Just after 2 p.m., the bell tower in Old Ballard chimed for one of the few times in two decades. The 1600-pound bell rang two short times to to commemorate a special occasion: the 97th birthday of Bertha Davis, a retired elementary school teacher who taught for 50 years at Ballard’s Webster School.
“It was a wonderful thing to hear the bell again,” said Bertha, surrounded by friends and family at the Ballard Landmark. Bertha and the late State Senator Ted Peterson were among a group of Ballard residents who helped bring the bell back to the neighborhood in the late 1980s. After it was vandalized a short time later, the ringing stopped. For years, Bertha has dreamed of bringing it back to the neighborhood. “That’s the spirit of Ballard,” she says.
Bertha and Ballard Historical Society have launched a fundraising campaign to install an automated mechanism that could be programmed to ring the bell at designated times — one suggestion is noon and 6 p.m. every day — as well as for special neighborhood events like Syttende Mai and Seafood Fest. “Everybody is on board to have that bell ring again,” says Peggy Sturdivant with the Ballard Historical Society. “The rallying point was, let’s do it for Bertha’s birthday! She’ll be 97 on Tuesday, so we decided, let it ring!”
Supporters have raised $18,000 and applied for a Small and Simple neighborhood grant with the city. They’re aiming to have everything in place by this summer. “It sounds great, it won’t be an annoyance,” Sturdivant says. “We think it will be a deterrent for the people who sometimes ring it after they leave bars. Automating it will prevent it from being vandalized.”
One hundred people packed into the Ballard Landmark lobby for Bertha’s birthday, eating cupcakes and singing a song for the occasion, “If I had a bell, I’d ring it on Ballard Avenue, I’d ring it every evening, all over this town…”
“Look at the all people who turned out, my goodness, I’m overwhelmed. It’s just wonderful,” Bertha says with a big grin. “Ballard’s spirit is here, we’ve got it!”