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Missing For a Century, Historic Bell Finally Returns To Puget Sound Ship

The_Bell_(Photo_by_John_Leben).jpg
John Leven
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The bell that's been missing from Adventuress for 100 years.

In a public ceremony Saturday in Port Townsend, a 101-year-old ship’s bell will finally come home. 

The story of the bell is worthy of the name given the wooden schooner it was made for in 1913. The sailing ship is called Adventuress.  Adventuress now sails the waters of Puget Sound as part of a maritime education program run by the Port Townsend based nonprofit group Sound Experience.

Adventuress.jpg
Credit Sound Experience
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Adventuress is used to teach maritime education to more than 3,000 young people each year.

Long Lost Bell

For more than three decades, Adventuress was a working vessel in San Francisco Bay, although she was originally built for a voyage to the Arctic Ocean as part of a scientific exploration.

But for most of her century old life, she’s been missing her bell. The bell that currently graces the ship was made in 1915, two years after the Adventuress sailed on her maiden voyage.

'I Think I Have Your Bell'

Catherine Collins, executive director of Sound Experience, says one day in June, she picked up an intriguing voicemail message on her office phone.

“It said, 'I think I have your bell. Give me a call,”' Collins said.

The call was from Nick Lemos, an elderly gentleman in San Francisco. He told her that for more than 70 years, he’d had this bell bearing the name Adventuress and the date 1913.

“He said, ‘You know, I got this bell when I was 10 years in 1936,’" Collins said. 

Was The Bell Used As A Bribe?

Collins said Lemos proceeded to tell her a remarkable story.

He said as a kid, he’d spent a lot of time after school at his grandmother’s house. His grandmother was apparently having an affair with a San Franciso police boat captain.

Somehow, and this part is still a mystery, the police boat captain was in possession of the bell from Adventuress, which was working as a bar pilot boat in San Francisco Bay at the time.

“He ended up giving it to the boy to, as Nick Lemos tells it, ‘keep him quiet about the relationship.’” Collins said.

Bell Used To Ring In Cocktail Hour

Lemos grew up, got married, had children and grandchildren, and the bell just sort of became part of the family.

They’d haul it up to various summer homes, ringing it at cocktail hour and letting the kids play with it.

“They also had once lost it off the dock. It was at the bottom of a lake. I mean, it’s beyond remarkable that this has turned up,” Collins said.

Maybe We Should Google This

The bell finally turned up thanks to Google and reality TV. A Lemos family member, having watched one of those shows that features antiques, decided to look up the name Adventuress to try and see where the bell came from.

That led to Lemos calling Collins on the phone.  nitially, he told her he'd just box the bell up and send it north.

“Oh, no, don’t,’” Collins said.

Instead, she drove 12 hours non-stop to pick it up the lost treasure. She's barely let it out of her sight since. 

"It rides in the seat next to me in my car," she told me when I asked if it traveled in the trunk.

The Sound Of History

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Credit Sound Experience
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You can see the bell, on the right, in this picture taken on Adventuress in 1913.

When I asked Collins rings the bell for me, she couldn't stop smiling.

She says it’s exciting to be hearing the same sound that was heard back in 1913 when the Adventuress sailed on her maiden voyage with naturalists on board from the American Museum of Natural History.

They were sailing to the Arctic to look for Bowhead whale specimens. She says she thinks about the crew ringing the bell as they sailed around the horn of South America, through the Straits of Magellan and up the West Coast on the way to the Arctic Ocean.

“This is a piece of American history that has come back to us,” Collins said.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.