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The Daily Tar Heel

Here's who plays the largest instrument on UNC's campus

bell tower ringer

Ringing the bell tower used to require a series of levers. Now, it's as simple as pressing buttons. Courtesy of Nicholas Graham and University Archives. 

The Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower is one of the University's most recognizable landmarks, chiming every day as students walk to class. 

Since it was dedicated in 1931, the bell chimes coming from the tower were always played by a group of students known as the master bell ringers, Nicholas Graham, University archivist and interim curator of the Southern Historical Collection, said. 


The Morehead-Patterson Memorial Bell Tower was completed in 1931 at a cost of $100,000. This photo ran on The Daily Tar Heel's front page on Nov. 22, 1931, ahead of the bell tower's Thanksgiving dedication.


Bell ringers used to pull a series of levers to make the bells ring, Graham said. Now, the chimes are prerecorded and played by a series of buttons.

Graham said the idea for the Bell Tower was originally suggested by John Motley Morehead III, but his proposal was denied several times due to conflicts about the tower's location.

Proposed locations included the top of South Building, Wilson Library and the middle of Polk Place before campus leaders persuaded Morehead to put the tower where it is now, Graham said. 

Members of the Patterson family, specifically Rufus Lenoir Patterson II, helped Morehead fund the Bell Tower. 

After construction was completed, the Bell Tower was dedicated to the University on Thanksgiving Day in 1931, standing 172 feet tall. 

Eighty-eight years later, several traditions have developed around the tower. Graduating seniors climb the tower in the spring, and the tower is now lit up Carolina Blue after every UNC football win. 

The tradition of seniors climbing the tower started in the 1990s, Graham said. Students were charged a dollar that went toward construction costs. 

The inside of the Bell Tower is closed to the public, except for graduating seniors or for tours by the General Alumni Association. 

The master bell ringers ring the bell on a 14-key electronic keyboard. Some of the prerecorded songs include "Hark the Sound," "Here Comes Carolina," and "Carolina Victory."

The current master bell ringers are junior Lauren Holtshouser and senior Stephen Deluca, who both play trumpet in the Marching Tar Heels. 

Director of University Bands Jeffrey Fuchs chooses a student to fulfill this role, and each master bell ringer holds this role until they graduate. 

Fuchs said it's essential to ring the bell at the right times on game day — before home football games and, if UNC wins, afterward. 

Bell ringers are also in charge of turning the Bell Tower off during commencement, Fuchs said. 

Holtshouser, one of the current bell ringers, said she was thrilled to be given the role. Her older brother was a bell ringer as well. 

"It's so cool being in the middle of the Bell Tower," she said. "You can't hear as well as you can hear outside, but you can hear everything moving and vibrating inside the Bell Tower."

Holtshouser said she enjoys giving tours of the tower for the General Alumni Association and loves knowing fun historical facts about the bell tower. 

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For example, the chimes' 15-minute increments are a couple of minutes behind, thanks to the mistake of a past bell ringer. 

The goal of master bell ringers is to take the songs created for Carolina and play them on the largest instrument on campus, Holtshouser said.

Ringing the bells is a way for Holtshouser to show — and play — her school spirit, she said.

@jackiesiz

university@dailytarheel.com