It Tolls for Thee

Circling the Square

Whether you are running from your House to a nine o'clock class in the Geology building or trying to study in the small hours of the morning, whether you live in Dunster of Eliot or the most distant Yard dormitory, you must occasionally find yourself listening, consciously or otherwise, to one or more of the many bells of Cambridge.

To the residents of the Houses, at least, the most familiar of these bells are high above Mt. Auburn Street in the campanile of St. Paul's Catholic Church. Connected to a huge, weight-operated mechanical clock, they sound the Westminster Chimes every quarter-hour from nine to seven o'clock and every hour at night. This set consists of three small 250-pounders which play the tune, plus one big bell which, mercifully for Adams House, is presently out of order and therefore muted. Given to the church by the Sisters and pupils of the parish church next door, they were cast in New York in 1920.

On the other side of the Yard, the ton-and-a-quarter iron monster suspended in the neo-gothic tower of Memorial Hall counts off the hours all day long. Like the bells of St. Paul's, it is operated by heavy weights which slide down the inside of the tower and turn the clock. The most venerable college bell now in use, it was presented by the alumni shortly before the turn of the century.

Before 1931, classes in the Yard were changed to the tune of a little bell in the tower of Harvard Hall. Since the completion of Memorial Church, the notes which close several thousand notebooks simultaneously originate from the 5000-pound giant in the new tower. This bell, more than twice as big as those in St. Paul's or Memorial Hall, is one of the few in Cambridge still rung by hand. Harold R. Allen, sexton of the Church, rushes to the cellar every hour from nine to four o'clock and, when the electric telechron registers 15 seconds before the hour, he pulls hard on the slim bell rope which hangs through a hole in the ceiling. He has been going through this procedure for three years and feels strongly that there is such a thing as overdoing tradition. On the other hand, his bell is certainly the most accurate by which to set your watch. The bell itself is housed in an immaculate white alcove under the spire, a strong contrast to the pigeon-besmirched campaniles of Memorial Hall and St. Paul's Cast in Loughborough, England in 1926 and presented to the University by an anonymous donor, it is inscribed "In Memory Of Voices That Are Hushed."

The most famous bells in the college are rarely heard these days. The seventeen-bell Russian carillon, or zvon, which hangs in the tower of Lowell House was the gift of Charles R. Crane. It was brought from the USSR in 1931, accompanied by a carillon expert who started to perform immediately. Since the architects who designed Lowell House had not counted on a zvon, the seventeen iron lungs shook and reverberated through the new structure so much that the residents, now known as Bellboys, erupted into the courtyard, banging pots and pans every time the expert let go. The musician, suspicious by nature and unaccustomed to dining hall food, decided that he was being poisoned. He was shipped back to Russia after a Stillman nurse found him drinking a bottle of ink for breakfast. This left no one with sufficient zvon-aptitude to shake Lowell's rafters, and today the bells are only set in motion on special occasions.


Sexton's Allen's muscles, the complicated cogwheel-and-weight contraptions in Memorial Hall and St. Paul's, an occasional guest zvon player, and the many other church sextons who save their art for Sunday mornings, all combine to make Cambridge a boom town, campanologically speaking.

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