Peabody Singing Tower

 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

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NEWSLETTER
of the North Manchester Historical Society
VOLUME XVII, NUMBER 1 (FEB, 2000)
 
 

The Story of the College Chime

by Lila Hammer

February 2, 2000

What weighs over 5 tons, is more than 77 years old and has the ability to make students run up several flights of stairs in seconds? Yes, it's the College Chime.

The ringing of the chime is one of the longest running traditions at Manchester College. People come and go; buildings come and go; pranks and causes come and go, but the bells ring on - as they have for the past 77 years. New students are surprised; visitors stand in awe; alumni reminisce; the local community nods and checks their watches; the students groan. The sound of the bells has been woven into the culture of North Manchester and Manchester College.

The 10 bells that make up the College Chime are each inscribed with scripture verses or phrases that represent the ideas to which they were dedicated. Inscriptions that speak to the values and ideals espoused by members of the College community throughout its history. Values and ideals that were held dear to the graduates and friends of Manchester College who raised the funds for the set of bells; and values and ideals that are important to those of us who continue to teach, encourage, counsel and guide students today.

The linking of the Bible School Building and Bumgerdner Hall in 1920 created a spacious, updated facility named the Administration Building, which included a large library, numerous classrooms, offices, a large auditorium, and a tower. Mrs. Vernon Schwalm suggested that a chime be installed in that new tower. That idea was discussed at an alumni meeting in 1920 where the decision was made to raise the funds for a set of bells; the estimated cost was $10,000. A committee, headed by Aaron Ulrey, was dedicated to raising the funds

   
 


and the bells were ordered in May of 1922. 

The bells were purchased from the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland. The McShane Bell Foundry still exists and is now the only large Western-style bell maker in the United States, one of about seven in the world. Western-style bells are rung with a clapper inside; oriental bells are struck from the outside.

Since the founding of the McShane Bell Foundry in 1856, more than 300,000 large bells manufactured by the company hang in churches, city halls, statehouses, fire stations, and, as we know, colleges, throughout all 50 states and in at least 7 foreign countries. In its heyday in the 1880s the firm employed 90 people; today without the demand for large bells, there are six workers employed. The company makes bells today much the same way they were made in the 1800s - using mammoth cast-iron molds. Because not many places can afford to purchase new bells and because bells are so durable and long-lived, only 40 percent of the company's work today is in making new bells; they are kept busy otherwise refurbishing bells and wiring them to ring on their own. Today, a McShane bell costs from over $3000 for a 100-pounder to over $13,000 for a 1000 pound model. 

B.F. and Sadie Wampler were sent to the McShane Foundry to purchase the bells, which arrived to the campus in early August of 1922. They were displayed on a special stand in front of the main entrance of the Administration Building and were hoisted by ropes and pulleys to the tower on August 11. Hundreds of people came to help hoist the bells into place. I don't know how many of you have been to the bell tower or have stood in the room directly below the bells, but it is an eerie feeling to be in that room and know that 5 tons of cast bronze are directly over your head! Imagine the tension and excitement on the day the bells were raised - I wonder if they evacuated the building!

A dedication service of the Manchester College Chime was held on August 15, 1922. It was attended by the largest crowd ever gathered at the College until that time. In the address, President Otho Winger announced the actual cost of the Chime - $8700; I estimated the cost today would be around $145,000. As a part of the dedication, hour chime concerts were presented on Tuesday, August 15 at 7 pm,

 
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Wednesday, August 16 at 7:30 am, and 12:30 and 7 pm, and Thursday, August 17 at 12:30 and 7 pm.

The Manchester College Chime consists of 10 bells, which form one octave, the flattened 7th and a major second above the octave - CDEFGABflatBCD - and range from 550 to 2650 pounds. 

There were originally 2 methods for playing the bells. The first method was a mechanical keyboard device located in the northeast corner of the Administration Building - which is now the education office. The keyboard had 2 rows of keys, one for playing the bells loudly and one for playing them softly. The bells were pulled down by large magnets; this was such a drain on the electricity that the lights in the vicinity of the College dimmed when the bells were played. Within a year of installation, the keyboard was removed; the combination of the pull on the electricity and mechanical malfunctions, proved this method of playing the bells was unacceptable. 

The second and current method uses hand levers. The levers are located in a room directly below the bells. The levers are attached to wooden rods that go up through the ceiling and attach to chains and leather straps which are then attached to the clapper. By pushing down the lever, the clapper is pulled against the bell. 

That series of levers, chains and leather straps has been the focus of pranksters on campus for years. Students have been known to dismantle the straps and levers and scatter them around campus. When I was playing, a favorite prank was to rearrange the straps, so that when I pushed a lever, the wrong bell rang. It only took me one or two pushes to know someone had gotten into the bell tower during the night. Another prank played on me was to hook the chain so tightly to the clapper that when I pushed down, the lever would not move. A prank that required some scurrying by the prankster was to ring the bells in the middle of the night. Since the sound carries all over the community, security officers quickly got to the building. Occasionally, the clappers were stolen from the bells. Last fall I asked the current chimers what pranks had been played on them. They looked at me curiously and replied "none." They thought the stories I told of pranks pulled on me were funny for me, but were not interested in having them happen now. Occasionally, the leather straps break on

 
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their own, which then ends the playing for the day.

Traditions surrounding the bells have come and gone. At one time the bells were played at 6 am - until community people complained about the disturbance to their sleep patterns. Now the bells are played at 7:45 am and 6 pm. Secular selections are played in the morning and sacred pieces are played in the evening. In the 60s the school song was played after sporting events. If the song was played like a dirge, it meant the College had lost the game. If we won, the song was played briskly and the score was rung also. One low note represented five points and one high note represented one point. Through the years the bells have been played prior to Commencement services, for weddings and special concerts for alumni or visitors.

Each chimer has their own favorites to play; or pieces they won't play. I remember that I would not play "Are you sleeping, Brother John." in the morning. I don't remember playing the College songs much when I played, but now they are some of my favorites to play. The chimers often are asked to play for someone's birthday. I remember last year on the 20th anniversary of the original Star Wars movie, that the theme song was played. Also, on opening day of baseball season, we often hear "Take me out to the ball game." And of course, everyone loves to hear Christmas songs and carols played on the bells. Until recently there was only one chimer each year, currently we have 3 student chimers, so the same person doesn't have to get up early every morning - some change is good.

Last May I was asked to play the Chime for the Alumni Days. It was a bit unnerving to play, since I hadn't played for over 20 years, there really is no way practice! A chimer from the 40's accompanied me to the bell tower, but he was not interested in playing. I was surprised and pleased to see the songbook that I compiled was still being used, along with several contemporary additions.

The bell tower has been a tour stop for local elementary school students, College alumni and visitors from other countries. Above the bells, on the highest point of the Administration Building, is a beautiful view of the College campus and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Yes, those 10 bells inscribed with the words Christian Education,

 
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Praise: Gloria Patria, Devotion, Peace, Brotherhood, John 3:16, Hope, Faith, Evangelism and Watchfulness, have become a part of the life of Manchester College that will ring on for many years to come.