Q: A close friend recently died, and I am now sorting through his possessions. Among them is a rather sizable and heavy, old brass bell. On it is the year 1810 and what looks to be the word or acronym “MEJIEO” along with what may be a couple of depictions of the Virgin Mary and other religious decorations. Can you tell me anything about it?
Kent Knowles, of Millstadt
A: You may be fascinated by the timing of your question. Today — yes, Sept. 16 — marks the anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence.
So what, you ask, could that interesting historic tidbit possibly have to do with your newly found treasure? Simple: I’m betting that “MEJIEO” is actually “MEJICO,” an alternative spelling of Mexico that you’ll find in some Spanish publications. And that war of independence began 206 years ago on Sept. 16, 1810, with an event still celebrated as the Grito de Dolores — the Cry of Dolores.
In this case, “Dolores” was not a woman, but rather a small town near Guanajuato in central Mexico. There, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest, was helping to plan an overthrow of the Spanish colonial government when several of his fellow plotters were killed. Fearing his own arrest, Hidalgo put together a band of armed men, who, during the early hours of Sept. 16, forced the sheriff to release 80 pro-independence inmates being held in the town jail.
At 6 a.m., Hildago ordered the church bells rung to gather his congregation, whom he urged to revolt. The Siege of Guanajuato occurred four days later. The country’s independence was not achieved until 1821, but Hidalgo, who was excommunicated by the church and then executed for treason three days later on July 30, 1811, is often hailed as the “father of his country.” Since 1825, Sept. 16 is marked as Mexican Independence Day with a recreation of Hildalgo’s “cry” exhorting his parishioners to overthrow their Spanish oppressors as part of the ceremonies. In 1934, there was even a movie released entitled ¡Viva México! — Alma Insurgente, El Grito de Dolores.”
I can’t tell you who made the bell or when or why it was made. The 1810 simply may show that the bell was cast in 1810 with no particular connection to the start of the revolution. But I think it’s clear the bell with its Roman Catholic symbology does have Mexican ties and at least it’s romantic to think that it may have been made later as a souvenir to commemorate the momentous event.
To possibly find experts who could give you more particulars, you or someone you know might want to post pictures and details of the bell on the discussion forums at such sites as www.treasurenet.com and https://americanbell.org, where you’ll find a host of frequently asked questions about how you might get your bell appraised and the information you should include when describing it: height, diameter, material and markings of the bell along with photos of the inside and outside of the bell.
I did find a somewhat similar 1810, foot-high bell with Mejico on it that appears to have sold for $475 at auction two years ago. See it at https://new.liveauctioneers.com/item/27808427.
Q: Our family has several bicycles that are in reasonably good condition, but that we do not use. Is there some place we could donate them so they can find a new home where they might be used again?
C.M., of Belleville
A: You should peddle them off to the BWorks in St. Louis. Not only will your bikes find new life, but you’ll also be riding ... er ... passing them forward in every sense of the term.
Begun in 1988 as the St. Louis Bicycle Works, this nonprofit gives disadvantaged youngsters the chance to earn a free bike even as they learn about bicycle safety and maintenance from the group’s volunteers. About 350 kids graduate from the program every year, earning their own bike, helmet, light and lock. The organization also runs a bike shop that sells refurbished bikes with all proceeds plowed back into the group’s programs.
But that’s only part of the BWorks’ mission now. In 1996, the group introduced St. Louis Byte Works, through which children can earn a desktop computer system. In 2011, it added St. Louis Book Works, giving kids the opportunity to write and illustrate their own books as they work with volunteer editors.
And here’s more good news: You don’t have to cart the bikes to St. Louis. The Bike Surgeon (622-1693) at 3348 Green Mount Crossing Drive in Shiloh and The Alpine Shop (726-6110) at 1855 W. Highway 50 in O’Fallon told me they’ll be glad to take them off your hands and transfer them to BWorks. For more information, see www.bworks.org.
What do “loopholes” have to do with ancient castles?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the blind Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge wears a device called a VISOR to artificially provide him a sense of sight. What looks like a large metallic barrette worn across the eyes, it works by scanning the electromagnetic spectrum of objects, creating visual input that is sent to the brain via the optic nerves. According to novels written about the series, VISOR stands for Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement.