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After 122 years at San Francisco church, 2.7-ton bell vanishes

October 25, 2011 | 10:04 am

The bell had been at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco for so many decades –- surviving the 1906 earthquake and an arson blaze in the 1960s -– that nobody at first even realized it was gone.

But on Sunday morning, a parishioner apparently did a double-take and noticed that the 122-year-old, 2.7-ton bell had vanished, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"It is a very historic and valuable item, it is a memory of the Catholic Church in San Francisco," George Wesolek, communications director for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, told the paper. "It is kind of an ignoble end for the bell if they succeed."

The bell, which weighs roughly 5,300 pounds and is a bit bigger than the Liberty Bell, had stood on a wooden platform outside the church since being replaced by a set of electronic chimes during a remodeling in the 1970s.

Police said they are not precisely sure when the bell vanished and some parishioners –- after thinking things over -– said it may have been gone for as long as a month.

"Nobody can swear on a Bible and say the last time they saw the bell," police Inspector Brian Danker told the Examiner.

The weighty theft may be the work of metal thieves.

After being commissioned in 1889, the bell was hauled to the cathedral by a steam train that carted it west from a foundry in Baltimore.

It lost its lofty position at the church in 1962 when it had to be lowered back to earth following the devastating arson fire.

For the last 40 years, it has been perched on a set of wooden blocks, so taken for granted that its absence was not immediately noticed.

The church is now offering an unspecified reward for anyone who helps return the bell or catch the thieves, the Examiner reported.

Alas, if the bell can’t be tracked down, the church may not have the finances to replace it, Wesolek said.

He said the cathedral has other pressing needs and that the bell –- for all the history it carries -– might be low on the priority list.

"And even if we did replace it,” he told the paper, “ it wouldn't mean as much at all."

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-- Steve Marble

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