Hummer and His Bell

by J. M. D. Powell

In looking over the Annals of Iowa to refresh my memory, I saw an article on the Rev. Michael Hummer, who was a very early settler and, I believe, taught a private school or academy in Stephenson, now Rock Island city, Illinois, in 1838.

In the spring of 1839 he received a call from the Presbyterian church in Davenport, just organized, to preach for them for six months, which he accepted. He was a very talented man and was considered, for years, the ablest clergyman in the state; but he was very peculiar. He possessed a high temper and did not hesitate to show it if occasion required.

After fulfilling his appointment with the Presbyterian church of Davenport, the Rev. Hummer accepted a call to the Presbyterian church in Iowa City. While occupying that position he was sent east to solicit aid for a church they were about to erect. Among other donations he procured a church bell which was brought out and properly hung in the church steeple. After some time he and the congregation falling out, in his imperious style he claimed possession of the bell as his property, which claim the church contested.

The Rev. Hummer left Iowa City and went to Keokuk. After a good deal of wrangling he appeared in Iowa City, one day, with a wagon and ladder and, going to the church with the aid of his ladder he succeeded in getting into the steeple and, unfastening the bell, lowered it into the wagon. The citizens immediately took the ladder down and drove his team away with the bell, which they hid in the Iowa river, leaving the Rev. Hummer to his meditations in the steeple. So many persons have inquired of me about this affair that I thought it would be interesting to weave the fact into this narrative. I copy from the Annals of Iowa.

The future historian of Johnson county will, doubtless, devote at least one chapter to that talented but most unscrupulous individual, the Rev. Michael Hummer, with whom, in the minds of the oldest inhabitants of Iowa City, his bell is so inseparably connected.

That bell, famed both in caricature and story, as the highly prized jewel of Hummer, so singularly abducted and so secretly and securely concealed, was the subject of some hastily written versicles entitled, "HummerÔs Bell," that at the time attained considerable popularity, not so much, perhaps, from any intrinsic merit of their own, as from the incident that gave rise to them.

The first copy of the brochure was given by me to Stephen Whicher, Esq., who, upon his own volition, had a number privately printed and circulated in which, greatly to my annoyance, several changes and interpolations appeared, totally at variance with the original; and as it is extremely doubtful whether a correct and perfect copy can, at this time, be found. I have thought it might be sufficiently interesting, as one of the reminiscences of former years, to have "Hummer's Bell," like the fly preserved in amber, embalmed in the pages of the Annals of Iowa.

A part of the first verse was the improvisation of the Hon. John P. Cook, the legal vocalist of the day, who, upon hearing a ludicrous story of the bell's departure, broke out in song to the infinite merriment of the members of the bar present and, in hi sonorous and mellifluent tone, sang the first six lines, to the well known popular air of "Moore's Evening Bells." Stephen Whicher, Esq., who made one of the merry company, carefully noted down the fragmentary carol and, meeting me soon afterward, earnestly, solicited me to complete the song, as he termed it. His request was immediately compiled with and in a few moments the whole verified story of the bell was told in an impromptu production, of which I appeal a copy, verbatim et literatum, from the original manuscript now lying before me and which has never been out of my possession:

Hummer's Bell

Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
How many a tale of woe 'twould tell
Of Hummer driving up to town,
To take the brazen jewel down,
And when high up in his belfree;
Thus, while he towered aloft, they say
The bell took wings and flew away,

Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
The bard thy history shall tell;
How at the east, by Hummer's sleight,
Donation, gift and widow's mite,
Made up the sum that purchased thee,
And placed him in the ministry.
But funds grew low while dander riz;
Thy clapper stopped, and so did his.

Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
We've heard thy last, thy funeral knew;
And what an aching void is left
Of bell and Hummer both bereft.
Thou, deeply sunk in running stream,
Him in a Swedenborgian dream.
Both are submerged both, to our cost,
Alike to sense and reason lost.

Ah, Hummer's bell! Ah, Hummer's bell!
Hidden unwisely, but too well;
Alas, thou'rt gone! Thy silvery one
No more responds to Hummer's groan,
But yet remains one source of hope.
For Hummer left a fine bell-rope,
Which may be used, if such our luck,
To noose our friend at Keokuk.

W. H. T.

I was well acquainted with Mr. Hummer when he lived in Davenport and always had a great deal of charity for him, as I always thought him non compos mentis. When he left Iowa City he moved to Keokuk and, after creating a great deal of excitement in propagating his views on spiritualism, which he embraced in his latter days, he became so unpopular that he went to Missouri, not far from Kansas City, since which time I have lost track of him but have been told he is dead.

The celebrated bell, I understand, has been recovered from the sands of the Iowa river and is now in possession of the Mormons, at Salt Lake.

Submitted by Mary Lou Schaechter

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