The Victory Bell: Celebrating 76 Years of
“O mighty bell, thy power is great;
Your vibrant tones ecstatic swell,
And speak again of kindly fate
Thy notes are notes we all love well.
Ring out and tell of vict’ry won,
With penetrating tones, O bell.
Whene’er you speak, to live is fun;
When you keep still, to live is –!”
Cosmos November 12, 1925
In 1888 the seniors
began a long-standing tradition at Coe College by bestowing a memorial
upon the college. A small group sneaked away from campus on a mule team
in the dead of night and brought back a large boulder, engraved “88” on
one side and placed the stone in front of the Main building. After
this, gifts have ranged from sundials and concrete benches to
biological specimens and a stuffed American bison for the museum. The
class of 1913 began another tradition, that of celebrating victories
and flunk day, with their senior class gift of the victory bell.
The idea for such a
gift came from Cornell College, as the bell in the Cornell chapel was
run for an hour to extol a victory over Coe in 1912. As a result of
this exhibition Coe students decided that they must also have some way
of broadcasting their exultation over similar victories. This was
detailed in the January 28, 1932 Cosmos.
According to various members of the class of
1913, the gift was also provoked by a spirit of optimism and faith. The
Coe teams had been having a consistent run of bad luck and had lost
practically every athletic meet in which they had engaged, but the
students far from being discouraged by these scores, felt that perhaps
the teams were not receiving enough support. . . . so in the Class Day
exercises for the class of 1913, which took place on the Senior steps
on Old Main, it was announced that the graduating class would finance
the erecting of a Victory Bell.
Erected in 1914, the
bell hung from the metal roof of a wooden structure approximately 15
ft. tall. It was used for the first time in October 1914 to
celebrate a football victory over Simpson. At this initial performance,
President Marquis officiated at the rope. There was an unwritten rule
that the bell was to be rung only in instances of victory in football
or forensics. One exception was made on the morning of November
11, 1918 when beloved custodian “Dad” Myers woke students by banging on
a snare drum and ringing the bell in celebration of the signing of the
armistice to end WWI.
After the rope was
lost in the early 40’s, students would climb the rotten and dangerous
structure to ring the bell. The Building and Grounds Committee of the
Board of Trustees deemed the structure unsafe and removed it in 1944,
placing the bell in storage, where it remained for three and a half
years, much to the disappointment of the student body.
At the 1947 Homecoming
the new bell structure, constructed by Marvin Cone, was presented as a
memorial to Donald H. Niggemeyer, a member of the "Coe 22" that had
been killed in action October 26, 1944. The “22” were a group of Coe
men who returned from 19 weeks of basic army training to the campus in
the fall of 1943 to complete their senior year. They attended officer
candidate school and were commissioned together in 1944. It was during
this time that Niggemeyer married Frances Wagner, also a Coe student,
on December 21, 1943. He then left December 29 for Ft. Benning and was
commissioned a second lieutenant. He went overseas in September of 1944
and died October that same year as a result of injuries sustained while
on patrol in northern France.
It is in his honor
that the new structure was dedicated; constructed of rough-hewn stone
blocks, the new tower arched over the bell, its keystone engraved with
a large letter “V.” There was great discussion of where it should be
placed, as some thought the men’s athletic field, while others felt it
should return to its original location, behind the women’s gymnasium,
which later became the Temporary Union Building (or TUB). Finally, it
was erected behind the old chapel (where Marquis Hall is presently).
This soon became a
popular place on campus for students not just to celebrate victories in
athletics and forensics, but in dating and courting as well. This new
structure, although not as tall as the original, was still large enough
for couples to stand underneath in the evening hours for a kiss. It had
become tradition at Coe not only to ring the bell, but it was said that
a freshman girl was not truly a “Coe-ed” until she had been kissed
under the victory bell at the stroke of midnight. This was also a
popular spot for couples to become “pinned." In 1957 a column began in
the Cosmos entitled "Under the Victory Bell" which printed a weekly
list of who on campus was pinned, engaged, or recently married.
With the construction
of Marquis Hall in 1958, the bell had to be packed away once again.
Each stone was carefully removed and marked in order to reconstruct the
tower in an alternative location. Students erected a temporary wooden
structure with a small bell outside the TUB, but this too had to be
removed when the TUB was demolished.
The tower was
reconstructed in 1966 in front of Eby Fieldhouse, where it currently
stands. Over the years there were a few too many victories and the
bell, unfortunately in the mid-seventies, cracked. In 1975 Raymond
Coward, a Coe graduate of ’33, donated the funds to purchase a 1,000
pound, 40 inch diameter bell from the Schilling Museum in Northfield,
MN. This bell, too, cracked in ’98.
Nancy Kaufmann, of
Cedar Rapids, agreed to give Coe the bell her family had acquired after
the Buffalo Methodist Church burned to the ground in 1904. Her father
received the bell in the early 1960s and had placed it in front of his
farm equipment store, Happel & Sons, Inc. The new bell was much
smaller, just 28 inches in diameter, and was hung from a small,
portable tower that could be transferred to the athletic field to be
rung after a victory game.
Although this gift
provided the college with a bell, it was rather small and the
traditional stone bell tower was empty, as this bell was simply too
small to be hung. It was the senior class of 2000 that decided this 85
year tradition needed to be properly preserved. The class managed to
fundraise $4500 thanks to an alumni challenge from Jeff Bussy. These
funds allowed for the purchase of a 44-inch cast-iron bell to be rung
in victories in football and by the freshman in orientation and seniors
at graduation, a new tradition that began in 1992, thereby continuing
the tradition of the Victory bell, one that signifies just a much in
silence as in joyful sounds.