Breaking and entering, or “B ’n’ E” as Officer Hubbell called it, was one thing, but B ’n’ E in the white Methodist church of a small New England town was another, especially if the town was Stowe.
“Technically,” Chris said defensively, “it was really just an E.” Officer Boright had to agree: there was really no break-in. There was little reason to lock a church if the poor box was emptied nightly. There was nothing worth stealing in most small town churches, just brass candlesticks, vases, worn hymnals, and pamphlets about the Lord and the church’s various committees for dealing with church or spiritual upkeep. The church’s only value lay in its simple elegance and its symbolic role in the community as a gathering place for the celebration of religious ritual.
Pastor Albright never locked the minister’s entrance to the Stowe church, since it adjoined the rectory and he was usually back and forth enough to keep an eye on his own house as well as the Lord’s. He did, however, begin locking it after the break-in. From the pulpit, the Sunday following, Pastor Albright described the event as “an offense against God, the good people of Stowe, and the evening’s peace. An irreligious incursion,” he thundered. Some nodded seriously and others fought back smiles.
Chris, Jim, and Mike were not in the pews that Sunday, nor were they at 3 a.m. the Thursday before. They had entered the church quietly with a flashlight and a 7-inch square envelope just before 2:30 a.m., according to their easily obtained confessions and Officer Boright’s handwritten report.
“Gaining entrance” through the unlocked rectory door, they avoided the nave altogether. It “made us feel uncomfortable,” Chris later confessed. They went through the basement to the stairs that led up to the steeple and the electronic controls for the carillon. Mike had cased the location that afternoon and knew exactly where to go.
The three had formed a rock and roll band in their junior year and performed songs they wrote as well as hits of the prior decade by Carl Perkins, Alan Freed, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. There was little point in competing with current hits, they agreed, as these tended to sound better on current recordings. Chris was an “audionut,” to the extent that his late-teen wallet would allow, and managed the recalcitrant collection of tube amps, lamp cord, and homemade plywood boxes with speakers inside that made up the band’s PA system.
Stowe’s night-blooming après-ski haunts offered the band a few winter venues, and the three annual Stowe High School dances occasioned additional opportunities for assembling and performing, but summer performances were always free in a large meadow up in Sterling Valley where a keg would be tapped and people would enjoy swimming, beer, and the highland meadow of an abandoned hill farm.
Electronic carillons were an expensive luxury brought about by the advent of hi-fi technology. They didn’t replace traditional carillons, as no church community or parish in Vermont could afford the luxury of real cast bells mounted in a steeple.
The electronic carillon combined a Webcor 45-RPM record changer, a GE Telechron timer, four Bell Labs mono amplifiers and four 36-inch Electrovoice PA trumpets aimed at the four compass points from high in the steeple. These components were familiar to Chris, who, as his band’s soundman, had grappled with worse.