The Columbia, AL Carillon – by the Schulmerich Company.
OK, I am taking you on a trip into Columbia into mid 1940 perhaps as soon as 1938. Imagine waking up at 6 AM one Sunday morning and hearing Amazing Grace pealed by chimes, or at noon or even at 5 PM ? That is most likely, what happened during the time Columbia had chimes playing downtown. There are different stories as to whom played them, when they were played (time frame) and from what sight they were played in Columbia. Yes, there were bells at the Columbia First Baptist Church, but these in particular are the ones that would have been played downtown and pealed down from the old water tower, close to where the new water tower is now. It is still questionable as to whom played the carillon because so much history is disappearing; perhaps someone can shed more light on this mystery. I believe the best candidate would have been Mrs. Mary Hope Bryan, Mrs. Noncie Roberts Campbell, Callie Leach French ….. my mind wondered with musicians in Columbia that could have tackled this task, but the timeline was not working out. Later in this story you’ll find out that Captain Callie French whom played calliope, could not have played the Columbia Carillon because she passed away (1935) before the carillon was built.
I know after speaking to David Hunter that the carillon was donated by Wallace Davis Malone Sr. in honor of his wife’s birthday, I have contacted the Malone family on Facebook but have not gotten an answer back from them yet, as to the history that led up to the gift being given to the Town of Columbia; that should be a story within itself. The best part of the history of the Columbia carillon is finding out, and knowing that the keyboard was in a place that needed protected. “Knowing that” I love to research anything that makes or plays music, I knew that this needed research. I called the Schulmerich (pronounced as: shoe – lmer-rick) Company located in Sellersville, PA (about 35 miles Northwest of Philadelphia). Nancy Morgan answered. She is so pleasant to speak to it’s really unbelievable that she’d take time with my endeavor. She asked me to be patient and she’d find out the information about the Columbia Carillon and give an answer returned to me within a timely manner. She asked me to send pictures I took of it, especially the model and serial number tag and get would get with other veterans, including herself whom had been there 41 years. About a week went by and I got a surprisingly satisfying phone call from Nancy. As you know, she told me that the carillon was built in around 1938-1940 but also that during that time that it was built that the Schulmerich Company started a campaign to load up demo units in cars and send their salesmen on the road. The Schulmerich Company does not log in the Columbia Carillon serial number to show when it was sold or whom bought it, at this point we are only to guess.
I can only guess at this point that somehow Mr. Malone heard about this amazing object that played chimes and wanted one for the town of Columbia. That is very obvious but it is intriguing to guess why Mr. Malone wanted to buy it as a gift for his wife. Perhaps someone can shed light on that.
I call everyone I can think of for almost 3 weeks and finally I was asked did you call Adair Gilbert? I knew she is a brilliant teacher of Economics, a great spokesperson, historian but what she told me brought tears of joy to this musicologist’s eyes. I asked her could she help me, in finding whom played the carillon for Columbia, she chuckled and said “that’s easy”, my Mother did. "WOW".
Clarkie Margaret Hammond, we all know her better as Mrs. Whatley. She, was not only an English teacher, and a great one at that but every day at 5pm, Mrs. Whatley would play the Columbia Carillon. Mrs. Whatley played it from 1944 to 1954 (10 years !!!! another "WOW" moment), she had to give up playing when she started teaching school at Houston County High School full time. I found it very interesting that Mrs. Clarkie was a music major and played violin like a true virtuoso. I understand that her Mother Mrs. Lillian McNair Hammond took her different places including but not limited to Montgomery for music lessons. Also, as she continued to play and become expert at violin, she was asked to play several places here in Columbia, especially special events and several weddings at the Methodist Church in Columbia. Mrs. Clarkie Margaret attended Montevallo when then it was an all-girls college. Adair will shed some more light on this subject matter about her Mom and it will be posted here....
It is possible that Noncie Campbell Oakley – played the carillon too, Jimmy her son told GMP that he didn’t remember her playing downtown but that she did play piano and she was very good at it. Mrs. Noncie attended Judson College then moved to Columbia from Panama City in 1955, almost the time that Mrs. Whatley started teaching, it is possible then that since Mrs. Whatley and Mrs. Noncie were best of friends that in talking that Mrs. Noncie played it as well. Mrs. Whatley lived just down from the Community House (Later the Rosie Purcell Library), and Mrs. Noncie lived in downtown Columbia too. Mrs. Noncie was the secretary of First Baptist Church for many years she also loved children and loved to entertain them with music. Jimmy said that his Mom learned children's songs and played those songs for young people anytime the opportunity presented itself.
After researching more and more, I found out that "my remembering" is not that bad. I thought I’d remember hearing my grandmother Edna Earl say that Mary Hope Bryan played the chimes at one time, but after speaking to Kenneth Bryan, found out "that" might not be so true. Then after further research on Mrs. Mary Hope Bryan, learned that she did play the Columbia Carillon. Not often but she did play it, when it worked.
I found out since the speakers were on the water tower it was a haven for lighting and that it was struck (almost like Back to the Future motion picture), and the wires heading to the carillon burned it up. The tubes were replaced and it was replaced, all to have it struck again many months later. My guess is that it was never played again because of damaged parts not getting repaired. Mary Hope having played at First Baptist Church in Columbia was needed and therefore she along with age, stopped playing, but played every once in a while, when they would get the carillon repaired. I found it very interesting that my source (I will not name him “John Beasley”), said that the chimes were set on a time clock, and like our alarm clocks of today it too, rang every hour on the hour. Chiming 1 time for 1 o’clock, 2 times for 2 o’clock and so on. John has no idea how thankful I am to him for tying the story up for me, I am to him very indebted.
After speaking to Nancy Morgan and finding out how helpful she was she told me that the carillon chimes are still being built today and that the chimes peals have not changed that much. So I offer in this research a video of four types of chime peals that may have sounded like the ones in Columbia, especially the English Bells played here in this video. These chimes are at the top of this research post and again the ENGLISH CHIMES are as close to what Columbia had as any other sound per Nancy.