Monday is my busiest day of the week. I manage to squeeze so much into each Monday that my head spins. So, after I dropped my daughter off at work last Monday, I decided to head to the waterfront in search of 10 minutes of peace. Just me and my camera. My hope was my passion for photography would calm my head.
The waterfront park I chose was Coventry Gardens. I never thought of it at the time but it’s also known as PEACE Fountain Park. I smiled to myself.
Many of the flowers were past their peak as summer was ending. I searched for pretty flowers. I saw a row of hostas.
They reminded me of PEACE lilies. I smiled again.
I took pics of more flowers. The photographer in me was happy.
I took pics of a bird in front of the PEACE fountain.
I took a pic of a duck.
And, then I heard the most wonderful, melodious sound. I couldn’t pinpoint it. Sort of like a church organ but lovelier. It came from across the unusually still Detroit River, in the direction of Belle Isle. I snapped a photo of what I thought was a church.
The beautiful music must be coming from that church a mile away. A country away.
I felt peace. The music was soothing to my soul.
I went home and researched churches on Belle Isle. No such thing existed. But, I spotted a similar photo to my “church” photo. It wasn’t a church at all! It was called Nancy Brown PEACE Carillon. What the heck was a carillon?
According to Wikipedia:
“A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in the bell tower of a church or municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord.”
The Nancy Brown Peace Carillon has a whopping 49 bells. No wonder it sounds so heavenly. But, who was Nancy Brown? I did more research. “Nancy Brown” was the pen name for Annie Louise Brown, a journalist for The Detroit News. She wrote a women’s column for almost 23 years starting in 1919. No one knew who she really was or what she looked like…it was kept secret from the public.
In 1934, “Nancy Brown” organized a religious Sunrise Service on Belle Isle. It became so popular her readers suggested a tower be built to commemorate the services. The carillon was almost entirely financed by donations and contributions raised with her column. There was no cost to Detroit. Windsor was asked to contribute as they would enjoy the music. The city declined.
When the ground-breaking ceremony for the carillon took place in 1939, well, that was the first time “Nancy Brown” revealed herself to the public!
The inscription on the peace carillon tower is a quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“A just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
In 1970, the top of the tower was vandalized. The stained-glass windows were knocked out. Pigeons settled inside and destroyed the mechanism responsible for playing the songs. Detroit was in a deficit of over 20 million dollars and was unable to pay for repairs initially. Later, the carillon was restored with the city’s funds and its mechanisms were replaced with a modern system.
Today the grounds surrounding the 85 foot tall carillon tower have been let go. But, the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon still plays. And, music is heard across the water to Windsor.
I know I felt great peace hearing the music from the carillon on Monday. Learning the story behind it made my soul even happier.
Thank you, Nancy Brown, for bringing the music to Windsor to this day, 78 years later. Peace.
Thanks to Walter P. Reuther Library for the photo of Nancy Brown and to Dan Austin for his photo of the tower. As well, thanks to HistoricDetroit.org. for the facts for this story.