The event began simply as a single bell transfer, then grew to mammoth proportions over the course of two short weeks. First, some background information for those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of the bell that initiated the event.
On a week-long expedition in 1985, seven wreck-divers recovered the stern bell from the Andrea Doria. These seven divers were Mike Boring, Kenny Gascon, Artie Kirchner, John Moyer, Bill Nagle, Tom Packer, and this author. We all shared ownership of the prized artifact.
It was not possible for all of us to display the bell at the same time at our individual homes, so we forged an informal agreement to share possession of the bell. This agreement has worked ideally for twenty-five years. One person might have the bell for a year or two, then another person would take it for a year or two. There were never any arguments among us. After all, the bell would not have been recovered if we had not all worked together in the first place. The full story is told in my book, Andrea Doria: Dive to an Era.
Occasionally the bell was displayed at museums and conventions. It was a most peripatetic bell.
The most recent possessor of the bell was Mike Boring. When Artie Kirchner professed an interest in possessing the bell for a while, he and Mike agreed that Artie could pick up the bell from Mike's house in Virginia. Artie lives in New Jersey. They set a date for the pick-up.
Mike sent a group email to let friends and fellow divers know about the occasion. He invited everyone to pay a visit to his house, and to bring a recovered bell if they had one to display. News spread like wildfire, from one group email to other group emails. Within days the Andrea Doria bell became the centerpiece of a major assembly of bells, of people who had recovered bells, and of long-time friends and dive buddies who had not seen each other for years.
To switch metaphors, the Andrea Doria bell was like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering more snow and growing larger as it sped toward the bottom of the slope.
The number of people who promised to attend grew exponentially. Mike was overwhelmed by the response to an extemporaneous get-together. Suddenly he found himself throwing a large-scale party.
A bell party.
He prepared for the celebration by buying a couple of pork shoulders. He asked prospective attendees to bring drinks, side dishes, and desserts. He wound up with a huge smorgasbord of everything from soup to nuts. (Some might contend that the visitors were the nuts.) He also asked attendees to bring sleeping bags if they planned to stay over. Most did. Although every room in the house was packed with overnighters, there was no frigging in the rigging. (At least, none that I was aware of).
The final count was 29 bells and I don't know how many people from all over the eastern seaboard. For Mike's picture of the bells, go to http://www.ggentile.com/bells.html.
For me, the highlight of the evening was a gathering around the Andrea Doria's stern bell: a gathering that consisted of five of the seven divers who recovered it. Only Bill Nagle and Kenny Gascon were missing. Bill's son Andrew was there to take the place of his father.
Also on display was the Andrea Doria's bridge bell, which was recovered last year by Carl Bayer and Ernie Rookie. Carl assumed the honor of bringing the bell to the bash.
Even without gongs, the otherwise quiet neighborhood fairly rang in accord with the chiming and the tinkling and the tintinnabulation of such a wonderful and historic display of shipwrecked ships' bells.
Thanks to Mike Boring for throwing a once-in-a-lifetime party. Its likes will likely not happen again.
Some un bell ievable pictures