Manayunk church warned over morning bell-ringing

MANAYUNK - September 9, 2010

The city's Health Department says neighbors have complained about the bell noise at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Manayunk.

An additional complaint could bring a noise investigation and possible fines.

Other than a brief period of a couple of years when the striking mechanism was broken, the bell at St. John's has been a mainstay in Manayunk for more than a century.

Longtime neighbors suspect the bell's critic doesn't understand where they live.

"It's new people moving in. Choose to move here, accept the customs. The church has been here a hundred years," said Harry Feigel.

The pastor says the church has tried to be sensitive to light sleepers.

"We tried to be a good neighbor and, instead of ringing it at 6:00 a.m., like we used to, we moved it back to 7:00 a.m.," said the Rev. James Lyon.

The 5,000 pound bell sits eight stories above the street. If you climb up the tower and get right next to the bell, you'll need heavy ear protection when it rings.

"Even with ear protection you still have the tendency to grab your ears," said church maintenance worker John Woods. "The whole body vibrates."

At street level, however, fans of the bell say other urban sounds such as trucks, planes, helicopters and the train often can drown out the bell.

A small audio meter Action News used at street level did register the bell, but a passing diesel bus actually pegged the meter.

No one we found wanted the bell silenced. Joy Hatcher says as a small child she learned to tell time - .two bells meant 2:00 - snack time.

"At four bells Sally Star and Happy the Clown and all these people were coming on TV. At five - it's dinner time!" Hatcher said.

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