Once called ‘our angel in the tower,’ the old bell is mostly silent.
The bell was a
in the 19th century,
and a favorite target
about 150 years old,
it is considered too
delicate to be rung
It was suggested strongly that one not
do this. Especially not on a July day
headed for the high 90s. But really, not
ever. It’s ghastly up there, the man said.
The shaky ladder stops a couple of rungs
short. And the pigeons …
Relatively few people around today
have even heard the old bell. Concealed
inside a louvered cupola way up above the
attic of South Building, almost nobody has
seen it. How do you pass up this chance?
The magnificent carillon that marks
our quarter-hours today can play Edelweiss
and the theme from Top Gun; the solitary
old iron, once the call to classes and chapel
and a magnet for student mischief, is like
the crazy uncle from whom you keep the
kids away. It collects dust on top of dust, its
original clapper lying off to the side,
replaced by an electric mechanism that can
awaken it for something as momentous as
a chancellor’s installation or the first
anniversary of 9/11.
The bell is about 150 years old and
appears, from brief mentions in various
histories, to be the University’s fourth.
UNC, or N.C.U. as it often was then
known, seems to have cared deeply about
its bells. Kemp Plummer Battle (class of
1849) wrote in his history of the University that the first two did not meet expectations. The third, acquired in 1820, apparently found wide favor; when it was
replaced 36 years later, Battle was gratified
that “the new bell is so like the old that
former students cannot discern the
The third bell met an interesting end.
The South Building belfry had fallen to
rot in the 1820s and was replaced with a
freestanding one on the present site of the
Old Well. Today, there may be video games
bells before it
you know, a
fireball took out
and the bell.
The fourth one
is still with us.
DAVID E. BROWN ’ 75