Death of the Bell

By Junior Johnson

Everyone has those events from their past that they are ashamed of and this is one of mine. Some call it “skeletons in the closet” but I prefer to call it “warts.”  I will tell you about a wart in my past, and just to clarify, I am not proud of this and  before anyone anoints me to a lofty chair in a big room of followers I want a clear conscience.

Fresh from my graduation from Cloutierville High School I enrolled for the summer semester at Northwestern State. It was a very exciting experience for a young 17-year-old who had never been out of Louisiana.

When the fall semester began in September I was a big time second semester Freshman. The story that I am about to relate will be void of names except one. This man was a genius and one of the most respected writers of his time.

I was a fraternity member and feeling pretty good about myself when the fall semester began. We had a good pledge class and were doing what we had promised these young men and their families as they embarked on their college careers.

Football season began and everyone was excited, especially as Homecoming approached and the entire campus was in a frenzy of school spirit for our Demons.

My fraternity was disappointed because someone had stolen our bell which was a symbol that was always used at our football games.

In my young and innocent mind I had a solution to that problem. For years I had seen an old bell hanging in a tree near my hometown and decided that we could “acquire” something that no one wanted. Since I had no vehicle when I first became a student my dad would let me use his truck from time to time. This was one of those times. I convinced four of my fraternity pledges to come with me to Cloutierville one night to get our prize. These guys had come to Northwestern on Gymnastics Scholarships from Hartford, Conn.

We arrived after dusk and analyzed the situation. The old bell was secured in the tree from years of growth  and would not come down easily. My Dad happened to have a chain in his truck and we used it to get the bell down. This did not work well and the old tree, complete with bell came tumbling to the ground very noisily, breaking the bell. Needless to say we became scared and rushed back to our respective dorms at Northwestern State, leaving the spoils of our endeavor.

The next morning after returning to my dorm from a class, a student approached me and asked if I’d gotten in trouble the night before. I knew I was busted.

I immediately called my Mom who was very disappointed in me and said that my Father would deal with me later. She said that I should go to the Sheriff’s Department and turn myself in, and to bring my co-hoodlums with me. I was so ashamed. Earlier that morning when the damage had been discovered many people told the law enforcement personnel that they had recognized my Dad’s truck, and knowing that my Dad was an upstanding man they began taking plaster tire prints and other bits of evidence like Officer Obie did Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant.

I gathered my guys and we headed to the Sheriff’s Office not knowing that my Dad had spent the entire morning doing damage control. Since he was a respected member of the community he had already spoken to the Plantation Manager as well as the Sheriff, and our fate had been determined. We did not know this however.

We just knew we were going to be expelled from school and go to jail.

After the Sheriff read us the riot act, he said that we had to make a trip to Cloutierville and apologize to the Plantation Manager. After that we were to speak with the Priest at the Catholic Youth Organization for Northwestern State and tell him that we were at his disposal for anything he needed done for as long as he needed us.
As scared as we were we complied with everything asked of us.

As it turned out, the bell was made of a silver alloy and brought over from France on a boat in the early 1800’s. It was used on the plantation for numerous occasions. It was irreplaceable and priceless.

We were spared being expelled from college and spending time in jail, but did a lot of work for the Catholic Youth Organization. We were grateful and ashamed of what we’d done. Sometimes even the most innocent things that we do can have bad consequences.

Many years later on a return trip to Louisiana to visit my family, my sweet sister excitedly asked me to come the Bayou Folk Museum where she was working as a hostess. She said that I may be interested in seeing “my bell” along with an article that was written about its history.

Francois Mignon was an award winning writer from France who was living in Louisiana and writing stories about life on the local plantations and southern culture in general. When he found out about the bell and its origin he wrote a story entitled “Death of the Bell.”

This article was prominently displayed in a plaque next to the bell for everyone to see. He was very gracious and only called us fraternity Hoodlums. I was so ashamed then, and still am.

Sadly in 2008 a fire destroyed the Bayou Folk Museum in my hometown of Cloutierville. Everything was taken from our history to behold,  including the Bell I presume. Many things that were on display that belonged to Kate Chopin were sadly lost as well.

I have regrets about my foolishness of youth, which is no excuse. I have remained in touch with my friends from Connecticut over the years and they feel the same.

3 thoughts on “Death of the Bell

  1. Great story Jr. Never knew about the bell. Worked at the museum for years I don’t think I ever saw it. We all do things we shouldn’t have when we are young . The main thing is some of us do learn valuable lessons from our mistakes. I know you did.

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