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Once upon a time there was a great institution of learning, with an imposing edifice at its center. Massive, constructed of brick, rich in ornamentation, this building was crowned by a tower. Its spire had a belfry and a clock with four faces, and the gilt minute hand on each face was seven feet long. The works of the clock were cranked once a week by a keeper who gave 269 turns to a 1,000-pound time weight and 396 turns to a 1,500-pound striking weight. So accurate was the clock that it would run for three months without losing or gaining a half minute. Its giant hands could be seen for a quarter of a mile. No professor hurrying to the classroom had to trouble himself to extract his watch from his vest pocket. A glance upward sufficed, and students were guided likewise. But one day the clock stopped, its hands outstretched at sixteen minutes to three. Ten days later the bell ceased to toll the hours. All was silence.
That was in the winter of 1945. The nation was still at war, and Harvard was under more snow than had fallen for years. Rumor had it that pigeons had migrated from Boston Common-where a municipal edict now made it illegal to feed them-and roosted on the hands of the Memorial Hall clocks, immobilizing them. The fact was that inspectors had found rusting ironwork under the tower's heavy ornamentation, a hazard to passersby. As a wartime expedient, the bristling ornaments were removed and the spire's copper sheathing replaced with tarpaper. Little else was done until 1956, when the President and Fellows of Harvard College at last agreed to restore the tower to its ancient glory. The project was almost completed when a spectacular fire, apparently caused by a blowtorch left unattended, consumed the spire.
Contributions from individuals eager to help rebuild the tower were rolling in before Cambridge firefighters had hung up their hoses. As a self-insurer, the University set aside a repair fund of $313,000. But it never got to the point of writing a work order. Other projects always had stronger claims. The repair fund, which appreciated to more than $1 million, was used to fix other parts of Memorial Hall. But the tower's adherents were resolute. They wrote articles for this magazine. They pledged money. In 1981 Abram Collier '34, LL.B. '37, now of Sharon, New Hampshire, initiated a construction fund that is valued today at $300,000. In 1994 a $1 million challenge gift came from Katharine Bogdanovich Loker, of Oceanside, California, who has provided $10 million for the renewal of Memorial Hall (Harvard Magazine, January-February, pages 27, 59). Other gifts and pledges now stand at about $400,000. The full restoration cost is estimated at $2.5 million, so another $800,000 still remains to be raised.
What form a restored tower should take is a delicate question. Old grads who remember the clock tend to think that the tower should have one. The original spire, erected in 1874, was clockless and sparsely ornamented. Like the roof of the hall, it was covered by polychrome slate. In 1878, architects Henry Van Brunt and William Ware added lancet windows and pinnacles to "marry" the spire to the lower tower. In 1897, when the Class of 1872 gave a bell and a clock for the tower, Van Brunt added more details and replaced the slate, now eroding, with copper sheeting. Professor Kenneth Conant '15, an expert on historical preservation, preferred the revision of 1878. He considered the clock tower overblown, dismissing it as "railroad Gothic." Harvard's present administrators concur.
Clock or no clock, time is passing. The restoration of Sanders Theatre, adjoining the tower's east face, is to start this summer. From a standpoint of construction efficiency, so should work on the tower. Under the terms of Mr. Collier's $300,000 fund, all of the money goes to the College endowment if plans to restore the tower are not approved by the end of the year 2000. Fred Glimp '50, Ph.D. '64, who will end almost 20 years as vice president for alumni affairs and development on July 1, will continue to act as chief fundraiser for the tower. His hand is outstretched. Time stood still for a while in the snowy winter of 1945. But in the surging spring of 1996, the clock is ticking.
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