Missing campus icon returned after long wait

A stolen bell clapper is returned to Special Collections

6/11/2012 - By: Angela Bakker
Bell clapper Jacquelyn Sundstrand of Special Collections and University Archives holds a bell clapper that was returned to campus on Wednesday, June 6, during a special ceremony. Marilyn Melton, right, found the bell clapper in materials people had sent her husband, the late Reno Gazette-Journal columnist, Rollan Melton, over the years. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.

It seems the follies of youth haven't changed much since the 1950s. If you happened to be a campus watchman at the University in the 1950s, you may have been baffled by the sudden clank of wire cutters falling from the sky, and then gone about your business patrolling campus. Meanwhile, University of Nevada students atop a bell tower on campus hold their breath until the watchman is long gone, and then scurry down the ladder with the clapper from the bell. So were student shenanigans in the 1950s.

Carl Horn, then superintendent of grounds, threatened that any student caught with the clapper would be expelled from the University. And so, the clapper was tucked away somewhere safe for almost six decades. Fast forward to the early 2000s and the very same clapper mysteriously and anonymously is given to Rollan Melton, then publisher of the Reno Gazette-Journal. Marilyn Melton, Rollan's wife found the clapper among his personal affects after he passed away and decided it was time to take the clapper home. On June 6, at a Legacy Society and Friends of the University Libraries event, Marilyn formally handed the clapper over to Special Collections and University Archives staff at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. The clapper is now home, and under the safe and watchful eyes of campus staff again.

Guy Clifton from the Reno Gazette-Journal has researched alumni from 1959 in an attempt to solve the mystery and unveil the pranksters. He has even made a few phone calls to key students from the time, but so far his detective work has only reached dead ends. A letter accompanying the clapper offers some clues on the group of pranksters:

"We are a diverse group and good at heart.  While we were at the University we excelled in sports and did well academically—at least well enough to graduate.  All became officers in the army and went on to serve our country, some in Vietnam.  Some went into public service and some into private practice.  We are all retired and enjoying grandchildren.  We are very grateful for the education we received at the University of Nevada and although we caused some consternation by silencing the bell for a short time, we know we have represented the University well over the years.

Sincerely,

A Bunch of Oldies"

To add just a little more mystery to the clapper disappearance of '54, the original location of the clapper has become a hot topic of discussion. The letter stated that the clapper was taken from Stewart Hall, but University librarians believe it may actually be from Morrill Hall. Morrill Hall had the official campus bell, and there was an annual tradition of stealing the clapper from the Morrill bell. Things get a bit hazy over time, so maybe this is just another piece of the stolen clapper mystery we will never know. 


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