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You can ring Coney Island’s bell once more, thanks to a team of intrepid divers and seamen.
A 500-pound bronze bell forged in 1895 and submerged for the past 98 years was brought to the surface last week, a hopeful augury for the amusement area’s uncertain future, its discoverer said.
“It’s a symbol of Coney Island — its past and its future,” said commercial diver Gene Ritter, adding that his hope is for the bell to become a symbol for the new Coney Island — whatever incarnation that eventually takes.
The bell once welcomed ferries as they entered and left the bustling amusement area. But when the famed Dreamland Amusement park was destroyed in a fire in 1911, the bell was lost to the ocean, likely buried for part of that time, and most assuredly forgotten. It was found last November by Cultural Research Divers’ Ritter and Louis Scarcella, not far from where it once stood, at the end of a grand iron pier off West Eighth Street.
“My reaction was, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it,” Ritter recalled. Its rescue was delayed because of the cold weather, which can present uncertain conditions.
Inscribed on the bell is “James Gregory, New York, 1885,” thought to have a connection to the James Gregory foundry, and possibly the Gregory Brothers Circus, where one of its founders was James Gregory, a trapeze artist.
On Sept. 3, the artifact was pulled to the surface from a depth of 25 feet, pro bono, by White Cap Marine Rescue Services/Tow Boat U.S. Ritter, 50, also credited his crew, “John, Vinny, Mike and Paul, who did a wonderful job.” White Cap’s Captain Jack Schachner said he was honored to offer his time. “This is part of Brooklyn’s history, so I wanted to be involved,” he said. “This was more of a head trip than a money trip.”
But history doesn’t come cheap: Ritter said it cost over $100,000 in equipment and boats to raise the bell, excluding dive time.
The find, along with the bell’s new travels, are being documented by a production company planning a documentary, he said.
For now, the bell is being showcased by the Coney Island History Project, Sept. 12-13, from2-6 p.m., underneath the Cyclone roller coaster, at 824 Surf Avenue. Visitors can ring the three-foot-high-by-three-foot wide bell for $1, with proceeds going to preservation efforts.
Ritter said he is in discussions with the New York Aquarium to house the bell during the winter. Fran Hackett, an aquarium spokesperson, said she had no information about the subject.
The bell is expected to kick off the amusement season next year, and will be showcased in front of Deno’s Wonder Wheel, Ritter said.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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