I noticed it the first few late evenings after my move to a different town last fall. How could I not? It was a loud, wailing, siren, foreboding and impersonal. Unlike friendly chimes of a city clock, this signal made me want to look for the nearest bomb shelter. My daughters said it went off at 9:58 each night.
We speculated often. Was it some kind of curfew signal? This got us talking about dystopias, about gangs on the street each night. You weren’t safe unless you were indoors. The sound never failed to startle visitors in our home. One thought it must be the end-of-shift siren for the workers at the nearby train yard. I accepted that explanation, until one night, I happened to be driving through downtown right at ten pm. The siren suddenly blasted, and there was no mistaking its origins. It most definitely did not come from the train yard, but wailed deafeningly from some building near me.
I reported the experience to the girls, and somewhere around that time, I looked it up online. Sure enough, there had been a siren installed at city hall. No, not installed—re-installed. It had been originally set up around the early 1900’s. For some reason, the city recently decided to revive it. It had indeed functioned as a curfew signal. Now, many things were done a hundred years ago that now seem strange to us. I will give my great-grandparents’ generation their siren that they apparently felt they needed. But us? Now? Why? The article did not really explain the city’s rationale in reviving the eerie late-night call to empty the streets (which no one heeds, as we have noted when passing through downtown at two a.m.). Perhaps they felt it was a historical touch that added to the town’s charm, like the antique architecture in the old part of Helena.
I have other questions, too. How much did this thing cost to revive and run? Did the city have to tap into the special tourist sales tax they felt was needed to accommodate all the traffic generated by winter skiers and summer hikers? Do any residents complain of its being a nuisance for those who need to retire early to get up for work the next day? If the council was trying to create a conversation piece, they certainly succeeded.
What interesting development has occurred in your area due to mysterious decision-making processes?