Colorado State University recently recovered a clocktower bell that last chimed over campus nearly a century ago.
The 500-pound bell was last seen at the university’s Old Main tower around 1919. At the time, it rang late into the night after football victories — obnoxiously late, in fact, to the point that someone stole its clapper.
Then someone stole the bell itself, according to a history of the object published by CSU. One night, circa 1919, four or more men climbed the tower and fled with the bell before inevitably burying it on a farm near Fort Collins.
“By the early 1970s, the original bell had been all but forgotten,” as Tony Phifer writes for the university. “A select few members of a fraternity and its alumni were aware of the story but were sworn to secrecy.”
Eventually, the farm that housed the stolen bell was put on the market. Apparently an anonymous fraternity was “involved and wanted to make sure the bell was protected, without revealing its secrets.”
A member of the fraternity told Phifer that it was an open secret within this frat, although Phifer’s account does not make it clear whether this fraternity’s students were the original thieves.
Anyway, the bell was moved out-of-state. Its caretakers intended to return it for some time and decided that the “time was right,” once the university announced plans for a new alumni center attached to the football stadium.
“It was time for the bell to ring once more,” as “John” told Phifer.
So, it landed last February in the driveway of the director of CSU’s alumni association. The student association agreed it would pay to have the bell restored and polished in Ohio.
The old tower where it once stood has burned to the ground, so it instead will be installed in a tower in the new Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center. It may be rung to revive the football victory tradition, but the president of the student association notes that they “don’t want it ringing all the time.”
Says “John:” “I think some of us felt a little embarrassed that the bell hadn’t been returned prior to this, but we felt like this was the appropriate time to bring back the tradition.”
I got in touch with Phifer, of CSU, to find out who these bell-keeping people really were. He insists the university does not know.
“We do not know the names of the keepers of the bell; the person(s) responsible for returning the bell may or may not know, but they have chosen to remain anonymous,” he wrote in an email.