Quasimodo 2.0

Computerized Memorial Hall bell tower rings in tune with the 21st century

High in the Memorial Church bell tower, danger lurks. Or at least danger could lurk. That’s why one intrepid FM reporter and his trusty escort, occasional bell ringer and Harvard Planning and Real Estate employee Richard D. Campbell, suit up in safety harnesses and hard hats to climb the half a dozen ladders and scramble across the catwalk to reach the tower.

The Memorial Church bell is beautiful and complicated. Its chime, annoying to light-sleeping Canaday and Thayer Hall residents, charming to New England-hungry tourists, rings on the hour during the week, at 8:45 a.m. daily for morning prayers and occasionally 12 times in two minutes to mark a memorial service. The bell was a gift to the school in 1932 by University President A. Lawrence Lowell and weighs 5,000 pounds. Its intricate daily schedule is run by a computer which connects to a motorized ringing-device. When a service takes place, or when journalistic curiosity must be catered to, the bell is tolled by hand. This sound of the bell is referred to as a “toll.” All computer-controlled sounds are “rings.”

Unfortunately, the tower’s 360-degree view of Harvard is difficult to appreciate with the bell swinging within inches of one’s head. Though the schedule is complex and exact, Campbell graciously allows for some experimentation. After a demo swing or two, FM let the Mem Hall bell rip. And ask not, gentle reader, for whom it was tolling.