The Washington Peace Carillon by James Marion Shull

The Washington Peace Carillon
A Brochure Issued by Lovers of the Bells and Dedicated to Others of Their Kind. Done in the Interest of a Greater Washington.

Illustration: Re-engraved from Belgian Towers Calendar Courtesy of
William Gorham Rice

Whose carillon of 52 bells has given joy to many thousands. In December, 1814, these bells rang out at the signing of the treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain, and but for the outbreak of the great war, would in 1914 have celebrated the completion of a hundred years of unbroken peace between the two nations.


J. Marion Shull

Silent are the church towers of Flanders and Artois, the belfries of Douai and Bruges. They have been robbed of their treasures, those bells that for hundreds of years have pealed forth the hopes and aspirations of the surrounding countryside. These bells have suffered desecrations, their noble metal recast for purposes of war and their erstwhile melodious tongues constrained to speak the raucous tones of battle in behalf of barbarian hosts. But now that it is within our power let us give them back to civilization. From the metal of captured enemy cannon let there be cast the most wonderful carillon of bells of which the world’s best makers are capable, and let these be duplicated in sufficient numbers that the capital city of each of the great allied nations may be provided with a set of these “peace bells.”

The architects of all the world would vie with one another to see that in each of these cities should arise a magnificent bell tower to house this carillon, a splendid example of fitting architecture, worthy of the theme commemorated. No doubt, some modern Giotto would emerge to give the world a masterpiece in stone, which would gather to itself tradition from the past and build tradition for the years to come. Incorporate within its walls, perhaps, some block from shattered Rheims, from Amiens and Arras; another from the ruined treasures of Louvain, and so perpetuate the glory of those sacred heaps of stone now tumbled in confusion by the ruthless hand of hate. Then, too, some village on the Marne, where first the invading hosts were halted and turned back, might honor thus and in its turn be honored by one memorial stone in this great monument to peace.

Bells have been cast from cannon in the past. More than two hundred years ago, in 1710, the Emperor Joseph I, of Austria, had a great bell cast from Turkish cannon and placed in the tower of St. Stephen’s at Vienna. This, known as the emperor bell, weighed seventeen tons. But this, although it symbolized a triumph of the Christian over the Turk, was also meant to glorify the emperor’s military might. It spoke of insolent pride, not peace and good will, and furnished an example for Emperor William in 1873. Read now the arrogant inscription that winds in three encircling lines about this later emperor bell, so named in honor of Emperor William, who had it cast from twenty cannon taken from the French in 1870, and hung in the tower of Cologne Cathedral. The original is in Latin, but is translated thus:

“William, the most illustrious Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia, in pious remembrance of the heavenly aid granted him in the fortunate course and conclusion of the last French war, has ordered, after the restoration of the German empire, a bell to be cast from the captured cannon, of the weight of 50,000 pounds, which is to be suspended in the house of God, now nearly completed. In accordance with this pious desire of the victorious prince, the society formed for the completion of the cathedral has caused it to be cast, under Roman Pontiff Pius IX and the Archbishop of Cologne, Paul Melchers, in the year of our Lord 1874.”

And underneath the German imperial coat of arms occurs this verse, here freely translated:

“Emperor” Bell I am named,
The Emperor’s name make famed.
On holy ward I stand
For German Fatherland.
I pray, God grant it hence
Peace, welfare, and defense.
Was it with something of intuitive appreciation of Prussian character on the part of the designer of this bell that the six arms that form the crown are decorated with angels’ heads above, and end where they join the bell in lions’ feet? Why, a whole sermon could be preached on this alone! The saintly, sacred, outward seeming, but, underlying all, the Beast! And did those lions’ claws but typify the grasping spirit of the Prussian war-lord? And the bell, France, that he would grasp entire and sway or strike at will? Perhaps even then some Fate foresaw the jangling discord of the last few years and as a symbol and a prophecy caused the great bell to come from the founder’s hand C-sharp instead of C, and, therefore, not in tune with the other bells of the cathedral!

Again, in 1887, no less than twenty-two French guns were used to cast the “Gloriosa,” another great bell that was raised with much ceremony to its place in Cologne Cathedral, there to join the “Emperor” bell in a clangorous derision of defeated and humiliated France.

We hold Cologne, at least until the acceptance of our terms of peace by the now defeated Germany. Why should we not exact the restitution of these bells to now triumphant France? War-lust created them, and thus far they have known no other theme than praise of their creator. Let’s melt them down and give them back to France, recast for nobler use and given tongues of peace; or break them into bits and let a portion go to each and every one of our Peace carillons, there to proclaim throughout the world the triumph of a great and glorious cause.

