Share this article

print logo

Bells toll in Lancaster – mirthfully

There’s the old but familiar “Oh My Darling Clementine.”

Favorites from “The Sound of Music,” such as “Edelweiss” and “My Favorite Things,” have earned their spots, too.

On days filled with sunshine, listen up for “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” But if it’s gloomy or raining, you might hear “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”

It’s all in downtown Lancaster, every day from 9 a.m. through early evening.

The chiming of bells rings out to mark the time of day. Seconds later, the electronic carillon radiates programmed music from the attic floor of the stately red brick Town Hall overlooking Central Avenue. “It is old music, but it’s just very soothing and pleasant,” Supervisor Johanna M. Coleman said. “It’s not rap music, that’s for sure.”

The cathedral-like tones mixed with a blend of old-time music shapes a distinct part of the community fabric.

“It really adds to the atmosphere and charm of this little village area,” said Mary J. Nowak, a clerk in the Town Clerk’s Office. “I think it’s so quaint.”

The three-story, four-faced clock tower is where time is measured, a carillon chimes and old-time music plays. The tower is perched at the highest point above the three-story Town Hall in what has become an iconic landmark in the heart of downtown.

The dark black hands of the clock keep meticulous track of time – minute by minute, hour by hour. It has been a recognizable part of each day in Lancaster, stretching from the late 1890s, when Town Hall was built.

But there’s more to it.

Stand on a nearby street corner, and at any hour of the day, listeners are bound to hear a different hourly tune, which begins right after chimes signal the hour.

Some of the melodies go way back. A sampling of the classics includes “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” and “A Foggy Day in London Town.”

The person in charge, also known as the “clock watcher,” is Carmen G. Ciccarelli, a town parks/recreation laborer. He says there are songs for all types of weather, for patriotic holidays and for Christmas – all from a 100-song playlist.

The day always begins with a 9 a.m. constant – the national anthem. “I thought the anthem was nice. Everyone wakes up, goes to school and does the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said.

Ciccarelli changes the songs on a monthly cycle.

What if it’s cloudy out and “sunny music” is slated to play?

“Sometimes, I leave it on ‘sunny.’ That way, people can get their hopes up,” he said, quipping that he “could have it go off at midnight, if I wanted to be mean.”

The clock tower/music combination is believed to be a rarity in the area.

“It is so awesome. It adds quaintness,” said Sherri “Mimi” Sikora, co-owner of Mimi’s Central Perk Café, located kitty-corner from Town Hall. “Not many villages have this. We are No. 1.”

When her workday ends at 5 p.m., Nowak knows what to expect when she leaves Town Hall. “When we open the doors at 5 p.m., you hear a clang, and we know it’s 5 o’clock,” she said. “We cannot hear it inside Town Hall with the windows closed, so when you step out, you hear it.”

Along the 93-step climb up to the clock tower is Lancaster’s own version of a “Liberty Bell.” Anchored on the second tier of the tower, the 1852 bell cast in Buffalo is the centerpiece of a dusty and drab little space. Before its Town Hall debut, it was the fire station bell along the edge of the drive between what today is Picasso’s Pizza and the Municipal Building on Broadway.

“The bell reminds me of a bell in a big cathedral. Just the sound of it,” said Ralph A. Adolf, who lives in his childhood home about a block away from Town Hall and who has been up in the clock tower.

On a clear day, Adolf can hear the chiming bells and music from his front porch.

“I like to hear the hammer of the bell, and the time of day,” he said. “It’s pretty good, but I don’t care for the music too much.”

But for many natives of the town, the carillon and music are a winning combination.

“It gives you a hometown feeling,” said former Supervisor Robert H. Giza. “And the clock is very popular.”

“Everyone likes it because it’s an old building,” said Ciccarelli, who has been tending the clock and music for the last 15 years. “It’s neat. It’s different.”

The first level of the tower is an old wooden attic, home to an electronic carillon that reproduces the tunes played on a series of bells.

Old metal backless steps lead to the bell landing, a bit dark with metal ventilation shutters over the windows. The wooden walls surrounding the bell are full of signatures by residents in what has become a tradition – even for Ciccarelli and his young son. Giza’s oldest son penned his name there Nov. 3, 1996.

Climb even higher and you reach the huge clock, a mainstay since 1897. The original wooden dials were replaced around 1920 with glass ones illuminated internally, which were again replaced in 1953 by new ones when the clock was electrified to keep perfect time. Originally, the internal mechanism of the clock was driven by weights that were cranked by a clock keeper.

The clock’s history is not without tragedy.

On Sept. 12, 1946, caretaker Oscar Bauer, who lived on nearby Broadway, fell while he was cranking the wheel in the tower and died of a heart attack. Soon after, the clock was mechanized to run automatically.

“It reminds me of ‘Back to the Future,’ ” Ciccarelli said.

Is it out of place by today’s standards?

“It’s not hokey. Not at all,” Sikora said. “It adds to the quaintness. It really does.”

email: krobinson@buffnews.com