, Peach got a call back from the curator telling him that he had a bell for him. Peach drove to Washington with a couple of band parents to pick it up from the Naval Yard.
“It was covered in lead paint to protect it so we had to get all that off,” he said. “I’m not so sure we really thought about the properties of lead at the time but we did it as safely as we could.”
The carriage was donated by a local community member. The woodwork that supports the bell was done by AJ Smith, who taught woodworking at the school at the time.
“Whenever we went to a competition or a parade, I wanted people to know that we were from Lincolnton and we were the people that had the bell,” Peach said. “When we arrived, we rang the bell four times and then parked it in the end zone. It was really a spectacular thing. I remember people saying, ‘there’s the band with that bell.’ Some of them had some other things they liked to call it.”
Peach remembers sitting in the bleachers at a competition in Wake Forest behind parents of students from another school. When the Lincolnton High School band came on the field, he overheard them say, “there’s that band I heard so much about with that dang bell.”
“I wanted to tell them that I was the director and that we were having a great time with that bell but I didn’t say anything,” he said. “The bell holds a special place in the history of the school.”
This bell has gone to band competitions, been pulled in parades and was part of President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985. It has gone to all home football games and rung when the Lincolnton High School’s team scores. Every year, the bell is pulled, with honor, by eighth-graders who got the best grades the year before.
“It’s part of our tradition for a very long time,” band director Josh Belvin said. “The agreement that we had with the Navy is that we’d give a report on where the bell’s been, how it’s being used and its condition. We’ve done that consistently every year. Last year we got a notice that their policy on artifacts on loan that belong to the Naval Historical Center had been changed that that they would only be able to be used in static display.”
This means that guns can’t be fired in salutes, uniforms can’t be used in reenactments, vehicles can’t be driven in displays and bells can’t be rung. Belvin assumes that this may be due to artifacts being used in inappropriate ways.
Now Lincolnton High School needs a new bell. Belvin plans that the USS Charlottesville bell will remain at the school in a static display, as requested by the Navy, with a plaque describing the history of the bell, both when it was on the USS Charlottesville and its history at Lincolnton High School.
“Even though the band’s been solely responsible for the bell over the years and we would like to fundraise for it, the problem is that we don’t get any funding from the county as it is,” Belvin said. “Every fundraising dollar that we get in, we have to put towards the band. It would be very difficult to justify $7,000 worth of fundraising in addition to our already dwindling budget.”
The Lincolnton High School Interact Club has graciously stepped up to the plate and is beginning the fundraising process.
“The fact that the bell is just sitting here in the band room and we don’t have that thing ringing during the games is something that a lot of people in the community miss,” Belvin said. “It’s been tough. When we got the notice last year, we started investigating and asking around and several community members have reached out to people that they know working in the Pentagon and the Navy to try to see if we can find another angle to keep using the bell but it’s been unsuccessful so purchasing a new one is our only option.”
Donations to Lincolnton High School’s “Bring Back the Bell” campaign can be sent to Lincolnton High School, Attn: Interact Club, 803 North Aspen Street, Lincolnton, North Carolina 28092 with the memo, “bring back the bell/Interact Club.”