Remembering when the bells returned to Baylor
What would the Baylor experience be without the bells of Pat Neff Hall? Since the building’s completion in 1939, the bells have marked the start of classes each day and each hour. They’ve rung during the traditional freshman candlelight service at the start of the school year, welcomed alumni back during Homecoming, and brought the Christmas spirit to campus each December. But 30 years ago, the bells fell into disrepair and were in danger of being lost.
The original bells — officially named the Cullen F. Thomas Carillon, after the Baylor trustee who donated them — first rang out on Dec. 21, 1939, with “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” (To this day, every Baylor carillon concert begins with that same Doxology.) But in the late 1970s, the 25 electronic, tubular bells began having chronic mechanical failures. By 1986, they had been deemed inoperative.
Campus went quiet for several years — until Drayton McLane, Jr., BBA ’58, and his family donated $325,000 for a new carillon.
“When I was a student at Baylor, I fondly remember how the chimes would ring during the day and night,” he said in a July 28, 1987 university press release. “You could stroll across campus and hear the chimes ring and it was a very comforting feeling. … When I learned that the old chimes were not repairable, I immediately decided to donate money to get new ones.”
To replace the original 25, 48 bronze bells — to officially be named the McLane Carillon — were cast by the Paccard Bell Foundry in France. They were then shipped to Houston before being driven to the Baylor campus for the inaugural sounding ceremony on July 28, and later, the formal dedication on Nov. 4, 1988 — but not before making an accidental pitstop in Mexico! Dr. Herbert Colvin, professor and academic director in Baylor’s School of Music, trained for months in San Antonio to become the university’s official carillonneur. (He was also the instructor of Baylor’s current carillonneur, Lynette Geary.)
The wide range of sizes among the 48 bells allows for a much greater range of sound than the original chimes, and they’re capable of playing much more complicated pieces than the original bells. They range in diameter from 8 inches to 5 feet, weigh anywhere from 30 to 4,397 pounds, and total 22 tons. The largest of them — first rung by Drayton McLane Jr. and then-President Herbert H. Reynolds together — is roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Some of the bells bear biblical and literary inscriptions of importance to the McLane family; others are engraved with quotations from the 11 Baylor presidents who had served by 1988. Several bear the seal of the University. The inscriptions can be read on plaques arranged in the shape of a bell inside Pat Neff Hall – it’s worth stopping by on your next visit to campus.
Bells of this type typically last for several hundred years. The Paccard Bell Foundry, founded in 1796, is still operating today, and similar bells constructed in the 1500s are still operating in Europe. So far, 30 years of Baylor Bears have been blessed to enjoy its melodies. Here’s hoping for hundreds of years more!
Sic ’em, Bears!
You might also like:
* The story behind the Carroll Field sign in the SUB (Oct. 2018)
* Something’s been missing from Rufus Burleson’s statue for decades (Aug. 2017)
* 5 resources for learning more about Baylor history (Feb. 2017)