Thursday, April 9, 2015

April 9

Bells across the land:
A nation remembers Appomattox

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. Bells across the country will ring at 3:15 p.m. in commemoration of Robert E. Lee's surrender (April 9, 1865, Palm Sunday that year) to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the Civil War. A short ceremony will take place at 3:00 p.m. in Appomattox, VA (my home state), and your blogger is honored to have been asked to climb a spire to ring our bell for four minutes, one minute for every year of the war.

The Trinity Episcopal Church spire is located in the town of Upperville, VA, forty miles west of Washington, DC. Local resident billionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon (1907-1999) commissioned and provided funds to construct this church, built 1951-1960, designed in 12th-century French Norman style. The bells in the tower, which were made in England, are inscribed: "Dedicated to the men of this countryside, who by their skill of hands built this church." All the stone and woodwork, except the most complex carving, was done by local craftspeople, who made their own stone-cutting tools at a forge constructed on the property, in the tradition of medieval craftsmen. Each stone was cut by hand, instead of using modern machine cutting.

Buried in the church yard is Paul Mellon's father, industrialist and financier Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937), who was ten years old when the Civil War ended. Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury under three presidents and was later appointed Ambassador to Great Britain. He gave his great collection of art to our nation, along with $10 million to build the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. With his British-born father and brother, Andrew Mellon founded the Pittsburgh-based Mellon Bank in 1869, just four years after the Civil War ended, when our nation's treasury was depleted by the costs of the war. This bank founded and nurtured great companies that became the foundation of significant and prosperous corporations that made the U.S. a world industrial leader: Alcoa, Gulf Oil (now Chevron-Texaco), Westinghouse (now CBS and Siemens), Rockwell, U.S. Steel, Heinz (about to merge with Kraft Foods), General Motors, and Exxon-Mobil.

This great man's grave is marked by an exceptionally modest tombstone in the churchyard:

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