Accounting for the Bells’ Toll

Suppliers estimate return to Russia would cost $1 million

Seventy-three years after a Russian monastery’s bells were shipped across the Atlantic and hoisted into the Lowell bell tower, a delegation of monks have arrived at Harvard to urge the University to return the sacred instruments.

Moscow’s Danilov Monastery lost its original bells when the Soviet Union sold them to American businessman Charles Crane, who in turn donated them to Harvard in 1929.

This weekend, a group from Danilov—the center of the Russian Orthodox Church—will meet with University Vice President Alan J. Stone to try to persuade Harvard to give them back.

University President Lawrence H. Summers said in September that the cost of returning the bells could be prohibitive, but that he would be willing to discuss the possibility with the monks.

And a former Lowell master estimated last year that returning the bells could cost tens of millions of dollars.

But this week, representatives of two major bell suppliers pegged the cost at closer to $1 million.

And while a prominent Russian bell-ringer told the St. Petersburg Times last year that the University should foot the bill for returning the bells, church leaders have been more moderate and have talked about raising their own funds to finance the bells’ shipment.

“It is Harvard’s right to say [what] will be done because they legally received the bells,” Father Innokentiy Okhovoy, the monastery’s administrator, said this summer.

Stone explained that Summers could not make the meeting because he will be out of town this weekend, and added that the decision will probably be long in the making.

“We hope to make some progress,” Stone said. “It’s probably not reasonable to expect conclusions.”

Money Matters

Former Lowell Master William H. Bossert ’59 estimated last year that removing the bells could cost tens of millions of dollars and require closing the House for a semester.

Other administrators have mentioned potentially exorbitant cost as a reason the University might not return the bells.

But people who make and move bells for a living said this week that the Lowell bells can be sent back to Moscow with much less trouble than Bossert predicted.

For the Verdin Company in Ohio—which recently made a 33-ton bell and claims to be the world’s largest bell supplier—Lowell’s 13-ton “Mother Earth” is practically a baby.

“I’m pretty sure we could have that down in a day,” company President James R. Verdin said.