Imagine, then, these carillons complete and carried high aloft within their towers, there to speak forth from year to year the nation’s joys and sorrows; a pæan of thanksgiving now; again a vesper service soft and sweet, or, when we pay our loving tribute to the nation’s dead, a solemn dirge shall waft across the river and like a benediction fall upon the hushed and reverent throng. On every state occasion they would serve; at our inaugurals, give farewell thanks to the departing president and loyal greetings to the newly chosen chief; do homage to the great of foreign lands and ring glad welcome when they come to us from overseas; would celebrate the nation’s birth with jubilant peal on peal; and on the anniversary of that November day that marked the final triumph of Humanity, let there be rung from all the capitals a grand Te Deum of World Brotherhood.

And so in fancy let us dedicate these carillons to Peace, and say with Tennyson:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
* * *
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
[*] Published originally in the Boston Transcript for Nov. 29, 1918, and subsequently appearing in many other publications, including the Washington Star, Dec. 1, and the Literary Digest of Dec. 14, following.

OBJECT: It is here proposed that in the city of Washington there shall be erected a national memorial to commemorate the heroes and events of the great war, seeking to keep the chief emphasis on the esthetic and moral side rather than on that of physical triumph of armed force.

DESCRIPTION: A memorial building of monumental architectural proportions, to include as an essential embellishment a bell-tower at least 200 feet high to the bells and of sufficient lateral dimensions to provide a bell-chamber 25 feet square.

COST OF MEMORIAL BUILDING: It is proposed that the cost shall not exceed $5,000,000, to be appropriated by an Act of Congress for such purpose. (If the memorial were in the form of a bell-tower only, the cost should be between one and two million dollars.)

DESCRIPTION OF CARILLON: This should consist of about 50 perfectly tuned bells, giving a range of four octaves or thereabout, and a complete playing mechanism for both concert and automatic play.

MATERIAL FOR BELLS: Copper to the extent of 60,000 pounds, sufficient for a carillon of 50 bells, would be derived from captured enemy war materials. (In the absence of bronze cannon among the American captures, this copper would be obtainable from 86,000 pounds of shell-cases, to be furnished by the War Department at the direction of Congress.) The requisite tin, some 15,000 pounds, might best be supplied under terms of contract by the bell founders.

COST OF CARILLON: Such a carillon complete with playing mechanism would be obtainable at a cost not exceeding $40,000.

USES: Such a memorial would afford ample opportunity for every type of memorial treatment: Architecture, sculpture, inscription, tablet, mural painting, and the housing of relics and records etc.; in fact possess every advantage that an arch or other memorial structure could possibly give and avoid the objectionable sentiment that many people feel toward the triumphal arch idea.

Music, whether played automatically or by hand, is always under control and can be played soft or loud as the bell-master may decide. Some wonderful snatch of melody would play automatically morning and evening or during the noon hour, changed from time to time for the sake of variety or to suit the particular season, while on one evening each week the bell-master would present a formal concert.

LOCATION: A memorial of this kind should be well in the midst of the city, that many might enjoy its music by the mere opening of a window or a door, and that other thousands might have ready access to concerts without long journeys for that purpose. (As many as 30,000 people are said to have gathered for a concert of this kind at Malines, Belgium.) Preferably, tho not necessarily, such a building should be on elevated ground, and near sufficient open space such as a park would afford, to accommodate large numbers of people who would gather for the concerts. Many have suggested Sixteenth Street Park as an ideal setting for it.

AS A BUSINESS ASSET: While most people will prefer to dwell upon its esthetic and cultural values, finding in it a never ending source of inspiration, it will not be amiss to consider it as a business asset as well. It is doubtful whether a single additional visitor or resident would be drawn to Washington by reason of the erection here of ever so fine a triumphal arch or other similar memorial. On the other hand a memorial such as is here proposed would, by reason of its unique character in America, and by virtue of its excellence, soon become an appealing object of interest in every village and town thruout the United States, and be the means of drawing many thousands of additional visitors to the capital and holding them longer once they were here. It could undoubtedly be made the greatest single attraction in this city of attractions.


J. Marion Shull

It is evening. Within the park are gathered many thousands from the Capital. Not only these but many hundreds from outside as well, for on this night in May the world’s most famous master of the bells is to present the initial concert on Washington’s great Carillon.

For long the unsightly mingled mass of stone and steel and wood that crowned the hill had given little indication of its ultimate intent. From time to time processions came that seemed to the onlooker like pilgrimages to some sacred shrine; Tri-color and the Stars and Stripes in front, to music of the Marseillaise, is brought a stone from shattered Rheims, the gift of France, whose gift of freedom to the world we thus record. From the Argonne, from Chateau Thierry and St. Mihiel, come other stones escorted by our own brave boys. These each, with fitting ceremony, are builded in the wall of our memorial. Then there are other stones from Arras, Amiens, and villages along the Marne where broke the surging wave that all but overwhelmed the world; one from Verdun inscribed “They shall not pass”; and Belgium’s king pays tribute from the ruined treasures of Louvain. And so in after years the pilgrims at this shrine shall read, passing from stone to stone, an epic of heroic sacrifice that justice and the love of fellow man might not be swept forever from the earth.

