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St. Mary's-on-the-Hill bell unveiled after rescue

If the frantic efforts to salvage the 1,000-pound bell from the wreckage of St. Mary's-on-the-Hill Episcopal Church took a toll on local preservationist Tim Tielman, he certainly didn't seem any worse for the wear Monday.

As executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, Tielman enthusiastically presided over the unveiling of the 114-year-old bell during his organization's annual meeting, regaling about 25 participants with his tale of the bell's salvaging. He invited those in attendance to take turns ringing the bell as it hung from its temporary residence on a tree in a yard on Columbus Parkway.

"This bell of St. Mary's-on-the-Hill has been tolling here for over 100 years, and it is here now because this is a thriving, vibrant community," said Kathy Mecca, a neighborhood resident who was instrumental in finding temporary storage for the bell.

The bell summoned parishioners to the landmark St. Mary's-on-the-Hill at Niagara and Vermont streets from 1893 until the church's closing in 1994, after which the neglected building fell into disrepair. On May 5, the bell tower of the building collapsed and Tielman was alerted by someone who had heard about it while monitoring a police scanner.

"We had been concerned about St. Mary's for some time and had, in fact, been meeting with city officials. Just three weeks prior we had pointed out a concern about the unsupported tower," Tielman recalled.

When Tielman arrived at the site of the collapse, he persuaded James W. Comerford, the city's commissioner of permit and inspection services, to assist him in making sure that the bell would not be sold for scrap.

The contractor, Albert Steel of Hannah Demolitions, agreed to donate the bell, and Tielman persuaded the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society to take custody of it for preservation purposes.

Another neighbor in the Prospect Hill historic district near the Peace Bridge, Bill Murphy, was instrumental in the transport of the bell from the St. Mary's site to the yard on Columbus Parkway.

"The key person in the actual physical rescuing of the bell is Bill Murphy over here," Tielman said. "He's an ironworker, and he has all this fabulous rigging and gadgets. This man is the MacGyver of the West Side of Buffalo."

The bell was cast by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Co. of Troy, N.Y., a noted foundry established in 1826 near the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution. Eventually, the bell will be housed at the Historical Society's building on Forest Avenue where it will be on display after Steel signs over the rights to it.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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