Sunday, July 5, 2009

Denny Chimes: The Iconic Landmark of The University of Alabama


Denny Chimes is not just another land mark. It is the icon of the University of Alabama, which is located in Tuscaloosa. It symbolizes what the university and the state of Alabama has been through since WWI and the Great Depression and who helped the students pull through these hard times. Many other landmarks can be seen on the campus by visitors and everyday by students but are often forgotten. But, a lot of students don't even know these landmarks exist. However, you can ask anyone on campus about Denny Chimes and I bet they've seen it or at least heard about it.

Denny Chimes, dedicated on May 27, 1929, is a bell tower that stands on the south side of the Quad along University Boulevard. The landmark was named in honor of George H. Denny, president of the University from 1912 to 1936 and again in 1941. The Chimes,as it is often referred to by students, was constructed by Skinner, Maxwell and Company at a final cost of $40,000. The tower is art deco in design and features a concrete base followed by a brick shaft that gradually tapers towards its concrete top.
The carillon features 25 cast bronze bells, with the largest having a circumference of about 11 feet and a height of 3 feet. A carillon is a musical instrument (usually housed in the bell towers of church towers, belfries, or in municipal ) consisting of at least 23 cast bronze cup-shaped bells which are played one after the other (to play a melody) or sounded together (to play a chord). A carillon is played by striking a keyboard (called a "baton") with the fists and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to the metal clappers that strike the bells, allowing the performer (known as a "carillonneur") to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key(
The Chimes rings every 15 minutes, chiming on the hour in addition to chiming other songs or the alma mater as part of university celebrations or holidays. Inside the base is an automatic player that plays roll music in addition to a keyboard console that is used on special occasions. By 1945, its bell carillon was converted into an electronic system and modernized in 1966. For many years the Alabama organ professor Warren Hutton served as the carillonneur for memorial services and special events, and today the manual organ is played by both university faculty and students.
According to Mellown, No one knows how it got started, but back in the day a legend was associated with the tower, and one generation of students passed it to the next. It asserted that bricks would fall from the monument on the head of any virgin who walked too close to it(84). However, as the years passed so did the legend.

