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Mystery of vanished Minneapolis memorial leads to... Minnetonka High School

A gigantic bell and wheel from two different Navy ships disappeared from the banks of Bde Maka Ska, much to the bewilderment of the Minneapolis Parks Board. They've been in use this whole time.

A gigantic bell and wheel from two different Navy ships disappeared from the banks of Bde Maka Ska, much to the bewilderment of the Minneapolis Parks Board. They've been in use this whole time. Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

The USS Minneapolis – “Minnie” for short – was a goddamn brickhouse of a boat.

She weighed 10,000 tons, could carry up to four airplanes at once, and would go one to become one of the most decorated Navy ships to sail during World War II. Her big sister, the USS Minnesota, was a whopping 16,000 tons of firepower deployed during World War I and later used to fetch Minnesotans home from the battle lines.

There used to be a monument featuring both ships on the northeastern shore of Bde Maka Ska. It featured two plaques mounted on stones, a towering ship’s mast, and two objects mounted upon it: Minnie’s 600-pound bell, and the Minnesota’s six-foot wheel.

That changed in 1975, when police reported the wheel stolen. Then the bell sort of disappeared in 2014. Southwest Journal did a fascinating, in-depth investigation on the subject and managed to uncover them both – hiding in the same place, and pretty much in plain sight.

Dick Ward, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet and former commander of the American Legion’s Minneapolis Post 1, told the paper that the bell was “an old gracious monument that was being completely ignored” in its place by the lakeside. A few years ago, he reportedly gave it a new home -- where else? -- at Minnetonka High School.

It hangs out on a dolly in the weight room, and students ring it when they make personal fitness goals. On game days -- during happier times, when such things as game days are to be had -- it’s carted out to the football field and rung every time the Minnetonka Skippers score a touchdown.

In a letter to football coach Dave Nelson, Ward called the new location a “place of reverence and respect.”

“What better location than Minnetonka High School, where hundreds of students, faculty, and friends can come in contact each and every day,” he wrote.

This was all news to the Minneapolis Park Board, revealed thanks to Southwest’s reporting, and the surprises weren’t done. It turns out, Minnetonka High School also has the Minnesota’s giant wheel, gifted to them by Ward in the spring of 2007. It’s been refurbished and mounted on the south side of the school’s atrium since 2008.

The first version of Southwest’s story was published earlier this week. In response to this tangled tale of who belonged to what and when, Park Board Commissioner Jono Cowgill retweeted the story with the following request:

Cowgill didn’t respond to interview requests, but did tell Southwest the "onus is on Minnetonka schools to return them," and not on the Park Board to prove they should get the bell and wheel back. If they were returned, the artifacts would once again be mounted on the mast.

Meanwhile, Minnetonka Schools Superintendent Dennis Peterson told Southwest the bell and wheel had been well taken care of, and that “a Twitter message is hardly appropriate” as a means of requesting their return.

A spokesperson with Minnetonka Public Schools says last she checked, they hadn’t received a formal request for the bell back from either the Park Board or the legion.

"If it is determined that another entity is the rightful custodian of these honored naval treasures, we will, of course, give them to that entity," the district's statement said.