TOWSON, Md. (Feb. 2, 2012)—There might be bats in the Stephens Hall belfry, but there’s no bell.
TU’s 1,200-pound bronze bell is being restored at the McShane Bell Foundry in Glen Burnie, Md., for the first time since the firm mounted it atop the clock tower in 1915. The then-Maryland State Normal School paid $475 (about $10,600 today) for the crowning touch to its new campus’s signature building.
Although generations of students relied on the bell to mark the hours, it has stood mostly silent—and slowly deteriorating—for the past 20 years.
Harry Hughes, director of systems management in Facilities Management, says the bell ringing ceased in response to some neighbors’ complaints.
“That would have been in the early ’90s, not too long after we’d renovated and reopened Stephens Hall,” he recalls.
The bell tolled to mark a 9/11 anniversary, but its once-golden tone is seldom heard nowadays.
Hughes suggested the makeover to Roger Hayden, associate vice president for Facilities Management, after a building evaluation of Stephens Hall. Climbing a ladder and hoisting himself through a hatch in the floor of the belfry, Hughes took a close look at the 97-year-old bell.
“I thought it was in pretty rough shape,” he recalls. Exposure to the elements had taken a toll, as had some pranksters, who’d engraved their initials in the bronze decades earlier. (Note: Access to the tower has been restricted for many years.)
It wasn’t difficult to trace the maker, since the McShane foundry had stamped its name on the bell. What astonished Hughes was that the business—founded in 1856 by an Irish immigrant—was still family-owned and going strong.
A McShane representative visited the campus to examine the bell and agreed with Hughes about its need for TLC. A crane extracted it from the cupola on Jan. 25, and McShane workers transported it back to the foundry.
During the next few weeks the bell will be thoroughly cleaned and equipped with a new clapper, going in the process from dull greenish-brown to lustrous gold. Once restored, it will be equipped with a remote-controlled electronic ringing system with ringtones appropriate for both festive and somber occasions. It will be reinstalled during the first week in March.
The details concerning future bell use are being discussed, says Hayden. “We will ring it in appropriate ways and at appropriate times,” he emphasizes.
“This bell has been part of the campus for nearly a century,” he adds. “Everyone I’ve spoken to would love to see it back in service.”