When Nooga.com moved to the Chattanooga WorkSpace building a few months ago, it didn’t take us long for us to wonder about the bell schedule at the next-door church, St. Paul’s Episcopal.
The curiosity over these bells started gradually, as they obviously aren’t an uncommon thing to hear here in the South. For the most part, the bells are background noise, but we started to notice the bells had a pattern … a pattern of confusion.
They’d ring at 1:05 p.m. and then again at 1:09 p.m. Sometimes, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” played, and sometimes, an indecipherable ditty sounded.
Sean Phipps documented one of these anomalies on Instagram while the rest of us were out of the office.
Eventually, we decided to document the rings in an attempt to nail down the pattern.
I grabbed an old City Council agenda from my desk and sketched out a chart. The point was to make a note every time the bells rang with a general description and the time. I asked everyone in the office to contribute because I’m only in the office for a few hours every day.
Using this new schedule, we found some patterns but were still curious about how it all worked.
We threw around possible explanations for what seemed to be a random queue of music from the church. Could it be that they don’t know how to change it? Maybe that’s when services let out? Are they stuck with a broken system?
So we decided to just call the church and ask.
When I called Monday, I got Director of Music Keith Reas, who was kind enough to answer all my inquiries about the bells that I had built up over the past few months.
Reas explained that the bells were programmed to ring at specific times by his predecessor using a complex system that is difficult to update. The 12:04 p.m. ring we hear is to note the beginning of the church’s Eucharist ceremony. He also said that there are some patriotic songs in the mix with other hymns.
After our conversation, Reas also sent over a document about the history of the bells for further clarification. There are 11 bells in the tower that weigh 20,000 pounds together with their framework.
The biggest bell weighs 3,050 pounds alone and plays a solid D note.
The bells cost about $1,500 to put in place in 1911 and would take about $675,000 to replace now.
The church also used to play a tune at 8:48 a.m., the time that Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 attacks. That stopped in 2008.
Thanks to Reas, we now have the answers to most of our questions about St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s bells. Of course, this leaves us without a mystery to solve. Back to work.
Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah.