Man returns bell stolen from Niantic Bay Yacht Club - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Man returns bell stolen from Niantic Bay Yacht Club 43 years later

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NIANTIC, CT (WFSB) -

A 43-year-old mystery in Niantic has been solved. A ceremonial bell that disappeared on one cold February night from the Niantic Bay Yacht Club was returned more than four decades later.

As quickly as the 65-pound brass bell vanished in 1970, it suddenly returned to the Niantic Bay Yacht Club this week.

Club manager Tom McDonald said a man pulled up in a pickup truck out of the blue and said, 'I think I have something that belongs to you.'

"I go out to the back of the truck and sure enough," McDonald said. "'Where did you get this?'"

Chuck Phillips was the man driving the pickup. Phillips said when he was 19 years old, he and two Navy Submarine Base colleagues grabbed the bell from the yacht club.

Eyewitness News called Phillips at his home in Freehold, NJ, and asked what possessed him to steal the bell.

"I drove by the yacht club," Phillips said. "It was very spur of the moment. I do remember it was an extremely cold night."

Fast forward 40 years later, Phillips said he's moved the big bell around with him from house to house over the years.

The current bell post where it was sitting was rotted and he figured "why not just give it back?" 

"Returning this bell seemed to bring more joy to more people in the last three to four days than that bell being there for the last 43 years," Phillips said.

"He's absolutely right," McDonald said. "People are thrilled to death, it brought tears to peoples' eyes."

The bell was fixed to a bracket until it was "borrowed" in 1970. The replacement bell the club's been using came from an old World War I Destroyer. That bell will now be retired.

"As a matter of fact, this Saturday, it will go back up as our decommissioning ceremony for the end of the season - so that the bell will be the bell that will ring," Club Commadore Harlan Fredericksen said.

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