The Silver Bell Returns






from Chénière Caminada: Buried at Sea by Dale Rogers




Mr. Daize Cheramie stated that Mr. Cement Bouzigard brought a law suit and spent $4,000 to
have the bell returned.  It was then stolen off of a boat in Gretna and buried in the Westwego
cemetery.

Mr. Theodore Collins claimed to have worked with Mr. Bouzigard who filed the suit.  As a child
he had made several marks inside the bell with a small ax and he identified the bell in that
way.  But the suit did not succeed as the bell stayed buried in Westwego for years.

Around 1916 a well protected site on Grand Isle’s central ridge was donated by Miss Mercedes
Adams for the construction of a new church.  Mr. Horace Harvey, Dr. Theodore Engleback and
Rev. Peter Wynhaven played important parts in seeing that the church was built and that the
local Sheriff made the right inquiries to locate the bell.  These pressures meant little but a
new church on Grand Island, only 3 or 4 miles from Chénière Caminada sounded right; the bell
would be returning home.  The protectors of the bell went to the Gretna cemetery with black
prisoners and digging was started.  They found nothing and by the looks in their eyes some
believed the bell had been stolen again.  They then dug in a nearby similar-looking site and
the Chénière’s bell was found.  It made a well guarded trip to Grand Isle by boat and was
installed in the waiting church tower.  The great bell’s travels were finally at an end.  

In 1918, Archbishop John W. Shaw and many priests and dignitaries dedicated Our Lady of the
Isle Chapel at Grand Isle.  So 25 years after the destruction of Chénière Caminada the bell
came home and so did Father F. J. Grimaud who had survived the Chénière catastrophy in the
small Prespertere.  He now wore a long white beard and had been serving in the Maurice and
Carencro areas during the past years.  He arrived not knowing that the original bell had been
returned.  At its first ringing he fell to his knees and shouted “Mon cloche, lu mam son” (my
bell the same sound).  During the ceremony he cried and prayed fiercely for his long dead
comrades whenever the bell rang.

At one time during the day he said, “I am very old, but the bell sounds the same.  How can we
be sure?”

At this point Nocess Terrebonne stepped forward and told his story to Father Grimaud and all
those about him.  This was the same Nocess who as a young boy had rung the bell with a
hatchet 25 years ago and left a mark on it.  He now confessed his action and identified the cut
he had made so many years ago.  Yes, this was the same bell.

During my research culminating in 1981, I heard many stories and opinions about the bell.  
One priest said, “I never believed it – why would it take 10 men to lift such a small bell even if
it weighs 700 lbs.”  A lady researcher told me, “It looks so small and does not look like
silver.”  Others said they believed the bell had long been melted down or cut up for its
precious metals.

On May 14, 1980, I made another trip to the island, this time with a long ladder and
determination.  With Father Ducote’s permission I climbed the tower and watched the bell
grow in size as I worked my way close to it.  From rim to rim it measures 27½ inches which
is about twice what it appears to be from ground lever.  Deeply engraved on it I found
“Vanduzen and Tift – Cincinnati – Buckeye Bell Foundry – 1883.  Several historical sources
indicated that the Chénière Caminada bell was cast in Cincinnati in 1883.  I am satisfied
that this is the original bell and I feel privileged to have held it for a moment.

Do not expect to see a shiny, dazzling treasure if you visit the Chénière bell. It is dark and
does not appear to have a high silver or gold content.  The real treasure is in the memory of
the few survivors and their descendents and in the hearts and minds of those who seek out
these dreams.

Father Grimaud was 63 years old on that trying day when he returned to the Grand Isle area.  
In 1893, with his parish totally destroyed, he had been sent to serve as rector of St.
Alphonsus Church in Maurice.  On August 23, 1899, he was appointed rector of St. Peter’s
Church in Carencro, LA. And served there until 1920.  He retired about 1921.  He died in
Carencro on December 6, 1923, at 68 years of age.  All of the Chénière residents were his
family.  He, perhaps, had lost most of all in 1893.

No one said it better than Mr. Thomas Valence when he discussed the final disposition of the
bell.  He said, “La cloche a été emmenée a la Grand Ile parce que La Grand Ile était la soeur
de la Chénière.“  (The bell was brought to Grand Isle because Grand Isle was the sister of the
Chénière.)

This story is directly from:
Chénière Caminada: Buried at Sea by Dale Rogers


Father de Espinosa’s bell of silver and
gold had served well during its 10-year
period prior to the storm.  It had then
rung hauntingly in the fierce winds for
the dying during the destruction of
Caminadaville.  The hurricane finally
knocked it from the belfry to the
sands.  It was found on the beach
partially buried by two brothers, the
sons of Etienne Perrin and Eve
Victorine Melancon.  The bell was
cared for by this family and at some
point it was installed on a low wooden
stand.  

Mr. Thomas Valence was born at
Chénière Caminada in 1901 and he
remembers playing near the bell (1906)
while it stood on a 20 foot tower.  The
church had been totally destroyed but
he always understood that the belfry
had held up and that the bell had not
fallen.

Mr. Theodore (Bobor) Collins was born
in 1895, and he also remembered the
bell vividly.  He said that Mr. Perrin
had set the bell up on posts and when
he died his brother Marius cared for
the bell.  Survivors from Westwego
then arrived with papers of possession
and took the bell.

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