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A carousel for Nicholas Green

Reg Green's son died years ago, but his story continues to inspire people.

August 03, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Reg Green at his La Cañada Flintridge home on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Green's son was killed in Italy in the early 1990s and his organs were donated, inspiring Italians to keep Green's son Nicholas in their hearts since his death.
Reg Green at his La Cañada Flintridge home on Wednesday,… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

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.

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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.

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