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Susquehanna Life

Reading Pagoda

Jul 12, 2014 05:04PM ● By Erica Shames

Pagoda Facts and Figures

  • Height: Seven Stories, 886 feet above the City of Reading, 1200 feet above sea level.
  • Construction cost: $50,000
  • Dimensions: 28 feet wide, 50 feet long, 72 feet high.
  • Walls: Five feet thick at the base, tapering to two feet at the top of the second story.  From second story to the top, walls are frame covered with terra cotta tile shingles.
  • Roof: Five overhanging with upswept corners. Each recedes two feet from the one below.
  • Portico: Originally of wood, replaced by concrete in 1949.
  • Interior: Walls are of concrete plaster, floors are concrete. Trim is of solid oak, 87 steps lead to the top.

Pagoda Signals

1954 view showing signal lights on roof

Before the days of regular radio broadcasting, lights flashed as signals from the Pagoda to the people of Reading. The Morse Code was something used to direct fire fighters. On other occasions, signals were given to further fundraising campaigns and inform the public of the most recent developments in the drive for funds. They were also used to give results of sporting events, such as prize fights and World Series.

    The Morse Code was based on light signals, instead of sound signals, so a few adjustments were made. A white light represented a dash, while a red light was a dot. A white steady light meant the station was not occupied. A white and red light meant the station was open and prepared to operate. If both lights flickered, a message was about to be sent. If there was a white steady light and a flickering red light, an error was made and the message was being corrected. A steady red light and a flickering white light meant that urgent action was needed for the subject being broadcast by the lights.

The Pagoda Bell

The Pagoda Bell

William A. Witman Sr. ordered the bell through the A. A. Valentine Agency of Broadway New York, exporter and importer. The bell traveled through the Suez Canal and reached New York on April 19, 1907. Traveling from New York by railroad, it arrived in Reading on May 5, 1907.

    The bell was cast in Obata in 1739 by a man named Mikawaya, who along with 47 other men, presented it to Shozenji (Buddhist Temple) at Yakuosan, now part of Tokyo. Several different translations have been made of the bell's inscription, however, most scholars agree that the inscription contains the names of the bell's donors and a prophecy regarding the end of time.
    When the bell was installed, it was complete with its original striker. Oriental bells, unlike western bells, do not have clappers.

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