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Coney Island bell recovered from ocean

September 3, 2009 3:57:32 PM PDT
A dramatic rescue took place at sea today. The target wasn't a person, but a bell that sank to the ocean floor a century ago.

"Being able to bring this up is phenomenal, almost like a dream come true," diver Gene Ritter said.

Not just for Ritter, but also for his entire dive team, which was getting ready to retrieve a historic piece of Coney Island history lost at sea.

"We want the bell to come up singing," Ritter said.

In it's hay day, the iron piers next to this seaside community were a gathering point. Workers would ring the enormous brass bell as steam boats ushered the masses to and from Dreamland Park.

But, in 1911, a fire wiped it all away.

Ritter, who was born and raised here, has always been fascinated with the story and in 1990 set out on a dive to find the lost piers.

"Planned it so the tide would take me right into it and I saw it. I heard the harp. It was unbelievable," he said.

He also found bottles believed to once hold vinegar dating back to the late 1800's and the bell's rocker arm.

Ritter was determined to find that bell and last year he did, sitting in the water 25 feet down.

"I tried to wrap my hands around it and I couldn't just to feel if it was real," Ritter explained. "Normally, you get barnacles and marine growth on it, but this thing was in pristine condition."

And so today he returned to the exact spot, about 100 yards off shore to bring it up.

The mission was accomplished.

For the first time in nearly a century, daylight hit the bell, a symbol of Coney Island's past and future.

The bell will eventually go on display on Coney Island.


NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS

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