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Release: June 21, 2002

UI Museum of Natural History displays Old Capitol bell

Photo: Glenn and Elsie Guengerich of Wellman, Iowa examine the bell at the UI Museum of Natural History in Macbride Hall. Visit Photo Gallery.

University of Iowa history -- the bronze bell ruined by the Nov. 20, 2001 Old Capitol dome fire -- is currently on display at the UI Museum of Natural History in Macbride Hall.

Damaged beyond repair in the fire, the 1,100-pound bell tolled the beginning and end of classes with the traditional 16 strikes some 20 times each day for over 150 years. Anyone who has lived in Iowa City for any length of time remembers its familiar tone weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Ann Smothers, Old Capitol director, says that the bell was a part of her life.

"Because I was raised in Iowa City and attended St. Mary's School, which was located where the Newman Center stands today (northeast of the Pentacrest), the ringing of the Old Capitol bell has been a big part of my life," Smothers says. "Bells also have great significance in U.S. history, beginning with the Liberty Bell. The Old Capitol bell tolled for three days and three nights after Lincoln was assassinated, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Old Capitol bell tolled at the request of President Bush."

When the current round of repairs is completed early in 2003 at an estimated cost of more than $6 million for the restored bell tower, cupola and gold-leafed copper dome, Old Capitol will house a "sister" to the old bell. The replacement bell, manufactured sometime between 1860 and 1890, was cast at the same West Troy, N.Y. foundry that produced the old bell in 1864. The replacement is being fitted with an automatic ringing system, as well as cleaned, polished and inscribed by the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, at a cost of about $18,000.

The UI Museum of Natural History is open from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from 12:30-4:30 p.m.