Standing on the steps of Hamden Memorial Town Hall, I placed my Bluetooth speaker on the cold cement and searched for a good “bell ringing” soundbite to play at top volume in the brisk night air. Across Connecticut, clocks were about to strike 8 p.m. But for a Thursday night, the town was eerily silent.
It wasn't business as usual. The sound of a bell could cut through the heavy air. And that was the point.
Thursday, the Hamden Department of Arts and Culture launched a nightly, communal bell ringing between 8 and 8:02 p.m., to combat social and emotional isolation created in the wake of COVID-19. Inspired by the town of Windsor Locks, the department is encouraging Hamden residents to ring bells from their front steps for two minutes every night for the foreseeable future. The suggestion came to the department from Melissa Canham-Clyne, director of the Hamden Public Library.
"Even though we can’t be together, we are by no means alone in this fight to keep our loved ones safe from the COVID-19 virus,” said Mayor Curt Leng in response to the first bell ringing.
Which is how I found myself ready to ring a bell, albeit electronically, on the front steps of the city Thursday night. For an intersection that is usually coursing with pedestrian traffic—every make and model of car you can imagine—the corner of Dixwell and Whitney was almost empty. Traffic lights changed out of quiet obligation, with few drivers in sight.
The clock on my iPhone struck 8:00 p.m. Looking out into the darkness, I pressed loop on a 10-second YouTube video entitled “Sound of Ringing Bell.”
I’m not sure what I expected, but the hollow reverb of a bell echoing off the darkened business facades was not it. For an instant, my ears perked up and I swerved in place. I heard the distinct jingle of real bells. But it was a coincidence: a shop owner had just shut the door to his building. A set of shop bells clinked against a glass pane, and then subsided.
It was quiet, it was lonely, it was cold. I took a quick picture of the speaker on the steps of Memorial Town Hall, packed up and drove home feeling just as isolated as when I walked out into murky cold of the evening.
And then I found out that I hadn't been alone at all.
On social media, notifications from people started to pour in. There were messages, pictures, and videos of residents not only ringing bells but also banging pans, clapping loudly, humming, and blowing into their kazoos.
Among the first stories posted was a portrait of the Bower-Phipps family (pictured above). There were smiling faces: Kat, Betty, Laura and Charlie, all happily ringing tiny, yet appropriately sized bells for toddler hands.
“It was nice to do something with our neighbors again, even if we all stayed on our own porches," said Said Laura Bower-Phipps. "And the kids loved raising a ruckus at bedtime!”
Hamden Arts Commissioner Siobhan Carter-David posted a video of her two young children, Gyasi and Oni, hanging out of their front door with flashlights. As the two rang bells, they used the flashlights to look (at a very safe distance) for others in their neighborhood doing the same.
As I scanned my news feed, I even came across a video in The Town of Hamden CT Community News Forum posted by resident Claire Bauknecht. In the video, she rings a bright-sounding bell while reminding viewers that “we’ll get through this, all Americans will get through this, just stay together."
"And do what you need to do to keep other people and your neighbors and your family safe," she continued. "Stay safe Hamden!”
Perhaps the most exciting surprise came from Jack Perkins Davidson, or "Pastor Jack" as he is affectionately known in the activist community, who gave a virtual tour of the Spring Glen Church bell tower. As he overcame his “deathly fear of ladders,” he showed viewers the nearly 200-year-old bell that rings in services at Spring Glen Church every Sunday.
He said his hope was to spread the word that “we’re all in this together.”
As alone as we might feel right now—as alone as I felt tonight standing on the steps of Memorial Town Hall—no one is alone. We are a community, a town, a society of people all hoping for the best. We are Hamden and always will be.
So we invite you to ring your #hamdenbells every night between 8:00-8:02 p.m. in a show of solidarity with each other. Let's beat the isolation we are all practicing in respect for the most vulnerable members of our community.
In the wise words of J.K. Rowling, “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”