Historical Museum offers parade-goers chance to ring Hill School Bell

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 6, 2015

 This illustration, provided by H2A Architects, shows the design for the Hill School Bell’s protective structure. It was inspired by the school’s original cupola and was conceptualized by Russell Dixon, of the museum board.

This illustration, provided by H2A Architects, shows the design for the Hill School Bell’s protective structure. It was inspired by the school’s original cupola and was conceptualized by Russell Dixon, of the museum board.

Image provided by Leslie Pielack

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BIRMINGHAM — By now, most residents know that the Birmingham Hometown Parade is just a couple of weeks away on Sunday, May 17.

What some may not know, though, is that a special guest is slated to be at this year’s event to meet and greet fans of all ages.

According to Leslie Pielack, director of the Birmingham Historical Museum, the famed Hill School Bell will be towed along the parade route that day in line with other floats and attractions. The goal, she said, will be to draw attention to the museum’s effort to raise money to preserve the bell in a protective outdoor structure in public view.

“We’re about $10,000 away from our goal,” she said. “We’re going to load it up on a flatbed from (the Department of Public Works) and march it through the parade all the way to Shain Park.”

Once the bell gets to the heart of downtown is when things get really exciting, she said. The bell — dating back to 1869 — is still in ringing order, so for a minimum donation of $5, visitors can take a turn ringing the bell to raise funds for the campaign.

“It’s easy for even young children to ring because it has a rope on a clapper, so it will get a big sound,” said Pielack.

First in line to ring the bell that day will be Randy Forester, a longtime Birmingham resident with family ties to the chime.

“Both my parents were born in Birmingham in the ’20s and were lifelong residents of Birmingham,” explained Forester. “Back then, because my father lived so close to Hill School at the time, someone asked him if he would ring the bell each day — in the morning to get the kids to school, and at the end of the day when it’s time to go home.”

Forester’s father was just a boy at the time and later graduated from Baldwin High School. His experience at the school must have been a meaningful one, because when the Hill School was scheduled to be torn down in the late ’60s, the father of six asked if he could have one last turn at the ringer — and if all of his children could do the same.

“We had to put a ladder up there because it wasn’t really safe to go (in the tower) anymore,” Forester remembered. “We had to put an extension of some sort to connect the rope to the bell, but we definitely heard it ring.”

Forester and his wife contributed to the Hill School Bell preservation fund and look forward to May 17, when they’ll meet neighbors in Shain Park and encourage them to do the same.

“I think it will be great to have it outside on display,” he said. “Generations later, we’ll actually be able to see it and know the history of the bell and the original school house.”

For more information on the fundraising effort, visit www.bhamgov.org and click on the Hill School Bell Fundraising Campaign tab on the Birmingham Historical Museum and Park page.

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