12/17/2015 Chris Karlesky

Hidden F&M: Bell Tower, Old Main

This magazine article is part of Fall 2015 / Issue 83
  • Sam Feibel '16 ringing the Old Main bell

Soft rays of the morning sun splash through a tall window on the third floor of F&M's Old Main as Sam Feibel '16 walks up a creaky wooden staircase toward the ceiling. He unlocks a door and pushes it open with both hands, revealing a world of brick walls, cobwebs and echoes. The bustle on the sidewalks below seems a world away from this, the highest point on campus—the historic bell tower.

As Feibel pulls on a long rope, the distinctive tone of Old Main's bell reverberates across campus. The ringing serves as a weekly reminder that Common Hour is about to begin in Mayser Gym. It is only the latest chapter in the history of the solid-bronze bell, manufactured in 1896 by Meneely Bell Company in Troy, N.Y. At various times throughout F&M history, the bell has chimed to signal the beginning and ending of classes; before religious services in Nevin Chapel; to celebrate the inauguration of College presidents; and to mark moments of silence, such as the annual Sept. 11 memorial service.

The tower has also been the subject of legendary College stories. As one goes, members of the Class of 1916 stole the bell clapper on a rainy Saturday night so it wouldn't ring for mandatory chapel in the morning. Paul G. Murray '16 recounted the story in detail in a 1992 edition of F&M News, and the clapper is now in the College's Archives & Special Collections. (Murray was the father of Paul Walter Murray '45 and grandfather of Deborah Murray Martin '77, director of protocol and events and associate secretary of the College.)

When Old Main underwent an extensive renovation project in 2010, workers removed the 1,000-pound bell for restoration at Elderhorst Bells Inc. Its deep, familiar tone continues to ring each day to mark the end of classes, a constant reminder of F&M tradition. 

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