Called by the bell

A peal of five bells installed in the west tower of U-M’s library in December 1883 replaced an earlier bell that was used to call students to class. (Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

Beginning in the 1840s, a bell was used to rouse students for class and chapel, a ritual they despised. Tensions came to a head one night in 1861 when the bell pole was felled by an ax and the bell nowhere to be found. President Henry Tappan encouraged “this experiment … be tried thoroughly” but reminded students that roll call would still be taken. After weeks of “merciless” penalization for lateness and absence, the bell was returned and normalcy restored. A massive new bell replaced the original bell after the Civil War, and it rang until it was replaced in 1883 by five bells playing the “Westminster Quarters” in the west tower of a newly designed library in the center of the Diag. The library bells tolled each quarter hour until 1920, and the campus was bell-less until the Baird Carillon was installed in Burton Memorial Tower in 1936.

—Adapted from “There were bells” by James Tobin, Michigan Today


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