Washington’s Bells

Suspended above the streets of our capital, the history of our nation is written in bronze. We're compiling the fascinating histories, oral traditions, and lasting legacies of bells in D.C. If you know about one of Washington's bells, share your story with us!

Washington’s Bells: Bell from a Dressing Table Set

Atop every grande dame’s dressing table is oft to be found a set of necessaries, those elements of convenience that make her life more effortless and stylish. Marjorie Merriweather Post, who ruled haute société for much of the 20th century from her sprawling estates in New York, Washington, and Palm Beach, chose to surround herself with the sumptuous luxuries of French and Russian nobility. The same was true for her dressing room.

Washington’s Bells: Miniature Tsar Bell

Within the sumptuous collections housed at Washington’s famed Hillwood Estate, a small desk bell speaks to grand inspiration and storied lineage. The bell, a miniature representation of the Brobdingnagian Tsar Bell in Moscow, is crafted in gilt bronze and was cast in Russia after 1836 as a single piece. An engraving indicates the location of the original’s broken fragment. 

Washington’s Bells: The Smithsonian Bell

Some of the most striking buildings in the nation’s capital contain the art, history, and collections of the American people. Of these, perhaps none stand out from the neoclassical and Federal architecture of D.C. more than the Smithsonian Institution Building, colloquially called the Castle. Architect James Renwick, Jr. designed the Castle, abutting the great lawn of the National Mall, with a picturesque, Gothic Revival tower of Seneca red sandstone. It is a dramatic focal contrast to the surrounding buildings, but one the architect did not live to see fully realized.

Washington's Bells: Japanese American Memorial Bell

Hysteria and prejudice gripped nations on all continents during the bleak years of World War II, casting a long and dark shadow across humanity. It was a time when Americans, fighting against oppression and fanaticism, stood as standard-bearers for the inalienable rights of freedom, equality, and justice. But even when championing the greatest good, our steps faltered. 

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that sent 120,000 Americans with Japanese ancestry to internment camps. 

Washington’s Bells: Bell of Peace and Harmony

Suspended like a ripe fruit within a hilltop pagoda, tucked into the rolling Virginia landscape, among the rich tapestry of foliage and flower at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, just beyond Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, a bell hangs. But this is no ordinary bell. Its prominence, scale, symbolism, and craftsmanship announce this as a bell of distinction.

Washington’s Bells: The Knights’ Tower

From high above the city (329 ft. at the pinnacle), the bells of The Knight’s Tower at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception call the faithful to prayer and announce significant events in the life of the church. The tower is an impressive structure – taller than the campanile of the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice (at 325 ft.) and the Leaning Tower of Pisa (at 188 ft.), but shy of the 555-ft. Washington Monument (of course, given the elevation of terrain in northeast Washington, it is nearly the monument’s equal). 

Washington’s Bells: The Bells of Congress

A stone’s throw from the White House (the Secret Service recommends against that) rises one of Washington's few significant Romanesque Revival buildings on a monumental scale: the Old Post Office and Clock Tower. Long one of Washington's favorite landmarks, the Old Post Office was originally built from 1892 to 1899 to house the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters and the city's post office. 

Washington’s Bells: Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon

On a chilly morning in mid-April 1959, a crowd of 5,000 gathered just north of the U.S. Capitol in a shaded grove of stately willow oaks and fluttering Yoshino cherries. With President Dwight D. Eisenhower looking on, former President Herbert Hoover was delivering a poignant eulogy – remarking on a life well lived and a patriot untimely lost. Vice President Richard Nixon, in his role as President of the Senate, stood ready to accept a towering structure to the Capitol grounds.

Washington’s Bells: The Freedom Bell

Perched in front of the soaring, neoclassical Union Station just north of the U.S. Capitol, in a plaza it shares with the colossal fountain and monument to explorer Christopher Columbus, is a 2:1 scale replica of the Liberty Bell: the Freedom Bell. 

Washington’s Bells: Georgetown Lutheran Church

The first concept of a Lutheran church along the banks of the Potomac began in the early 18th century, when a group of Lutherans from Germany, having settled in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, migrated to the Potomac Valley. They were enticed by an offer of land from George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. With them they brought their religion, and a sprinkling of itinerant pastors ministered to these settlers from as early as 1733.

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