Midwestern church bells are not typically taken to signal a threat to America. This bell was different, though. It was a relic of German imperialism, mounted in a tower in a German-speaking church, ringing even as America declared war with Germany. This bell had been a gift of Kaiser Wilhelm I, the monarch who established the empire that was now, under the leadership of his grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II, carrying the world to war. The bell itself was a war trophy: it had been cast from a brass cannon captured from the French in the Franco-Prussian war.
This hadn't seemed so outrageous in 1872, when the pastor of St. Paul's wrote to the kaiser asking for a bell.
Then, the audacious thing was just that he asked. But the pastor, J. Lueder, wanted a bell for his German Reformed church and he thought the elderly emperor might be generously inclined towards the spiritual needs of the immigrants in faraway Minnesota. As historian Paul N. Crusius writes, Lueder sent off an "eloquent plea for the simple gift of metal to cast a bell whose tones would be, as it were, a voice from over the water summoning the people to worship God in the manner of their fathers."
Two years later, the church received a brass cannon from the kaiser.
The metal was melted down and re-cast into a bell. It was just a normal bell until war broke out in Europe the Summer of 1914 and America got involved in the war in 1917. Then, the bell was a symbol of German immigrants' connection to a country that was now the enemy.
It rang as a question about loyalty.
Women of Duluth, Minnesota sew in support of the war effort, circa 1918. Americans on the
"home front" were urged to see themselves as part of the war effort, part of beating Germany.