Bells for America

As thanks for the liberation and the Marshall Plan, a Dutch Carillon was presented to the U.S.A. in the 1950s. It is mounted in a dark steel bell tower designed by Joost Boks and prominently located in the Arlington National Cemetery. In the Klok & Peel Museum you can see a special exhibition about the creation, restauration and future of this remarkable carillon. Because everything that could go wrong, went wrong…

Prof. Diederik Oostdijk describes the bizarre history of this monument in his book Klokken voor Amerika (Boom Uitgevers) which is for sale in our webshop.

A remarkable gift

Just now we realise the importance of international co-operation for world peace. As thanks for their help in the liberation, 75 years ago this year, and the post-war rebuilding, the Netherlands presented a carillon with 50 bells in 1953. A remarkable gift that caused quite a stir in 1952. It was intended as a symbol of international solidarity: just like a carillon, big bells and small countries in the world must work together to provide a harmonious sound. The Dutch Carillon must tell a harmonious story to inspire everyone in the Netherlands and in America especially now in the current international crisis.

This is the first time that the bizarre story of this unique Dutch war memorial has been told. Everything that could go wrong went wrong but now the gift will be perfected and this musical instrument’s sound will be harmonious. The carillon is a time capsule of the 1950s whose story and secrets are now revealed in the book and the exhibition.

The birth of three new bells

All 50 bells are back in the Netherlands for the first time to be tuned by Koninklijke Eijsbouts foundry in Asten. They will return to America later in the year accompanied by three new bells. On the 19th of April (Dutch-American Friendship Day), the American ambassador in the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, announced a newly-cast bell for the Dutch Carillon in Arlington near Washington. The three bells are called after three American citizens who fought for freedom during the last century: George C. Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. The first of the new bells was ‘born’ on Friday 11th of April and the other two came soon after. The 1953 Dutch Carillon has therefore had an upgrade to a Grand American Carillon. 18 of the 53 bells are temporarily in this exhibition.

To mark Dutch-American Friendship Day, the Dutch embassy in Washington produced a special video which can be seen on Youtube.

Little incidents, great consequences

An unknown remarkable story concerns the smallest bell which was to be presented to President Truman by Queen Juliana. It went missing and so the Queen stood empty-handed on the 4th of April 1952. It was later found in the Washington Embassy where it remained for many decades. From then on everything seemed to go wrong that could go wrong:

  • The most far-reaching mistake was to allow the bells to be cast by three different bell-foundries so that the carillon was never in tune. To make matters worse, the Dutch people were reluctant to contribute to the cost of the instrument, partly out of frugality and partly out of anger that the Americans had been responsible for the loss of the Dutch Indies.
  • The original architect for the bell tower, Gerrit Rietveld, was sacked by the Foreign Minister Joseph Luns and Ambassador Herman van Roijen because of supposed Communist sympathies.
  • An American Veterans Organisation (AMVETS) protested against Queen Juliana because she didn’t want the monument to be located in Arlington.

Future of the Carillon

The American National Park Service are restoring the bell tower for $ 4.5 million and the Dutch government and a number of sponsors are restoring the carillon for € 800,000. The bells are all dedicated to sections of the Dutch people and are the most richly-decorated bronze bells ever made. They provide a unique insight into post-war Netherlands as well as making us reflect on how our relations with the United States have changed since then and where we now stand.