Old Main Bell Tower

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Bell Tower of Old Main

Originally Submitted by Allison White on October 2011, Drake University

The Bell Tower of Old Main in its early days. Photo Courtesy of Cowles Library.

Many are too young to have heard it ring, but some of you are old enough to have been blessed with the beautiful sounds of the Bell Tower in Old Main. The first ever Victory Bell came to Old Main’s tower in 1881, when Drake University was founded. [1]

The bell rang to summon the students to church, awake the freshmen and sophomores each morning, and celebrate Drake’s athletic victories. But, the bell would not last long; it had been used so frequently that it unfortunately cracked and had to be taken down from the bell tower. For many long years, the Drake campus was quiet; the bell had been silenced. The students and staff were not about to let ­the bell go away that easily. In 1912, there was a movement to replace the bell’s wooden bell wheel for an iron one and eventually, it was replaced. Unfortunately, a short time later the bell rope was cut off by an unknown individual, and the campus was not happy.[2] A year later, in September of 1913, there was a rally to resurrect the old bell, but not everyone was in on the plan. The neighbors and communities surrounding the campus were not happy with the bell’s early morning disturbances and rebelled against the students. The bell’s tongue was taken out and bolted down to the tower, and the ringing ended just as quickly as it had begun.[3] All hope was lost three years later during summer vacation, the Administration sold the big bell for $350 to company from which Drake purchased the bell originally.[4]

This condition would not be for long. A short 14 years later, more than 206 students, alumni, and faculty members of Drake University signed a petition to hang a bell in the tower once again. But, no money for purchasing and mounting the bell was provided, so students planned a “tag day” for fundraising purposes.[5] One thousand “tags” were bought to be sold to the students on campus, in order to raise the $320.00 needed to restore the bell.[6] On May 28th, 1931, the Victory Bell was hung up once again, shipped all the way from Frederickstown, Ohio. It weighed 1,780 pounds, was 3.5 feet in diameter, and 3 feet tall.[7] Five years later, the bell had been dubbed “Old Brassie”; the victory bell. It rang for all athletic victories, the beginning and end of classes, and early in the mornings. For obvious reasons, the bell was very unpopular with people outside of the Drake community.

A more recent snapshot of the Bell Tower. Photo was taken in May of 2011, courtesy of Drake University

On April 1, 1946 the bell did not ring. Many students were upset and congregated outside of the Administration building. An hour passed, and finally Dean Beery walked out and announced that the bell clapper had been stolen from the tower. It was not long before the university received a confession letter from the culprits, who dubbed themselves, "The Filthy Five".[8] They were not identified, but the bell clapper was discovered at a pawn shop 12 days later and was replaced back into the tower. This was not the last time the bell or its clapper would be stolen. Later that year, on October 23rd, 1946, the clapper was stolen again by the Filthy Five. A letter was written to the Dean, explaining why it was taken; they believed the football team was not fighting hard enough for a win, and the student body did not have enough faith or support in them.[9] But, the bell clapper would come back to the university. 3 days later, on October 26th, President Harmon walked out his front door and found the clapper sitting on his doorstep. The clapper had come back home, and was hung back in the tower at 11:30 am that day.[10] But, once again, the clapper from the bell would not stay for long. 6 years later, on October 31st, 1952, the clapper disappeared again. Another letter was received from the Filthy Five explaining that they felt the school did not have enough spirit to have the privilege of using the victory bell. They thought once again, that there was not enough support for the football team. The clapper was not to be returned until school spirit was restored, and support for the football team became sufficient. [11] So, the students took that under their wing and in 1953, 18 months later, they filled the stands for one of its games; 1,600 students attended and the clapper was returned.[12] For 5 years, the bell was in its place. But again, like déjà vu, on Tuesday, October 28th, 1958, the clapper was stolen. The Filthy Five were very impressed with the Bulldogs’ win over Bradley on Saturday, but only 3,500 were in attendance for the game, which was not acceptable.[13] They said the clapper would be returned on the following Saturday if, and only if, school spirit was up. The bell clapper was never returned, and the Filthy Five were never discovered.

The Bell Tower on a beautiful fall day. Photo taken in 2011 courtesy of the Drake Photo Bureau.

A few years later, twelve Alpha Tau Omega pledges thought it was unfair not to have a bell at a distinguished university such as Drake. Over the course of 3 weeks, they collected metal for the clapper and had it welded to create a new one, but it never worked. The bell remained un-rung for many, many years. But, the bell would live on forever with this new plan that came to be. On July 22, 1987, Drake alumnus Willis E. Forsyth and his wife, Jeanette gifted the university with an electronic system. This electronic system is run by a computer which can be programmed for when the bell is needed to ring. The first event at which the bell will chime again will be on August 21st, 1987 at convocation on the front lawn of Old Main. [14] The bell and its clapper will no longer be stolen, and all was at peace in the Drake community.

Location of the Bell Tower on Drake's campus. Photo taken in 2011, courtesy of Google Maps.


  • [1] Chapel Sounds Off 54th Homecoming. (1940, October 25). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 4.
  • [2] The Passing of the Bell. (1912, October 22). Drake Daily Delphic, p. 30.
  • [3] Old Chapel Bell Will be Restored to Use. (1913, September 18). Drake Daily Delphic, p. 4.
  • [4] Weishaar, W. (1916, September 2). Big bell sold. Drake Daily Delphic, p. 2.
  • [5] Demand for “Old Main” Bell Grows. (1930, November 6). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 1.
  • [6] Tag Day for Victory Bell December 11. (1930, December 4). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 1.
  • [7] Bell Arrives. (1931, May 28). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 1.
  • [8] Wandering Bell Clapper Recovered in Pawn Shop. (1946, April 12). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 6.
  • [9] ‘For Whom the Bells Don’t’. (1946, October 23). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 5.
  • [10] Clapper Comes Home. (1946, October 26). Clapper comes home. Drake Times-Delphic, p. 5.
  • [11] Clapper Stolen-‘Filthy Five’ Admit Theft. (1952, October 31). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 29.
  • [12] Filthy Five’s ‘Spirit’ Promotion Included in Ritchey’s Drake History. (1956, February 10). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 1.
  • [13] Revived Filthy Five Submit Letter to Drake Student Body. (1958, October 28). Drake Times-Delphic, p. 3.
  • [14] Bailey, P. (1987, July 22). Hear this, filthy five: keep that bell clapper. Des Moines Register, p. 2N-E.