Sunday, September 09, 2001

Bicentennial countdown begins with bell

Marietta again helps to make history in Ohio

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MARIETTA — The molten metal flowed orange-red from the ladle into the steel box. Those who came to watch stood on tip-toes, straining for a better look.

        “It looked like a volcano,” said Melanie Schmidt afterward as she pushed her sleeping son, Tommy, 15 months, in a stroller.

        “It was similar to a lava flow,” said her husband, Doug Schmidt.

        The Schmidts were among several hundred people who took a few minutes out of a long day along the Ohio River to watch as the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati cast the first of 88 bicentennial bells to commemorate the state's 200th birthday in 2003.

        It is one of the projects commissioned by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission to commemorate the anniversary. Plans call for seven bells being cast on location this year, with the remaining 81 to be cast in Ohio's counties the following two years.

        The bell was cast during this city's 26th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, an event that attracts 100,000 visitors to this town of 15,000, on the West Virginia border about 200 miles from Cincinnati.

        Marietta and Washington County were chosen the first to receive the bicentennial bell because of their place in state history — 1788, the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory.

        And the Verdin Co. made history as well — the world's first bell produced on a fully mobile foundry. More than 15,000 pounds of equipment, a 41-foot trailer to carry it across the state, more than 2,000 pounds of sand and 350 pounds of metal. Copper and tin heated to 2,200 degrees, a fiery, liquid red and poured into a mold that will produce a 250-pound bronze bell about 2 feet high.

        “Sure, I was worried,” said Dave Verdin, vice president of the company founded in 1842. “You can practice and practice, but you always worry. And my guys aren't used to show business.”

        Practically the entire process was done on the open trailer; the ingots of bronze carried by school children to Verdin employees for loading into the furnace, the lighting of the furnace with propane at noon and finally the pouring of the molten metal at 2:40 p.m. once the liquid had reached 2,200 degrees.

        “I thought it was awesome,” said Denise Leary, who lives nearby in Coal Run. “But it's also fun knowing this is history and we're watching history being made.”

        Steve George, executive director of the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, said Richland County and, appropriately enough, its county seat, Bellville, will be next to have a bell cast. No date has been set for Hamilton County.

        State Rep. Nancy Hollister, R-Marietta, said Marietta is a city that embraces its history. On weekends, guides lead visitors on walking tours of the city's mix of Gothic and Colonial revival and Italianate Villa architecture.

        “To have the first bell cast here has great significance for me,” said Ms. Hollister. “History is very much a part of who we are.”

        Dave Verdin is excited about the next two years.

        “It's going to be wild,” he said. “We have a heavy-duty trailer, which makes for a more stable ride. We're doing this because, first, no one else can do it like we can. And, second, we like an exciting challenge like this.”

        The bell has been left to cool overnight. This morning, Gov. Bob Taft will break the mold and deliver the bell. It will be cleaned and polished; it will be rung later this afternoon.


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