Even though I walked across the Quad a million times to get to class, I never visited Denny Chimes until now. I started my field observation at 10am Thursday June 5, 2009. I walked through the back of Gorgas Library and emerged through the front doors which face the back of Denny Chimes. As I started down the steps of the library towards Denny, I paid close attention to my surroundings. There are not many students on the campus of UA during the summer term, but of the few that are here majority of them tend to be on the Quad.
I got to The Chimes and the first thing I noticed was the concrete squares with the names of the past football captains on them. Along with the name of the captain was a hand and footprint. This area is called the walk of fame. Every year since 1947, right before the A-Day game starts, a ceremony to honor that year's football captain is held at the back of Denny Chimes. This tradition is just one of the many things that makes Denny Chimes special. I stepped onto the concrete squares and I saw that some of the imprints on a few of the squares were starting to fade. On most squares I could see the names of the captains clear enough to read, but on some of the squares the hand and footprints were fading. All that remained on the square for the year of 1990 was the captains name and seven holes that represent the imprints of his cleats.
I walked up the steps of The Chimes and located on the concrete bottom part was a window. It looked an air conditioner was sitting in the window. If it is an air conditioner, I figured it was there to warm or cool whoever goes in there to operate the machines or do cleaning. Etched in the concrete part of The Chimes, are two birds that looked like eagles. This was something that I had never noticed before. In the past, I have seen Denny Chimes from a distance but never close enough to see the eagles. Most pictures of Denny Chimes are from a distance making it impossible to see the birds. I saw them for the first time today. There is one bird on all four corners of the concrete part. I assume that the birds are the bald eagle that represents the national symbol of the United States.
I walked to the front of Denny and saw a black door. I tried to open it but of course it was locked. I walked down the front steps and looked at the walk of fame for a few seconds. Then, I decided to go around the to the back to continue my observation. I took a seat on the steps and watched as students continued to cross the quad to and from class. As I sat there, I noticed some of the student would look my way as if they were wondering why I was just sitting there on the steps. I guess it's not normal for people to hang around Denny Chimes unless they're touring the campus or attending the ceremony before the A-Day game.
Coincidently, about fifteen minutes later a campus tour group showed up. The tour guide was telling the group the reason the tower was built and the significance of the walk of fame. A young girl from the group was taking pictures. I decided to pose just in case I was in the view of her lens. Some of the tourists found this amusing. I asked the girl if she planned on attending the university in the fall. She said that she had not decided yet, but the University of Alabama is one of her top three choices. I told her about my experiences and how it was a good university. Then she asked me about football season. She had done some research on the university and heard stories about how crazy some of the Alabama fans are and how much they love football. I told her it's all true. Then she admitted to not being much of a sports person, but I could tell that she was interested in the Alabama football traditions.
I waved good bye to the group and continued with my observations. I was about to bring my observations to a close, when I heard something from behind me. I turned and saw a girl coming towards Denny Chimes along the sidewalk to the right. She seemed like she might be I nice person, so I decided to ask her a question. I smiled and asked her if it was okay if her asked her a few questions, she said yes. I asked her for her name. She said her name was Leona. Then I asked her for her status and major. She said, “I'm a sophomore majoring in dance and minoring in computer science”. Then I asked her, “do you know the significance of Denny Chimes, and what does Denny Chimes mean you”? Leona paused for a brief moment to think, then she said, “ I think the building was built in memory for the first president of UA. But I know they have the walk of fame ceremony over hear every year before the A-Day game starts. And a memory I have of Denny Chimes is one of me when I was a freshman. I can remember this like it was yesterday. It was my first semester here. I was like still unfamiliar with the campus but I felt a little embarrassed having to walk around campus with a map I front of me so I put the map away. I thought since I looked over the map last night I would be okay. Well it wasn't cause for some reason I could not for the life of me figure out how to get to the building I was looking for. I'm the type of person that doesn't ask for help unless I absolutely have to. After I wandered around for about five minutes I was just about to give in and ask for directions when I heard Denny Chimes. I was so relieved cause I knew Denny Chimes was close to the building I was looking for. If I could just spot Denny Chimes I would be okay, but I also knew I had to hurry because I didn't want to be late for class the first day there. I would have been so embarrassed if I had to walk in and the whole class was already seated. So I followed the sound of Denny Chimes back to the sidewalk in front of the building and was good from there. I found my building and made it to class on time. I was extremely relieved and happy.”
I thanked her for sharing her experience with me and she walked off. I looked at the time and it was a quarter till 2pm. I had no idea I had been outside that long. I decide I would make one more quick observation and then leave. I turned around and saw a man,probably in his late 60's, looking at the most recent squares of the hall of fame. He had a coffee cup in his hand and he looked as if he was lost in thought. I decided to speak to get his attention. Startled,he looked up and spoke back.
I introduced myself and explained to him that I was doing research on Denny Chimes for a paper in my English class. I asked him if he had any memories or past experiences at Denny Chimes that he wanted to share. He agreed to share his experience with me but he did not want his name published. He said his experience was one he would never forget. He began, “it was the year 1959. I was a junior in college and I was majoring in business. I really wanted to major in art. I was an excellent artist. There wasn't anything that I couldn't draw. But since my dad was paying for m education, I had to do what he wanted me to do. He said I should major in something useful. Back then I was a young boy willing to do anything to please my dad. So I took up business. And it was my junior year that I met my wife. I was standing in front of Denny Chimes waiting on a pal of mine and that's when I saw her for the first time. Oh she was beautiful. She was without a doubt the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen. I had to say something or do something to get her to notice me. She was about walk by me and I almost missed my opportunity when she glanced down at the walk of fame. There was my chance. I told her I knew all there was to know about the walk of fame and if she had any questions I was the guy she should talk to. It was lucky for me she was from out of state so everything I said was new to her. We stood here in front of Denny Chimes talking and laughing for about an hour. I took my chances and asked her out on a date and we've been together ever since. I proposed to her right here on these steps where we first met.” I thanked him for sharing and decided to call it a day. I looked at the time. It was 2pm. I took one last look at Denny Chimes then walked off with the musical chimes ringing in my ear.

