The ringing of the Bacheller Memorial Chime at 5:00 in the afternoon is among my favorite Laurentian traditions.
Where else can you hear a mix of songs like “Amazing Grace,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “The Flintstones” theme song ? Each weekday during the academic year, the bell ringers begin with “Westminister Chimes” followed by “Oxford Changes.” They close with “Chapel Bells, A Tribute,” and “Alma Mater.” “Happy Birthday” is one of the most requested songs by parents or friends who email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to climb the bell tower and see the Gunnison Chapel bells up close during my first year on campus, and to learn that they are keepsakes of a story revolving around love and thankfulness.
The bells were given to St. Lawrence by newspaper executive, editor, and author Irving Bachellor, Class of 1882, in memory of his first wife. There are 10 chimes. The largest is more than 12 feet in circumference, weighs 2,000 pounds, and bears the inscription, “To Ann Bacheller: Musician, Wife, Comrade. My love of her put a new song in my heart, therefore, let the singing of these bells be the voice of my gratitude.”
Even before the chimes were installed in 1926, Laurentians decided that students would play them. For nearly 100 years now, this has been the case. Each year, there are two to four bell ringers, chosen from a list of applicants, then trained to play the chimes by older students or alumni. As their tenure comes to a close, the bell ringers write their names on the walls inside the Gunnison Chapel spire where the carved clapper handles and foot pedals are housed. These long, wooden handles and pedals are pushed by the bell ringers in a unique dance as they perform.
When the chimes were put into place, an announcement from the University said they “will rank among the finest toned sets of bells in existence.” It also stated, “The ‘voice’ of a bell is really a chorus of voices. The tone is many tones blended.”
That is also an accurate description of the St. Lawrence community I’ve come to know.
Our tradition of ringing the Bacheller chimes each weekday is just one blending of Laurentian voices, like a conversation. These conversations constantly reverberate in classrooms and labs, on our practice fields, in the student center, in Dana, and so many other corners of St. Lawrence.
Our willingness to hear each other and share something of ourselves when we voice our perspectives is vital to our community. The Chapel bells are an echo of that, and I am grateful to hear them each day.
Our traditions sustain us as we share what matters to our community and invite others to join us. Since the Bacheller Memorial Chime was installed, the bell ringers have been prevented from playing only once: after the 2013 fire damaged Gunnison’s bell tower. But even during the spire’s two-year reconstruction, the Chapel played pre-recordings of the chime. Throughout the pandemic, bell ringers were on campus—following safety protocols—to play.
This commitment was put into words long ago by Eugene Wright ’49 in this excerpt from his lyrics to Chapel Bells:
Slowly as the years pass by
Each day the chapel bells will ring
Singing our praises to the sky
Echoing the love St. Lawrence brings.
Chapel bells, sing out with joy and tears
Chapel bells, ring on through future years
This, too, is a key element of traditions: they let us know what we’ll be doing in the future. I look forward to hearing the chapel bells ringing out for many years to come. And I treasure all that it means to Laurentians everywhere.