The cumbering tools of industry, the cranes with creaking ropes, the scaffolding, at last have disappeared, and stands revealed a wondrous work of art: A sturdy sculptured basal edifice where bronze and marble tell of noble aspirations worthily achieved; where frieze and pediment in low relief bespeak the glory of the greatest cause man ever struggled to maintain. Within, resplendent walls with iridescent colors where the artist’s brush takes up the tale that architect and sculptor have begun; and rivalling these the silken folds of flags, emblems of all the nations that stood shoulder to shoulder in the great emprise. And from this basal structure, the soaring shaft, compact of grace and beauty, lithe yet strong, firm footed on the earth yet reaching heavenward, well typifies the spirit of the men who risked their all to save the world from slavery.

The sun has set behind light banks of cloud and hung the stage with ruddy tapestries whose gorgeous reds and golds are interspersed with turquoise. But even while the throng in wonderment looks on, change follows change, the gold to topaz quickly melts, the roseate clouds are all empurpled, and the turquoise sky gives way to grays such as delighted Whistler in his day. Then twilight, stars, and a pale young moon, to play at hide and seek among the wisps of cloud whose silvery sheen betrays her hiding place.

At last the hour has struck and all is hushed expectancy. All eyes are lifted up to where a faintly lighted window in the tower gives forth the one suggestion that some human agency is there. Hark! What is that? A faint sweet sound that comes from out the sky as if the gates of heaven had opened and let fall ethereal voices from a thousand miles, so soft, the ear is strained to intercept them, and fancy is half tempted to believe it all illusive and imagined melody. But now it takes more shape, stands out more firm and clear; the ear becomes more confident, and fancy yields to fact; it is indeed the carillon’s voice; the bells have come to life. No gasping natal cry is this, but rather the soft stirring as of one that wakes from peaceful sleep. Nearer and ever nearer, wave on wave, out of infinite distance seem to come those far off melodies, drifting down and down as gently as drifts the snow when winds are hushed, till at last the entire heavens seem filled with one pulsating ecstasy of sound, then fades away into the distance once again, till tower, bells, musician, forgotten one and all, the music seems to come from mystic space behind yon bank of cloud that lies athwart the moon. Again, a sound of trampling hosts of mighty horsemen rushing down the heights as if to overwhelm the listening multitude, those marvellous arpeggios galloping madly in their course, now dance and prance, now rush impetuously, then lift and fade to airy nothingness and silence.

A moment’s pause; some silent, unseen hand has swiftly changed the scene, and now there comes a barcarolle, so sweet, so placid, while the ear perceives the eye beholds, a wide expanse of rippling wavelets neath shimmering moonlight of a summer night. One feels upon the cheek the soft caress of summer airs nor knows for certainty if it be true or only fancied, but presently the winds have risen and, is it felt, or is it only heard, the rhythmic rocking of the boat that lulls the spirit with a tender lullaby? But what was that? A far away, intrusive rumbling breaks the spell and many eyes are turned to scan the gray horizon for sign of coming storm; but all is fair, no flash of lightning, no banks of inky clouds. Instead of distant thunder there is now the booming sound of waves that beat themselves to spray against the rocks; and to those ears most well attuned, above the deep toned bass, in higher bells is heard the counterpart of that same spray, light effervescence of the master’s art. At length the current leaps and bounds, in grand crescendo, irresistibly, and pours itself in one torrential rush of sheer descent, a veritable Niagara of sound that holds the audience spellbound in its grasp. Then turbulent uproar and dissonance give way to chords of fullest harmony and once again is heard the theme of rocking waves all placid as at first.

The concert closes with the National Air, as is our wont, but played as never had it been played before on our own soil, the clear, pure tones dropping from high aloft as shaken from the very folds of our bright emblem there, each scintilant note a star, flung off in ecstasy, to bear a message to the ears of men, of peace on earth, but peace with freedom still.

The last vibration dies away and in its place a half reluctant murmur from the throng, as if they fain would leave the spell unbroken, now swells in volume and resolves itself into the myriad sounds of congregated life; a babel of voices full of wonderment that metals snatched from war’s accouterments could ever speak like that; full also of the thought that Washington, enriched by this new art, new to America tho old elsewhere, is destined thereby to become the Mecca of many a music-lover’s pilgrimage from every nook and corner of the land.