History Lesson: Schule Bell the School Bell

History Lesson: Schule Bell the School Bell
Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 5:55 AM EDT
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THERESA, New York (WWNY) - Students starting the year at Theresa Elementary may not have yet noticed a longtime resident of the halls: Schule Bell the School Bell, which has lived in Theresa since 1865.

“During the end of the Civil War, three soldiers from Theresa, only one of which we know the name of, Otis Brooks, captured the bell off a Confederate locomotive to send back to Theresa, which was building a new school,” Theresa town historian Timothy Minnock said.

The soldiers knew the new schoolhouse didn’t have a bell yet, and decided this would work nicely. But how would they get it home? By disguising it as a dead soldier.

“They put it in a coffin, took the clapper off, put a log in it to weigh it down, drew up burial papers, and shipped it north,” Minnick said.

The townspeople were in on the trick. They met the train at the station and put on a believable display, crying for the loss of their beloved Mr. Schule Bell.

“And then when the train pulled away,” Minnick said, “they ripped open the coffin and had a new bell.”

It rang triumphantly at the grand opening of the Sand Hill Schoolhouse, then moved to the current school building when that opened, too.

“I don’t know how many generations of kids walked in that school every day right by that bell and had no clue about its significance,” Minnick said. “Then when you realize, it’s like ‘wow, this is history.’”

Schule Bell has retired from ringing but remains at the school as a war trophy — from many miles and many years ago.