Original Old Main Bell Unveiled

The first University bell has been through a lot. Hidden behind a temporary wall for the last two years, on July 15 , 2011, it was finally revealed.

Cast in 1877 by Van Deuzen & Lift of Cincinnati, this bell was first hung in the belfry of Old Main in 1878. It signalled class changes until 1926, when a large crack appeared during the celebratory ringing that followed a big football victory over the Colorado School of Mines.

Under pressure from alumni groups not to discard the cracked bell, President George Norlin promised to preserve it in the University Musuem. Instead, the bell wound up in the lobby of the Men’s Gymnasium, where it remained until about 2:30 on the morning of October 12, 1948.

Then, while the night watchman was on his lunch break, pranksters spirited the 1,200-pound bell out of the building, loaded it onto a truck, and vanished into the night.

Exactly two years later on October 12, 1950, the bell, caked with mud and sporting a large M on its side, appeared on the School of Mines campus in Golden, near where it had most likely been buried. Despite some fuss and bluster from CU administrators, the Orediggers responsible were never apprehended.

The theft was only the last of numerous pranks perpetrated on this bell, which has repeatedly lost its clapper over the years. The previous time was the result of a freshman conspiracy in 1926 when some class members removed the clapper and did not return it until 1929. The tradition of bell tampering dates back to the 1880s, when some from of the class of 1886 filed almost all the way through the clapper one night in the hopes that it would drop out when the bell was rung the next morning. Nothing happened for a month. Then, according to Glory, Colorado, a history of CU, “without warning, one day it came hurtling down, narrowly missing the head of the janitor, and crashed through three floors to the basement. The janitor was deaf and continued to pull the rope long after the clapper had disappeared.”

 Now, the bell is located in the CU Heritage Center’s Collection Room.


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