Soon, visitors to Williams Pier in Gulfport will be able to ring in each day’s sunset with a special bell thanks to two local residents and city staff.
The pier, located at the corner of Shore Boulevard and 54th Street South, is part of the city’s waterfront area on Boca Ciega Bay and is a popular for enjoying picturesque sunsets.
Recently, Wolfgang Deininger organized an impromptu sunset ceremony at the pier via social media and used a hand-held bell to provide the audio.
Among those who attended was Eagle Finegan, a local photographer.
“When I saw that hand bell, I said to Wolfgang, ‘I’ll give you a bigger one!’” Two days later, Deininger took a look at the bell she used to have mounted on a post in her yard in Waveland, Mississippi and he said, “I’ve got to have it,” said Finegan.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coastline near New Orleans as a category 4 storm. That’s the day Finegan lost her town, her home and her bell.
After the storm, “in searching for my personal belongings, I started wading back into the woods and I saw a little piece of the black bell. I had to dig it out but I found it,” she said.
A piece of the three-hole mounting bracket at the bottom of the yoke was cracked off. In spite of the damage, when Habitat for Humanity replaced her home, she remounted the bell on a post in her front yard. When she moved to Gulfport, Florida, the bell came with her but she never reinstalled it.
Gulfport’s future sunset bell from Finegan is a #2 model made by the CS Bell Company of Hillsboro, Ohio and is like the one that has become a tradition in Pass-a-Grille, said Deininger. There and for about 20 years, a volunteer from the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum has overseen the sunset bell ringing ritual that was established when the first one was installed by members of the so-called Clapper Club, according to a Gabber article published November 30, 2016.
According to the American Bell Association, CS Bell was the largest producer of big bells in North America and “during the peak production decade of the 1880s, they turned out as many as 20,000 each year.” The bells were made in different sizes for schools, churches, fire departments, WWII ships and for families who wished to call people home to dinner. The sunset bell at Pass-a-Grille and the one destined for Gulfport’s pier are dinner models that come with a bell, clapper and a single yoke that mounts to a post.
As a child growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, Finegan remembers her family having one of these large dinner bells. As an adult and before she left the state, she bought one at auction for herself.
Deininger approached Gulfport city council members and the city manager with the idea of installing the large bell on the pier.
“The city is working with Deininger to address the bracket issue so it is more sturdy and durable for public use,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
Whether the Gulfport bell’s mounting yoke is replaced or repaired through welding fabrication, it is going to soon become part of the waterfront culture, said Deininger.