Monday, January 31, 2011

Stock exchange's bell-ringing is celebration

Q: Why do the guests applaud at the ringing of the bell at each day's opening and closing of the New York Stock Exchange?

-- J.B. Flowers, Bedford

A: In most cases, the guests are officials from a company celebrating big news -- an initial public stock offering or launch of a new product, for example. Their visit to the New York Stock Exchange often includes breakfast with stock exchange staff members before they ring the bell. It's a celebratory event, so they applaud when the bell rings to signal the start of trading.

Other times, bell ringers are celebrities or invited guests. On Jan. 13, in honor of National Mentoring Month, mentors and mentees from the iMentor program rang the bell.

Applause can also be heard at the 4 p.m. closing bell, celebrating another day of vigorous trading.

According to the New York Stock Exchange website, the tradition of ringing an opening and closing bell dates to the 1870s, when a Chinese gong was struck. Brass bells replaced the gong in 1903, when the NYSE moved to its current location. There are four large bells -- one in each area of the trading floor -- which are operated from a single control.

Q: The Jan. 24 "Looking Back" column reported that in 1911, "two hotels, the Norfolk & Western railroad, some citizens, and the afternoon newspapers were victims yesterday of one of the cleverest confidence games ever perpetrated upon the public."

Great tease! But it left me wondering what the great story was. Can you please enlighten us?

-- Jerry Caldwell, Roanoke County

A: Thanks for your keen eye. Because of space constraints in the "Looking Back" column, there was room for only the first sentence of the article that appeared in The Roanoke Times on Jan. 29, 1911.

The full article tells the story of a con artist who visited Roanoke, telling people he was a traveling salesman from Hebron, N.D., named E.L. Scott. After arriving by train, Scott checked into the Ponce de Leon hotel. While there, he received a letter from his brother George, addressed to the Hotel Roanoke, informing him that his wife and two children were killed in a car crash back home. As he told his story, workers at both hotels and other traveling salesmen felt sympathetic and offered him money.

After Scott left on a westbound train, suspicions were raised about his story, and it was discovered that he composed the letter himself during a stop in Abingdon, and had it delivered to the Hotel Roanoke. In Abingdon, he posed as George Scott, and told the train station agent that he was trying to find his brother E.L. Scott to deliver the sad news. The station agent arranged to have the Roanoke-bound train make an unscheduled stop in Abingdon to pick him up.

News researcher Belinda Harris contributed to this report.

Have a question? Have an answer? Call Bridget Bradburn at 777-6476 or send an e-mail to whatsonyourmind@ roanoke.com. Please provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown. Look for Bridget Bradburn's column on Mondays.

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