It's been 17 years and the requests for bells keep coming.
They come packaged with sad tales about young children who have died. The emotional pleas always tug at the heart of Reg Green, who in 1996 installed a three-tiered tower covered in bells to memorialize his 7-year-old son, who was killed by bandits during a family vacation in Italy two years prior.
Green would like to add more bells to the 18-foot-tower to comfort the families who have felt the deep pain he also has endured, but there isn't room for any more.
The tower was originally adorned with 140 bells — school bells, cow bells, mining bells — that were donated to the Green family by Italians who had heard of their son, whose death was widely reported in the Italian media. One bell was even blessed by a former pope.
When Green's son, Nicholas, was shot after would-be jewelry thieves mistook their rental car for another, his family decided to donate the young boy's organs. That choice saved the lives of seven Italians and has helped boost organ donation rates in that country even to this day.
Years passed, Green wrote a book about his son, CBS ran a made-for-TV movie about the incident starring Alan Bates and Jamie Lee Curtis, but Nicholas' story never grew stale. The long-lasting impact is what surprised Green, a former newspaper reporter, the most.
"After a few days, tragedies, volcanoes and earthquakes where thousands of people are killed are pushed to the inside pages. I expected that fading right from the beginning," said Green from his La Cañada Flintridge home.
But there has been no fading.
Just last month, the city of Glendale's Arts & Culture Commission recommended the City Council accept a cutout of Clint Eastwood holding a bell in honor of Nicholas as an official piece of city artwork to be placed along a ridgeline near the entrance of the Glendale Sports Complex.
The pop-up art originally featured Eastwood holding a gun, but when that version was vandalized, Green happened to meet the artist picking up the pieces while hiking in the hills above Glendale. Green told him Nicholas' story and the next time he went hiking, the 83-year-old saw the Eastwood figure holding a bell and a short description of his son's story on his back. Green began to weep.
Although the bell tower, which is in Bodega Bay near where the Greens used to live and Nicholas' grave, has been full for almost two decades, Green and the sculptor who designed the memorial have found ways to install about a dozen more bells — many inside others, like Russian dolls — for especially sad stories.
The last time they made an exception was in 2010, when a woman from Paraguay wrote him about losing her 5-year-old.
"She had nothing left," Green said. "I just felt we had to try and do something."
The sculptor hung a bell made in 1888 in honor of the Paraguayan woman's son. His name was engraved across the bell's waist.
Others who don't have a bell tied to a loved one still visit the tower, attaching their own meaning to a memorial that comes to life with every breeze. One woman scattered her mother's ashes at the site a few years ago because her mother, who often talked about Nicholas without knowing him personally, loved to sit quietly and listen to the bells.
Then there are those who were so moved by Nicholas' story that they named their own children after him. A Sicilian who survived a severe kidney disease after receiving one of Nicholas' organs named her first son Nicholas.
To this day, even though the baby boy is now a tall 17-year-old, the family still calls Green's son "big Nicholas."
A few months ago, Green visited a family in Naples who also named their son after Nicholas. The father had promised himself if he ever had a boy, he would name it after the 7-year-old who inspired a nation.
And then, there's Gary Slizeski, an eighth-grade teacher who wants to make another memorial for Nicholas, this time in his hometown of Davis.
After finding Green's book, "The Nicholas Effect" in the teachers' lounge at his school, Slizeski was inspired to place a memorial for the boy at a pedal-powered carousel in Davis' Central Park. Slizeski felt connected to the story because he donated his kidney to his brother in 1993 and made an unplanned trip to the bell tower more than a decade ago when another attraction on the California coast was closed.
Green, whose mission since his son died has been to increase organ donation, is supportive of the idea.
"I have a memory of Nicholas, who loved the magic in life, radiant on a carousel," Green wrote to Slizeski as they discussed plans for the memorial through emails last month.
Slizeski plans to present his proposal to the Davis Educational Foundation, which maintains the carousel, at an upcoming board meeting. He envisions writing Nicholas' story on a green tomato-cart seat behind a black horse and yellow leopard. It's the only seat on the carousel that hasn't been dedicated to something.
"I am actually the perfect example of the fact that Nicholas' story is never going away and never will," Slizeski said. "To me, it's as if that spot has just been waiting to continue the memory of Nicholas."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun