The 25th anniversary of Purdue’s Bell Tower was celebrated Wednesday by Purdue officials with activities, a festive gold bow and the placement of a time capsule at its base.
“It’s so iconic to Purdue,” said Elizabeth Hartley, the associate director of external relations and leadership initiatives at Purdue University Residences and event coordinator for the celebration. “It’s part of the skyline, it’s very photogenic, it’s been painted and there’s been artwork of it because it’s such a beautiful piece.”
“It’s in the center, the heart of campus and it sings to us on the hour and half hour,” Hartley said.
The time capsule is buried alongside another one that was left when the Bell Tower first opened in 1995.
“Ordinarily a 25th birthday might not call for a letter to the future from the university president and its students or a new time capsule to be opened by those who we expect will celebrate this tower’s 100th birthday in 2095,” reads a letter from Purdue President Mitch Daniels, which lies in the new time capsule. “This birthday, however, coincides with the most unique year in our 151-year history.” Other items in the time capsule include a COVID-19 test kit, a Purdue wellness kit and a copy of the Protect Purdue Plan.
A Tuesday night paint run by the Protect Purdue Ambassadors kicked off the celebration by inviting students to express themselves with art on Memorial Mall.
Though the ambassadors are usually only involved with COVID-19-related activities, they decided it was important to participate in the festivities, said Julianna Horz, a sophomore in the College of Engineering and a Protect Purdue Ambassador.
“Honestly this is kind of pandemic-related,” she said. “We feel like people don’t have a lot of ways to relieve stress, and this semester especially is harder on everyone’s mental health, so we wanted to bring something fun to the university and host an event that’s both fun and safe for everyone.”
Wednesday’s festivities were lively: Purdue Dining and Culinary handed out cookies to passersby; the Purdue Varsity Glee Club sang “Hail Purdue”; and John Norberg, former Journal and Courier reporter and Purdue historian, recounted the history the university and the Bell Tower while in character as John Purdue.
The original Bell Tower burned in the 1894 Heavilon Hall fire just four days after the building’s dedication. Purdue President James Smart resolved to build the next tower “one brick higher,” and the second iteration was completed in 1895. The bells from this second tower survived the demolition of Heavilon in 1956 and are located in the Bell Tower that stands today.
Though the current Bell Tower still stands strong, one of the clock faces took some damage after falling from a crane and hitting a construction lift during maintenance by Verdin Clock Company in 2018, as captured by video of the incident.
While students might not necessarily be familiar with the tower’s history, most are well-acquainted with the stories surrounding it. These include legends that students who walk under the tower will not graduate in four years and that couples that kiss under the tower and walk past the lion fountain will eventually tie the knot.
“As a social experiment, I walked under it at least 70 times during freshman year,” said Anjali Padiyar, a sophomore in the College of Engineering.
Students are well-acquainted with the tower’s presence in promotional material and images of campus.
“It’s one of the trademarks of Purdue, it’s like the symbol,” said Harry Nguyen, a freshman in the College of Engineering. “When people think Purdue, they think of the Bell Tower, Neil Armstrong and those types of things.”
To some, the Bell Tower remains a symbol of the Boilermaker spirit, the drive to keep on innovating.
“The second Bell Tower was not one brick higher,” said Norberg about the 1895 iteration. “It was nine bricks higher. This tower is somewhere in the area of 100 bricks higher than those two. So Purdue says it’s going to build one brick higher, but what they really mean by that is the sky’s the limit.”