Sunday, January 26, 2014

University of Iowa Old Capitol's Melted Bell Tolls for Thee


The centerpiece of the University of Iowa's campus is Old Capitol. It serves as the icon of the university. The building dates from the mid-1800s and was a territorial capitol of Iowa before that function moved to Des Moines. This is what the building looks like today. When it was being renovated in 2001 the cupola caught fire from a worker's paint remover torch. The structure from the roof line to the top of the dome was destroyed - including the bell. Inside the Old Capitol Museum (located in the building's basement) you can view the melted bell and read an account of the replacement.


The story of the melted bell reads as such: "At approximately 8:50 AM on Tuesday, November 20, 2001, the tower of Old Capitol caught fire, quickly destroying the bell tower and dome. Firefighters poured 50 thousand gallons of water on the tower. Housed inside the tower was Old Capitol's third bell, which fell when its wooden yoke burned. The bell broke around the neck and landed on its side in the tower debris. 

The mass of mangled metal shown here is all that remains of the 1864 bell - the only casualty from more than 750 artifacts. Twist and turns in the metal reveals square nails, pieces of copper and gold leaf from the building's original construction.

During the tower reconstruction, Old Capitol staff located a similar antique bell from the Verdin Bell Company in Cincinnati, Ohio.

This bell was cast by the same foundry as the burned bell, is approximately the same age, and, at 1500 pounds and 42 inches in diameter, is slightly wider and heavier than the 1864 bell.

Old Capitol's "new" bell was installed in May, 2003. Crowds cheered as it rang across campus, once again. The bell signals the change of classes and significant university, state, or national events."