AUBURN — Among the numerous stories about bells being pulled from St. Louis Church last fall, the story about the bells’ proximity to world history is one of Al Manoian’s current favorites.

The four bells were cast in 1915 at a foundry in Annecy, France, to the specifications of the New Auburn church and it’s Franco-American parishioners.

“This was a time when France was exploding, with World War I breaking out,” said Manoian, Auburn’s economic development specialist.

“The Lusitania was torpedoed in May 1915, coming across the North Atlantic,” he said. “These bells came across that same place later that fall and winter. It’s amazing they even arrived and got to our country. The Germans were torpedoing ships right and left, and these bells should have been at the bottom of the ocean.”

But they made it and survived in fine shape for 98 years. They were removed from the decommissioned church in November and are being stored at Cote Crane’s warehouse.

“They are an economic asset to the community and to that neighborhood,” Manoian said. “They need to be back in that place, that context where they are most important.”

The bells were supposed to be on display in front of the library during Thursday’s presentation about the state of downtown Auburn. It was going to be the first public display since they were removed and a kickoff to a fundraising campaign to keep them in the community.

Winter scuttled that plan.

“The harsh conditions, the ice and the snow at the site just determined that it would be safer for people and the bells if we don’t have them on site,” Manoian said.

Manoian’s public forum on how uninviting and unwalkable the downtown is and how it can be fixed will go forward at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Auburn Public Library.

The bells should be on display publicly this spring, however.

“We’ll have a special civic gathering so folks can come out and have their own personal encounters with the bells,” Manoian said.

Most people who have a history with the bells remember hearing them but not seeing them. That’s a shame, Manoian said, because they are beautiful.

“Maybe one in a hundred got a chance to see them before, because they were installed in place,” he said. “That can change now. We’re going to make them public.”

They were cast by the Paccard Bell Foundry in France at the request of local families, the Provosts and the Duponts. Their surfaces are covered with fine details — sculpted faces, Latin inscriptions and scrollwork.

“This is one of the finest bell foundries in the world,” Manoian said. “I flipped when I saw them because I have never seen bells with this level of detail or ornate aesthetics and decoration. They are extraordinary, literally world-class treasures and we have them here.”

He’s working with Museum L-A to raise the money to buy the bells from the Catholic Diocese of Portland and repay Cote Crane for its work removing the bells and storing them. He figures that will cost $12,000. Then, the community can begin working to create a heritage landmark that will house them.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem because people are so excited about this already,” he said. “I’ve had people coming up and handing me checks.”

People wanting to help should make their donations to Museum L-A in care of the Bells of St. Louis, he said.

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