The Message of the Bells, Part 1 of 5


The Message of the Bells

By Helene Lewis Coffer, Good Housekeeping, December 1968

The year Mr. Velie built his cathedral, I was still living in Corinth with my mother and younger brother.

As the star (and only) reporter for the weekly Citizen; I wrote a great deal about the cathedral and its bells. But my heart wasn’t in it. Out in the wide world, wonderful things could happen to a girl of twenty. But this was Corinth, too small and dull, too full of memories.

If Mr. Velie’s cathedral held any special magic, I did not sense it. If the bells rang, I didn’t hear them. Not then…not until that Christmas when I found my love and he found me.

Of course, the Community Church of Corinth, Minnesota, isn’t a real cathedral. Mr. Velie isn’t that rich. The styling is Gothic, but the scale is small. Mr. Velie called it a cathedral when he started the legend.

Henry Velie was, of course, something of a legend himself: a bona fide Horatio Alger hero. The son of a mean-tempered ne’er-do-well, he had worked his way through school, gone East to start a business, and succeeded in time to rescue his gentle mother from poverty. He stopped coming home after she died, but the town followed his rise in the world with satisfaction.

By the time our pioneer church burned, Mr. Velie was a Power. No one knew how he learned of the tragedy; the story would hardly have found its way into the New York papers. Nevertheless, the board of elders had Mr. Velie’s generous offer by wire within the week.

Soon a city construction firm and an architect personally commissioned by Mr. Velie arrived in Corinth. The architect furnished progress reports, alerting us as to the arrival of imported stained-glass windows, of fine wood paneling, of handsome alter appointments, and finally, of the bells.

Now the architect became eloquent. Here was something new: a set of mellifluous and fine-toned small instruments so designed as to shower sweet chimes on the prairie air with the slightest play of the wind.

No so, said Henry Velie.

The exquisite little church was no sooner completed than Mr. Velie’s plane set down at our small airport. The news reached town before his taxi, and I left a message at the hotel begging an interview.

To Be Continued…



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