A crowd of a few dozen, alone and in small groups, gathered on the grounds of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Society Hill on Sunday to mark the approach of a somber milestone: 400,000 dead in the United States from the coronavirus.
They stood silently in the overcast late afternoon among centuries-old gravestones in the historic church’s cemetery as a bell in its tower rang out 400 times — once for each 1,000 deaths — for more than 30 minutes.
Carolyn Klepser, 71, a member of the church, said of the long sequence of chimes that recalled the unyielding spread of the virus: “It was so relentless. You just kept wanting it to stop.”
As of Sunday evening, there had been 23.92 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide and 397,494 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. Globally, there had been 94.99 million confirmed cases and 2.03 million deaths.
Pennsylvania had seen 677,774 confirmed cases as of noon on Sunday and 19,310 deaths, state data show. In New Jersey, there had been 565,097 cases and 18,348 deaths, according to a Tweet late Sunday morning from Gov. Phil Murphy.
Gail Hauptfuhrer, one of the bell-ringers at St. Peter’s, lamented that it had only been about a month since she had helped strike the bell 300 times to mark the death of 300,000 coronavirus victims.
“This was much more sobering today,” she said.
Nearby resident Linda Smith said she had come to the churchyard to reflect on the human toll of the pandemic, whose victims included her uncle.
“It makes you stop and think about it — not that I don’t think about it every day,” she said. “This is just such a moving and important tribute.”
Burkart Steltzer, 84, of Queen Village, said the long string of chimes helped him grasp the scale of the pandemic’s deadly grasp.
“This makes the number ‘400,000′ more understandable,” he said. “This makes it real.”