In 1895, Brooklynite James Dunne (1842-1915) commissioned the manufacture of several miniature bells like this one. Inscribed “Brooklyn City Hall, Feb. 26, ’95,” they were forged from the remnants of the great bronze bell that once hung in Brooklyn’s City Hall (today known as Borough Hall). Originally hung in 1859, the bell weighed 8,626 pounds and was cast in Boston by the ironworks of Henry N. Hooper & Company. Tragedy struck in the early morning hours of February 26, 1895, when the building caught fire.
The blaze originated from a malfunctioning gas light fixture on an upper floor. Within hours, the fire had destroyed the roof. It spread to the City Hall cupola, which housed the building’s large clock and its bell. Subjected to the intense heat, the bell cracked and fell thirty feet down into the building, where it shattered.
Dunne, a Brooklyn City Alderman elected City Hall’s “Keeper” in 1883, was supposedly in the building that day and may have salvaged bits of the bell. Later, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote he gifted his souvenir bells to prominent friends.
Recently cataloged and photographed, this item is just one of over 5,700 objects currently being processed by BHS collections staff. We are excited to begin making these items available online for the first time! Explore more artifacts in our Digital Collections.