Alanna Tuller | Archive Addict
Battle of the Bells
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 07:10
Picture this scene: It’s a crisp, autumn afternoon and you’ve just finished classes for the day. As you wander the President’s Lawn under a canopy of golden foliage, you find the perfect tree under which to sit and catch up on some reading. As the warm sun filters through the leaves you begin to feel drowsy, and maybe you start dozing off in your book. Then, out of nowhere: CLANG CLANG CLANG!
I cannot tell you how many of my pleasant Prez Lawn naps have been interrupted by the daily din of the Goddard bells. To be honest, the bells and I have never had a great relationship — I almost never recognize the songs, they have a frequent habit of interrupting my sleep and they’re just so damn loud that you can’t escape the racket even on the farthest edges of campus. The records seem to indicate, however, that the bells weren’t always such an aural nuisance.
Before the grandeur of the 25 bells currently housed in Goddard Chapel, from 1854−1856 students were called to classes with the use of a simple hand−bell that a student would ring while standing outside of Ballou Hall. The bell was later placed on the roof of Ballou and apparently the position of bell−ringer — or “chimer,” as it is formally known — was one of the most sought after jobs on campus. Chimers were paid a yearly stipend of $100 for their daily duties during the 1870−1871 school year, or a little over $1,600 by 2012 standards.
The simple bell that sat atop Ballou for half a century was deemed insufficient by the early 1900s. Perhaps it wasn’t loud enough to reach every set of ears on our growing campus. The class of 1898 donated a bell in honor of its 10th anniversary, and in 1908 it was the first bell installed in the tower of Goddard. Weighing in at just over half a ton, the new acquisition affectionately became known as the “A” Victory bell, which, unsurprisingly, was rung after every football victory at Tufts.
Eugene B. Bowen (A’ 1876) was arguably the most prominent chimer in Tufts history. Bowen played the bells to pay his way through Tufts and, to mark the 50th anniversary of his graduation, donated the eponymous Bowen chimes in 1926. Nine bells were added to the original 1908 Victory bell and allowed chimers to play the catchiest hymns of the day instead of ringing one lonely bell.
After the hoopla surrounding the Bowen chimes subsided, the record goes silent for a while — maybe the campus was simply in a state of bell−ringing bliss for two solid decades. All of that changed, however, on Dec. 4, 1964 when a bold headline screamed from the front page of the Weekly: “New Electronic Bell System Installed in Goddard Chapel Tower This Week.” Gone was the era of chimers frantically running around the tower to play the enormous set of bells. Just like that, they were replaced with a keyboard.
And, with the addition of another 15 bells in 1966, Tufts entered a fantastic new era of bell ringing. Steve Kenety, chimer for the 1973−74 academic year, played a vast range of tunes on the chimes. As noted by the Tufts Observer in 1974, “Mondays he generally plays hymns ... Wednesday is ‘Broadway hits day,’ and features songs from such musicals as ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The Sound of Music.’ On Fridays, Kenety ... plays primarily rock tunes.”
Frankly, it seems like we missed out on the golden age of the Goddard bells. Don’t get me wrong, I can put up with a good hymn every now and then. But if we could get some Beyonce blasting from Goddard, I think the bells and I would get along just fine.
Alanna Tuller is a senior majoring in English. She can be reached at Alanna.Tuller@tufts.edu.