The ringing bells of Deeds Carillon will usher in the sunrise on Easter morning, a Carillon Historical Park tradition since 1942.
The carillon bell tower was built by Col. Edward Deeds, the automotive pioneer and former NCR chief, and his wife Edith Walton Deeds. Mrs. Deeds reportedly fell in love with the sound of carillon bells while traveling with her husband in Bruges, Belgium, in the 1930s, according to Dayton History.
“A carillon is a musical instrument that has at least 23 tuned bells and covers at least two octaves,” according to Dayton History. “The carillon is played from a keyboard that allows for musical expression through variation in touch.”
The 151-foot-tall tower, made of Indiana limestone, was specially designed to hold the massive weight of the bells by Reinhard & Hofmeister, an architectural firm in New York that also designed Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan.
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In October 1941, a Dayton Daily News story described Col. and Mrs. Deeds as “gloriously thrilled” as they watched the first shipment of bells being unloaded from a railroad car to a truck that would deliver them to the site.
Mrs. Deeds, an accomplished musician, told the newspaper she had tested the sound of the bells, which took a year and half to cast in Troy, N.Y., and planned to play the doxology, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” at the first concert.
Of the 32 bells originally forged for the carillon, eight were “silent,” each a memorial to a member of the Deeds family. The largest bell, the “bourdon,” weighed 7,000 pounds and was named after Col. Deeds. Today it is on display at ground level on the east side of the carillon. The smallest bell weighed 150 pounds and was named after the Deeds’ grandchild, Barbara Burling Deeds.
It took several weeks to arrange the bells in a “chandelier” with the largest bell at top and the smallest at the bottom, the newspaper reported. At the base of the carillon, the lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Christmas Bells,” have been cut into the bronze entrance door at Mrs. Deeds’ instruction.
More than 5,000 people attended the first “Easter dawn service” at the carillon on April 5, 1942, according to the Dayton Daily News. The nondenominational program featured sermonettes and music. Carillonneur Robert Kline, who performed at Sunday concerts until 1986, played four selections for the crowd gathered around the granite base.
In 1988, the carillon was renovated and 50 bells imported from Holland were hung from steel brackets on the interior of the tower. Seven more bells were dedicated in 1995, bringing the total number to 57 and making Deeds Carillon the largest in Ohio.
Digital modernization arrived in 2010 when the carillon was augmented with electrically controlled bell strikers on 32 of the 57 bells. Today, a mini concert can be heard each day at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Though it has automated capabilities, Dr. Larry Weinstein, a carillonneur for Carillon Historical Park since 1988, still plays close to 30 original concerts each year in addition to the annual Easter Sunrise Service, Carillon Historical Park’s oldest event, which will be held Sunday.