For whom the bell tolls: The COVID memorial, from the tower of St. Peter’s

St. Peter's bell tower, COVID memorial, Jan. 19, 2021. Photo by Susan D'Alessandro


Four hundred tolls. Four hundred thousand souls.

Bells rang across the nation on Tuesday, at Joe Biden’s request on the eve of his inauguration, to commemorate American lives lost to COVID-19.

Jennifer and John Dyer in the St. Peter’s carillon cabin, COVID memorial, Jan. 19, 2021. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Morristown has many beautiful churches. But only St. Peter’s Episcopal Church has a mechanical 49-bell carillon. And 85-year-old John Dyer felt compelled to climb more than 100 steep and winding steps to play it on this solemn occasion.

“So many people have died, 400,000. The least we can do is ring our bells,” said Dyer.

Video: Four Hundred Tolls. Four Hundred Thousand Souls.

Remarkably, his tower ascent followed a serious fall. (At home, not at church.) An October spill required emergency brain surgery and weeks of rehab.

Climbing to the carillon playing cabin is “good exercise,” Dyer said.

The bells of St. Peter’s, COVID memorial, Jan. 19, 2021. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A native of Wales, Dyer is a retired Johnson & Johnson research scientist whose natural  instrument is piano. More than two decades ago, he taught himself to play St. Peter’s 18-ton bronze carillon. He has performed before and after countless worship services.

Dyer also tolled the bells on 9/11 in 2001. After sounding them 400 times Tuesday–his wife Jennifer kept count–Dyer ended with Abide With Me.

“I play it at funerals sometimes,” he said.

Video: Abide With Me


Abide With Me

Henry Francis Lyte
circa 1820

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terror, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.[2]

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  1. Hi Kevin of Morristown Green, I just read the article you wrote titled”For whom the bell tolls: The COVID memorial, from the tower of St. Peter’s” You told us about 85-year-old John Dyer felt compelled to climb more than 100 steep and winding steps to play it. And even gave us a video to watch and listen to…Morristown Green truly is our local Morristown newsletter !! there is no other newsletter like it……I thank you and admire you so much for all your hard work…I will be sending you another generous contribution to help with expenses. I only wish that more folks would realize how hard you work and how much you welcome and need contributions…!!