Header photo courtesy of Hennepin County Library
The saga of the city’s missing bell and wheel that were removed from a veteran’s memorial at Bde Maka Ska is hopefully coming to a just conclusion.
The bell and wheel, which were respectively mounted on World War I-era ships named the USS Minneapolis and USS Minnesota, disappeared from the memorial almost 40 years apart; the bell in 2014, the wheel in 1975. Both later resurfaced at Minnetonka High School.
The story first broke in Southwest Voices’ predecessor publication, The Southwest Journal, thanks to reporting from Karen Cooper and Zac Farber. The artifacts were originally bestowed by the Navy to the American Legion, then entrusted to the Park Board for preservation. Without approval from the American Legion, a rogue member removed the bell and wheel citing what they felt was a lack of desire to maintain the bell’s condition.
They later passed them on to the school after the member, identified in emails obtained by former Southwest Journal reporter Farber as Dick Ward, talked about it with a former Minnetonka High School football coach, who are brothers-in-law, at a family gathering.
Ward did not respond to a request for comment, but says in an email to superintendent Dennis Peterson that they gave the artifacts to the school, after trying numerous other entities to no avail, to ensure “they be placed in an area that was secure, reverent, respected, protected, engaged, and appreciated.” The school restored the bell and wheel after accepting it, displaying the wheel at the lobby, and the bell at football games. The bell was also rung whenever the football team scored or when athletes reach their personal goals.
After the Southwest Journal article came out, students, state representatives and Park Board commissioners began to contact the school asking for the bell’s return. A petition started by Minnetonka High alumnus Bella Bennett to compel the school district to return the bell on their volition garnered 142 signatures (Bennett declined to comment for the story). Brad Bourne, the outgoing Park Board commissioner who represents District 6, which includes the southwest half of Bde Maka Ska, even threatened to send Park Police in to seize the bell.
Minnetonka Schools claims that they weren’t aware the artifacts were removed without permission from their original location, and said they would comply with any orders to return the bell to the Park Board from the U.S. Navy, who was believed to be the owner of the artifacts. After the Navy divested its claim from the bell and wheel, the American Legion ultimately agreed to entrust care of the artifacts to the Park Board.
Since Minnetonka returned the items to the Park Board, they are being stored pending evaluation by a conservation specialist at the Park Board’s headquarters in North Minneapolis, which is closed to the public because of the pandemic. The Park Board plans to display them there, as well as undergo a community engagement process to determine what it should do with them.
The Park Board isn’t sure whether or not the artifacts will return to Bde Maka Ska. The agreement requires the artifacts be protected from vandalism while they are being displayed. They had hoped to display the bell and wheel at the christening of the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul in Duluth in May, but the commission was postponed because of defects associated with the ship.
Kip Wennerlund of Minneapolis remembered the bell fondly during bike rides around Bde Maka Ska in an e-mail to the superintendent in May 2020. “[I stopped] on occasion to point it out to visitors, and to ponder over the memorial plaque which described some of the places and conflicts that the bell had seen. In recent years I wondered why the bell was no longer on the restored mast. Now we know.”