TURNER — A rash of recent metal thefts from the transfer station totaling thousands of dollars rang personal on Monday night when someone stole the town's beloved Bicentennial Bell, Maine State Police Trooper Ricci Cote said Wednesday afternoon.
The 3-foot-tall brass bell, which weighs 300 pounds, was unbolted from its metal stand atop a cement pedestal in front of the 1831 Turner Town House at 450 Turner Center Road (Route 117), Town Manager Scott LaFlamme said.
"People here are really upset," Cote of Turner said. "It's pretty despicable."
"It was the bicentennial commemorative bell and it is really, really awful to hear it was taken," LaFlamme said.
Turner celebrated its bicentennial in 1986 and bought the bell two years later for about $1,900 from the McShane Bell Foundry of Glen Burnie, Md., he said.
Cote said the unique bell, which is specially engraved and identified as belonging to Turner, is now valued at about $5,000.
"It's pretty clear that it belongs to the town of Turner, so we're hoping to get it back," LaFlamme said. "It's irreplaceable and it has a priceless sentimental value, so it was awful to hear it was taken, and we're trying to do our best to find it."
LaFlamme said the theft was discovered when a resident contacted a town historian and asked where the bell was, thinking it might have been sent out to get polished.
But the historian said she wasn't aware of any work being done to the bell. She, in turn, checked with LaFlamme, who wasn't aware of any work orders, either. He reported the theft to the Maine State Police and Cote was assigned to the case.
"It's one of those things that, you know, everybody in town drives by it a hundred times," LaFlamme said.
"It's a heavily populated area and it's where the schools are," he said. "It is such an iconic piece of the town's history and it's just by chance somebody had driven by yesterday morning and asked if we had done something with it."
LaFlamme said Turner has a history of metals being stolen from the transfer station and sold to scrap-metal yards.
"But this is different," LaFlamme said. "It's one thing to steal a refrigerator, but it's another thing altogether to steal something that's an iconic landmark in town. This town really has an appreciation for its history and its culture, so it's especially upsetting for most of the people in town."
Cote and LaFlamme said they believe more than one person was involved and that the thieves knew what they were doing.
LaFlamme said they took sand from the bean-hole beans pit at the nearby Turner Center Community Church and spread it on the pedestal under the bell so that when it was lowered, the sand would suppress any sound.
Cote said police had no leads and were seeking help from the public. If anyone saw anything unusual in the area or has any information about the theft, they are asked to call Cote at 800-228-0857 or LaFlamme at the town office at 225-3414.
"Our concern is that the people who took it will try to break it down," Cote said. That's why he immediately contacted scrap-metal yards in Maine and asked yard owners to alert state police if someone tries to sell it.
"This is a big bell. It's going to stick out," he said.
The other possibility is that the bell was stolen to sell to a collector. That's why police are also monitoring Internet auction sites such as eBay and Craigslist.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cote appealed to the thieves to return the bell.
"Turner is rich in history and we take pride in our community," he said. "I miss that bell already. This has hit home for everybody. It's a black eye for the community."