The Children’s Bell Tower

Tear-jerker alert. You’ve been warned!

In 1994 seven-year-old Nicholas Green was killed by highway robbers while on vacation with his family in Italy. His parents donated several of his organs, transforming the lives of seven Italians. Astounded by this gesture of grace and generosity, Italians tripled their organ donations afterwards. It became known as “the Nicholas effect.”

Children's Bell Tower in Bodega Bay, California. Picture courtesy of the Nicholas Green Foundation.
Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay, California. Picture courtesy of the Nicholas Green Foundation.

As further tribute to their son, Reg and Maggie Green had a bell memorial constructed near their home in Bodega Bay, California. It was designed and built by San Francisco sculptor Bruce Hasson. Tripadvisor.com has some great close-up photos of some of the bells—note the story of Nicholas’ organ donation depicted on a bell. Most of the bells were sent by Italians, including one from the Marinelli Bell Foundry, which is the official bell foundry for the Vatican. When the wind blows through, the bells ring. The effect is like a large wind chime.

It’s a touching tribute. To me (but then, I’m very biased) having a pleasant sound associated with a memorial elevates it beyond the effect of a static visual art work (like a statue or plaque). The memorial is aesthetically pleasing to both the eye and ear. The wind that activates the bells reminds me of the transience of life, which makes the experience both heartbreaking and soothing.

But the bells don’t end there! About year or two after the Children’s Bell Tower was completed, the Greens contacted Hasson to create memorial bells for Calabria, Italy, the region in which Nicholas was killed. The Greens requested that the bells be cast out of confiscated guns from Oakland, California. Hasson agreed, and he designed and cast seven bells representing the seven recipients of Nicholas’ organs. Each bell has a bird alighted on top. The Italian officials were delighted to memorialize Nicholas and symbolize the good that came out of the tragedy. The bells were hung in the large lobby of the new assembly building in Reggio di Calabria.

Bird Bells in Reggio di Calabria, Italy. Picture courtesy of the Nicholas Green Foundation.
Bird Bells in Reggio di Calabria, Italy. Picture courtesy of the Nicholas Green Foundation.

The bells here superbly represent our most poignant emotions: the grief of losing an innocent, beautiful life; the joy and grace in saving other lives through death; and the solidarity among people living in two far-flung regions that would otherwise have few ties. The bells also represent one of the highest moral values that humans can attain—to save the lives of others despite the grave misfortune of one’s own.

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