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The Rostrum & The Bell

Members of the Rotary Club of New York visiting the Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) will be surprised to note the resemblance of RCM’s rostrum to their rostrum in New York. While admiring the rostrum the majority of them would not know that it has a unique history. On one of PP / Justice Malcolm (PP 1937-38) visit to Rotary Club of New York, prior to World War II, he saw the beautiful rostrum used by the club. On his return to the Philippines, he told the members about the New York rostrum, and suggested that RCM have one similar to the New York club’s. One of the members of RCM, records do not mention who it was, wrote to the New York club and requested for the dimensions of the rostrum. In reply, not only were the dimensions given, but photographs of the rostrum were sent. Mrs. Charlotte E. Heilbronn, widow of former member Joseph Heilbronn, donated the beautifully carved Club Memorial Rostrum, which was unfortunately destroyed when the Manila Hotel was partly burnt during the Pacific War. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Rotary Club of Manila, Mrs. Heilbronn, graciously and without solicitation, voluntarily offered to replace the rostrum which was destroyed during the war, as a memorial to her husband. It was her desire that this memorial be an exact reproduction of the one originally presented by her to the club on June 13, 1940. The inscription of the silver plaque reads as follows: “THE ROSTRUM IS AN EXACT REPRODUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL WHICH WAS, EXCEPT FOR THE BELL, COMPLETELY DESTROYED IN THE BATTLE OF MANILA IN February 1945. BOTH RESTRUMS ARE THE GENEROUS GIFTS TO MANILA ROTARY OF MRS. CHARLOTTE ELLEN HEILBRONN AS A MEMORIAL TO HER LATE HUSBAND AND FORMER MANILA ROTARIAN JOSEPH PAUL HELBRONN.” FIRST DEDICATED…JUNE 13, 1940 SECOND DEDICATED..JUNE 30, 1949
Several years later, however, an unknown person stole the original bell which was never been recovered. The bell on the rostrum today us a replica of the original. There is an interesting story of the original bell. On March 1, 1945, American soldiers completed operations which resulted in the retaking of the Manila Hotel. The Fiesta Pavilion where RCM used to hold its weekly meetings has been converted into a fortress, and all the records of the Club including trophies, furniture and the rostrum were completely destroyed. As the soldiers liberated the hotel, an American officer, Lt Col. Cage H. Spies, was attracted by a bright object shinning from the heap of rubbish in the street. He asked a soldier to investigate. The soldier returned immediately with a large bronze bell, dirty and charred. A shell had chipped off a fragment and it was this break that has been reflected by the sun. The officer scrapped off some of the dirt and discovered the words, “ROTARY INTERNATIONAL”. A former Rotarian himself, he instructed the soldier to bring it along as they went to army headquarters. As they crossed the street, the soldier was seriously wounded by a sniper’s bullet and was immediately evacuated to the United States. Later, the bell was returned to the Club, and placed on a replica of the rostrum where it remained until it was stolen. There is also an interesting story to another bell which appears on the New York Club rostrum. Rotarians of London, England and New York will never forget the great attendance contest of 1922 between the two clubs. Attendance averages were cabled after each meeting, and the figures showed that at the end of three months, New York was the winner. The trophy presented by the losing club was a ship’s bell taken from Patrol Bt.20 of the British Auxilliary warships, and the wood mounting for the bell was an oak timber taken from Admiral Nelson’s flagship “Victory”, famous for its victories during the beginning years of the 19th Century. The bell forms part of a beautiful hand-carved rostrum still used by the New York Club from which RCM rostrum was copied.