This entry is part 11 of 28 in the series Spring - 2017
2017 Bell Returns


By Tony Phifer

The first tradition at Colorado State University – the ringing of the Old Main Bell – returns this fall after nearly of century of mysterious silence.

After chiming in the start of each school day, and loudly proclaiming each football victory for the Colorado Agricultural College Aggies, the familiar peals had ended around 1919 when the magnificent bell cracked. Overenthusiastic students had ruined the instrument by banging it with a sledgehammer.

Or so the story goes.

As it turns out, the bell was not cracked at all. In fact, it was still as good as new, save for a missing clapper.

No, the bell wasn’t silenced – it was stolen. A group of fraternity brothers had somehow managed to remove the 450-pound behemoth from the Old Main belfry – a prank for the ages, to be sure. Problem is, the young students hadn’t considered the “now what?” aspect of their caper.

“I don’t think they really expected to successfully remove the bell from Old Main,” said Kristi Bohlender, executive director of CSU’s Alumni Association. “They didn’t know what to do next.”

Fearful of being caught, the culprits decided to bury the bell on a nearby family farm. There it rested for the next 50 years, all but forgotten.

The bell’s story gets a bit convoluted from there. When the farm was to be sold, a group of people with knowledge of the bell had it exhumed and moved to an off-campus house. It remained there for many years, and those who knew of its presence were sworn to secrecy.

John – not his real name – recalled how he became aware of the tale. His fraternity was involved and wanted to make sure the bell was protected, without revealing its secrets.

“The story of the bell was passed down through the fraternity from year to year,” John said. “Most people in the fraternity knew about it but agreed to keep it a secret. Everything was passed down as lore.”

When rumors about the bell began to spread, a decision was made to once again move the bell, this time out of state. It remained there until CSU announced plans to build an on-campus stadium that included a long-awaited alumni center.

“We had talked about returning the bell for a number of years, but we wanted to make sure the timing was right,” John said. “When plans for the (Iris & Michael Smith) Alumni Center were announced as part of the new stadium project, we knew the time was right. It was time for the bell to ring once more.”

When Bohlender first heard about the bell, and that its keepers wanted to return it to campus, she was thrilled. Century-old bells, after all, don’t simply show up on your doorstep.

This bell, however, showed up on Bohlender’s driveway at her rural home northeast of Fort Collins on Feb. 29, 2016. Somehow it was fitting that this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence took place on a once-every-four-years day.

The bell was in remarkably good shape when it was returned, save for a broken yoke. ASCSU’s Traditions and History Committee agreed to pay to have it refurbished.

“We don’t want it ringing all the time,” said Daniela Pineda Soraca, president of ASCSU. “In addition to celebrating victories, we hope to ring the bell at the beginning of the year, at commencement, and at other important occasions. We want it to be special and symbolic.

“I can’t wait to hear it ring for the first time.”

The bell was unveiled on I Love CSU Day in April and will ring on campus for the first time in 98 years when the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center celebrates its grand opening Aug. 25 – the night before the inaugural game at the new stadium.

The bell will hang in a tower named in honor of Jim and Nadine Henry, named Alumni of the Century in 2000 for their tireless devotion to all things CSU. Unlike Old Main, the tower will offer protection from potential thieves – including lots of security cameras.

“We don’t want to lose our bell again,” laughed Bohlender.