University Files Lawsuit Against Bell Company for Crack in Memorial Church Bell

Harvard University has sued an Ohio bell company, Chime Master Systems, for installing a clapper that allegedly caused a 24 to 30-inch crack in the bell hanging in Memorial Church.

The nearly 5,000-pound bell, which was donated in 1932 by former University President A. Lawrence Lowell ’1877, has not been used since the crack was discovered in September 2011. Instead, it has been replaced by a mechanical chime that currently rings out over Harvard Yard at 8:40 a.m., every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and during Commencement.

The University originally hired Chime Master in 2006 to conduct standard services on the bell and other related equipment. In 2011, the company recommended the installation of a replacement clapper, the metal piece that strikes the bell to make it ring.

“The puzzling part was that there was a clapper up there,” Wendel W. “Tad” Meyer, who was the acting Pusey Minister of Memorial Church at the time when the bell cracked, said during an interview with The Crimson in March.

Although Harvard possessed a spare clapper, Chime Master recommended the use of a new custom-designed clapper—which Harvard officials now claim resulted in the crack in the bell.

The new clapper was installed on June 28, 2011, without any apparent defect or harm to the bell. On Aug. 31 of the same year, when the bell began to ring again as students returned for the fall semester, Meyer noted that the tone was abnormal and noticeably louder than before. He added that even a woman who lived as far away as the Law School complained about the sound.

“As a result of Chime Master’s improper work, Harvard has incurred costs in determining the cause of the crack in the Memorial Church Bell and will incur great expense for its replacement,” the Harvard complaint states.

In particular, Harvard outlines additional “intangible damages” sustained due to the “specialized and unusual character of the Memorial Church bell.” Lowell donated the bell on what was then known as “Armistice Day” to honor the Harvard students who gave their lives for their country during World War I. Inscribed on the bell, which was cast in England, are the words, “In memory of voices that are hushed.”

Jeff Crooks, the president of Chime Master, was unable to be reached for comment at press time.

According to a University official, Memorial Church will be replacing the electronic chime with an actual bell, though no final determination has been made about the next steps in that process.

Justin M. Mullane, director of communications for Memorial Church, deferred all questions to a University spokesperson.

The case between Harvard and Chime Master is now in federal court and awaits assignment to a judge.

Richard J. Riley of Murphy & Riley, P.C., the law firm representing the University, deferred all questions to Harvard Public Affairs and Communications.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at dev.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.

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