'Eight bells' to open National Maritime Day ceremony

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Saturday's commemoration of National Maritime Day in Elizabeth Borough will begin at noon with the sounding of eight bells.

For sailors, "eight bells" -- one for each half-hour -- marked the end of a four-hour shift.

The annual event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in Riverview Park, next to the borough fire hall, on the banks of the Monongahela River.

The program has been organized by the Mon Valley chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II.

National Maritime Day marks the anniversary of the date -- May 22, 1819 -- when an American ship called Savannah began the first trans-Atlantic crossing by a steam-powered vessel. The legislation to honor sailors on merchant ships was passed by Congress in 1933 and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Mon Valley group has been holding anniversary ceremonies since 1995.

This year's main speaker is John Kent Folmar, a retired history professor at California University of Pennsylvania. He is an expert on the Monongahela River.

Part of the program will include a wreath-laying on the river, carried out this year with the help of Girl Scouts from a local troop.

"Our knees aren't as good as they used to be," chapter member Mark Gleeson explained.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. First Published May 17, 2012 12:00 AM


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