Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chime the Hour

Baker Library is one of the signature sights in Hanover.  Modeled after Independence Hall, the library stands high above the rest of the campus.  Housed in the tower, which was specially designed for them, is a set of sixteen bells, the largest of which weighs almost three tons.  The bell tones span an octave and a half (with a missing E flat) and carry on a tradition of marking the hours and class times.

Raising the bells to the tower, 1928
The bells were originally controlled by a mechanism similar to that used in a player piano.  A set of paper rolls (over 1,000 at one point) were created with holes punched in them.  As the rolls were fed through the controller, air was forced through the holes, which in turn made or broke electrical connections to the bell strikers.  The pattern encoded on the paper translated into the tune played on the bells.  Though the bells are controlled by a computer these days, the process is essentially the same pattern based method.

A view of the control room from 1980.
Tune selection has always been a matter of interest and the bells have been known to peal out everything from the Alma Mater to the Beatle's Yellow Submarine to the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The main limitation to what music can be successfully played is a physical one - immediate repeats of a particular note are not possible.  This made some requested songs, such as the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, sound less than ideal.

To learn more about the bells, ask for the vertical file "Library - Tower (Bells, Weather Vane, Clock)."  More images can be found in the photo file "Library - Baker - Bells."

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