For whom the clocktower bell tolls

By on March 1, 2006

For years, Quinnipiac students and faculty alike have grown accustom to the clock tower, whether it be glancing up at it while running to class, walking across the Quad while humming along to one of its familiar tunes, or simply meeting up with some friends in front of one of the campus’ most distinctive features.

“Visitors used to always come to Quinnipiac, gaze up at the clock tower and say, ‘Oh, wow, what’s that?'” Keith Woodward, the Associate Director of Facilities and a 1988 graduate of Quinnipiac, said.

The tower has always served as a focal point of the institution, but who is responsible for all the decision making in regards to the clock tower, and how does all that music get selected to blare out across the campus every hour? Can the great tower ever be de-mystified?

In 1965, Quinnipiac placed atop its clock tower a spire that would become the identity, not only for the university, but for the surrounding community of Hamden as well.

A large, white, rocket ship shaped object sat poised on the library clock tower like a launching pad, waiting to be fired into orbit. The spire appeared on all university letterheads and school logos. The preceding spire looked like something out of an old black and white science fiction film.

Things changed in 2000 when Quinnipiac president John Lahey decided to revamp the look of the Arnold Bernhard Library by removing the archaic spire and replacing it with a more modest looking glass and brick structure.

Despite its facelift, the clock tower still emanates music and remains a crucial part of the campus’ identity.

One aspect of the tower that has always seemed to delight faculty and staff is the music that chimes from it every day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

“It’s not like we go up and pick ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ to play every day at 2 p.m.,” David DeLuca, Superintendent of Mechanical Services, said. “Though that is one of my favorites.”

The tower operates on a Schulmerich Auto-Bell Generation three electronic carillon with several programming cards which are stored in the machine’s memory and are played at random. The university has a few cards for the machine which play holiday seasonal tunes and songs from a series of cards dubiously named “popular selections.”

“It used to be real nice at Christmas when the old spire used to be on the tower,” Russ Berube, Maintenance Supervisor, said. “We would do the tree lighting up there and do a countdown like in Rockefeller Center.”

The tower, which used to be entertaining to some, seems to have become more of a laborious chore, thereby losing a great deal of its mirth.

“It’s just another piece of equipment on campus that needs to be maintained,” Berube said.

It even seems as if the students have gradually become more desensitized to the physical and emotional presence of the clock tower.

“I don’t think any student on campus notices the music much anymore,” Blair Donahue, a senior English major, said. “Like many things on the Quinnipiac campus, it’s just another pretty thing to look at, which people have come to expect here.”

“I noticed the music more when I used to live here,” said Jennifer Horton, a senior English major. “Now, I still like to hear the different music, but I certainly don’t notice it as much.”

“In a lot of ways, Quinnipiac is like Disneyland,” said Chad Hartline, a licensed mechanic and campus electrician. “Everything looks really nice from far away, but it’s something much different when you get up close to it.”

To put his theory to the test, a journey inside the great sentinel is imperative.

After scaling a ladder to the roof of the library and crossing over a peak, one arrives at the base of the tower and climbs a cold steel ladder, cracked and peeling with granulated white paint.

Inside the first level is a mechanical room which houses bundles of wiring and a long, snaking duct covered with insulation. The musical carillon, which resembles an old stereo speaker or humidifier, stands waist-high, covered in dust and nestled in a corner of the room.

A brisk wind rushes through the tower, “Not that impressive in here, is it?” Hartline said.

The walls of the second level of the tower are each adorned with the reverse side of a clock-face which looks out on all four sides from the tower. The floor is covered with dead bugs and the cadaver of a bird lies in the corner of the room.

At the top of another cold steel ladder, one emerges into the spire of the clock tower. From the vantage of the spire, the athletic fields, residence halls, and classroom building rooftops can be seen.

As it turns out, the spire of the clock tower is not the prestigious brick, glass and copper beacon as it appears from ground level, but rather Plexiglas.

Aside from serving as a mere landmark, it is difficult to ascertain the specific purpose of the tower now. Some students may still appreciate the music that emanates from it or the fact that it displays the time, regardless of whether it keeps it a few minutes fast or slow.

“The steps at the base of the tower have become a common meeting area for students,” Woodward said. “It’s fascinating what you can hear when you sit and listen to what people are talking about these days.”

Woodward seems confident that the tower, despite its deficiencies and faltering mystique, will remain a resilient staple of the Quinnipiac campus.

“I feel the tower is still like the father-figure of the Quad, overseeing the unfettered grounds below,” Woodward said.


About Michael McKenna