An Attractive Nuisance in the Sanctuary

Typing once again from the sanctuary of the Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Congregation in North Olmsted, Ohio, on the west side of Cuyahoga County.  The kids have eaten breakfast and lunch, enjoyed morning workshops, worked and played hard.  There’s another activity going on in the common rooms and areas right now, so I’ve retreated to the comparative peace and quiet of the sanctuary.

The youth–with some flexible exceptions–are forbidden to be in this area; it’s an adults-only area, but some have poked their heads in to look for their sponsors to retrieve medication, misplaced belongings, etc.  The biggest incentive for keeping some of the more mischievous ones out of here is the rope that hangs from the ceiling just to the left of the front door.  It’s the pull rope for the bell in the tower.  With some of the more adventurous kids, I’m sure it would be a temptation.

Insurance companies introduced the concept of attractive nuisance when it came to liability about certain issues, and the aforementioned rope would be one here.  The bell in the tower above the front door (see picture below, which I shot this morning from across the street from the church) was used to signal the beginning of services, fire warnings, and tolling the deaths of members.  All in a day’s work for a church bell.

Exterior shot of Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Congregation
on Porter Rd. in North Olmsted, Ohio.  The stained glass
window I posted in yesterday’s entry is above the double doors.
Bell tower is partially obscured by leaves.

Looking at the exterior plaque, I see this congregation has occupied this building since 1847.
The attractive nuisance doctrine says that an owner can be held liable for injuries on his property, even if the injured people were trespassing, if he took no action to safeguard the nuisance.  The classic example is an unfenced swimming pool on private property.  If kids trespass on the property and swim there, and one of them drowns, the parents can still sue the pool’s owner, even if the child was trespassing.
I’m sure the kids here would find the temptation to ring the bell too attractive to pass up.  I’m not expecting any physical danger to come from it, although for all I know the bell wheel and housing are too weak to support sustained ringing, but if the kids know it’s there, I’m sure the “Hey, guys!  Watch this!” factor would kick in before long.
Whenever I mount my soapbox about something like this, I always try to come clean about when I’ve run afoul of this particular situation.  I was sorely tempted to own an attractive nuisance at one time.  In 1979, while delivering The Marietta Times on Front Street, daily I passed the long unused Harmar Railroad Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River and connected downtown with the West Side.  That spring, they opened the first section of the bridge to allow a tall barge passage down the Ohio.  It was a swing bridge; the first section was on a big lazy Susan, and when the bridge was opened, the first section was sideways, and remained that way.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, which owned the bridge, never got around to closing the first section, which was a pain for people who used it for bike and pedestrian traffic.  (I always used the pedestrian walk; I was too “chicken” to walk on the ties.)  There were rumors the bridge was for sale for $1, and I thought about emptying the Ball jar on my desk that was half full of pennies and buying the bridge.  One, it’d be fun to own a bridge; two, maybe I could sell the metal for scrap.
Dad told me if I did buy it, I’d have to buy lots of insurance, because if kids were playing around on it, and fell, or lost limbs, or gashed their heads, guess who’d be responsible in the eyes of the law?
I even have a past when it comes to bell towers as recreation.  For years, beginning at the age of 16, I had the run of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Marietta, which was truly my home in Marietta.  The house where I lived with my dad, stepmother, and stepsisters was just my address.  I was immediately drawn to the bell tower, and loved watching parades from it.  (The church is on Putnam Street, which is the main west-to-east street in Marietta.)
I also enjoyed inviting my friends up there, making a pain of myself by saying, “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints” very piously.  I was in no way put off by the fact that the roof’s hatch was open, and that when you reached the top of the tower you waded through an ankle-deep pile of pigeon droppings and dead pigeons.  (I volunteered to clean it, but Justin Lapoint, the minister–my mentor–didn’t want me ending up in the hospital with histoplasmosis–which used to be called spelunker’s disease or silo disease.)  I was thrilled by the view from the tower, a great place to watch people.  (On a rafter by the bell, I had written “Tower power!”)
The bell was beyond ringability.  The bell wheel was almost kindling, the pulleys were rusted, and the floor probably couldn’t stand the vibration.  The only time it ever rang was after the Iranian hostages were freed in 1981.  All the churches in Marietta pealed for that, and Justin, who had been at a movie at Marietta College when he heard them, went down, yanked the rope, and managed the weak “Ding!”  Anything else would have been too dangerous.
Susie (right) and her new friend on the swing set.
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While the Wi-Fi Deities Smile Upon Me

The dateline for this entry is the sanctuary of the Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Congregation in North Olmsted, Ohio.  Susie is here for the fall Ohio-Meadville District Junior High Youth Conference (“con,” in the in-house terminology), ArtistiCon, and I’m a sponsor for several kids from Columbus.  Wi-Fi service has been very erratic in this building, so, while the kids meet in the Morning Circle, I’m going to take advantage of not having to share the service, and type this entry.

We’re in quite a beautiful building.  This was a last-minute location for the conference, since the larger church where it was supposed to be was unable to accommodate it I will post exterior pictures in a later entry this weekend, but I am quite proud of the one I took last night.  I was in the sanctuary (where the adults sleep–sanctuary takes on an additional meaning this weekend) staking out a place to sleep, and took this picture of the stained glass window above the church’s front door.

celebrating its 175th year this year.

This conference was a welcome retreat for me as well.  Work was hell yesterday.  My co-worker has permanently moved to another section, so my workload has doubled, and it seemed I could get very little done without constant telephonic interruption–both my cell phone, and the one on my desk.  I’m wondering if, on some level, I consciously decided to “forget” to bring the charger for my cell phone when I packed for this con.  The cell reception here (at least for Revol customers) is spotty, and I didn’t want to drain what battery power I do have hanging onto a signal.  So the cell phone is shut off and buried in the bags of stuff I brought.
The kids are as full of energy, as always.  This conference is about half the size it usually is, and Susie is a little disappointed that her friends from Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church (“where the ‘Universalist’ comes first,” their pastor, Rev. Bill Gupton, is fond of pointing out) in Cincinnati weren’t able to come, but she seems to have made friends with some girls whom I’ve not seen before.
Scenes from the Opening Circle.

And the adults congregate in the sanctuary.  (Since the
service will be here tomorrow morning, we have to be
even more on the ball about “clean[ing] up [our] own
damn shit” than our charges do.
I had “night angel” duty last night.  I walked around the church, making sure the rooms where the kids were staying had doors that were at least cracked open, making sure nobody was two to a sleeping bag, etc.  My shift was 3-5 a.m., so I grabbed some shuteye in a pew a little after midnight.  This is the first time I’ve slept in a pew (horizontally, anyway), and it was a little uncomfortable, but I’m rested.  One of the benefits of narcolepsy is the ability to sleep anywhere, where you want to or not.
Between breakfast and the Morning Circle, I heard some of the kids on the piano and the guitar.  As I came down to eat breakfast, three or four were in the hallway with their guitars, doing a decent cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” (although why the narrator, who “shot a man in Reno,” would be in a California penitentiary is something I’ve never understood), and when I began typing, I heard some of the kids in the other room singing “Imagine” with a good piano accompaniment, and then the pianist (not sure if it was the same one) did a damn near perfect rendition of “Maple Leaf Rag.”
I have the sanctuary to myself, except for a woman who is fast asleep on a big, queen-sized air mattress that just barely fits in the aisle.  If you just glanced at the inside of this sanctuary and didn’t know the context of this week’s events, you’d swear you were looking at news footage of the evacuation centers churches and schools set up in their common areas after floods or brush fires.  All we need is the Red Cross to be here serving us tepid coffee and stale donuts.