It's important to know why Denny Chimes was built as well who maintains it. If no one did maintenance on the tower, it would not be standing or working today. Therefore, I decided to interview someone who works on the inside and outside of Denny Chimes. The first person I interviewed was Neal Dichiar. Neal is the grounds manager. Grounds is the crew that's in charge of the outside maintenance of most buildings on campus. Grounds usually does such things like cut the grass, plant flowers, and repair buildings.
I arrived at Neal's office around 12:55pm. The interview started at 1pm. Upon entering his office, one of the first things I noticed was his calender. The calender was white with a sketched drawing of Denny Chimes in red in for the month of June. He also had his degree, which has a picture of Denny Chimes on it, sitting on a shelf next to his desk.
The first question I asked Neal was about the specific requirements for the care and maintenance of Denny Chimes. He said “First off you would have to look at the materials Denny Chimes is made of. It's a granite, masonry and metal and windows and things of that nature. The inside has a stair well, a room. We're primarily focused on the maintenance of those things. We, in my time here which has only been a few months I'm not aware of any on going efforts thats been you know..... We have done some cleaning around the base of Denny Chimes but we actually are kicking off a project on June 22nd to do extensive restoration of Denny Chimes. Which means we will actually start at the top, repair all the granite and masonry all that. We will you know re point all the blocks and then and fix that portion of it. We'll also replace the metal within the cover of the bells, you know theres like a grid I don't know if you've ever paid attention to that. We'll actually replace that with an exact replica and inside that we have a screen there's a lot of birds and bats and creatures that like to get in there and cause problems so we have so keep those out. So what we do in that work we're gonna replace the windows, freshen up the inside and actually refinish the bronze door. So there's extensive effort gonna start June 22nd, but as far as I know in the past it's been as things have been problems they've fixed them.”
I asked that with all this going on at one time, if Denny Chimes was cleaned or repaired once a month. Neal told me that Denny Chimes was cleaned on an as needed bases. He isn't sure if there is a regular schedule. He mentioned that grounds does some of the cleaning around the base. I am certain that grounds is responsible for cutting the grass around Denny Chimes and trimming the bushes also. They are also responsible for keeping the area around Denny Chimes pretty by sweeping the walk and fame and planting flowers.
Then I asked Neal to tell me what he thinks the significance of Denny Chimes is. Neal replied, “I think it's the imagery I think of when I think of he University of Alabama. I mean just like my diploma says right there it has a picture of Denny Chimes on it. It is the, the, it is what I think of when I think of the University of Alabama. Which I mean, you know, at one time I probably thought of the football team first, but actually thats a symbol of service and the things that go on here on the campus.”
To be honest, football was the first thing I thought of too when I thought of the University of Alabama. And it still is the first thing I think of when I think about the university. However, when I think of the university, the image that I see is that of Denny Chimes. If I was asked to draw a picture of the University of Alabama, I would not try to draw the whole university. All I would have to do is draw a picture of Denny Chimes.
Neal mentioned earlier in the interview that he attended the University of Alabama. I asked him what Denny Chimes meant to him then as a student. Neal admitted to taking the tower for granted when he was a student at the university. I asked him if he ever attended any of the football games as student and he said he attended a few. Then I asked him ever attend the ceremony at Denny Chimes that they have before the A-Day game? He said, “Did you know the walk of fame ceremony, our guys do that. The guys that do the maintenance here. We do, we have masons that have been in charge of putting the captains hand prints in that sidewalk for many years. We're very involved in that, thats a great tradition to me. That's something we take a lot of pride in.”
I had no idea that they were responsible for the helping the football captains place their hand and footprints in the wet cement. I always thought they called someone off campus to do the job. This just proves how dedicated the University of Alabama workers are and why they are so proud of the university. It's because they put a lot of work and effort into what the do. And who shouldn't be proud of keeping a great landmark like Denny Chimes in shape.
As i mentioned earlier, I was curious about who does the repair and maintenance of Denny Chimes. In addition, I wanted to know who operates the bells and controls the music also. When I interviewed Neal Dichiar he was only able to give me information about the repair and maintenance of Denny Chimes. I asked him about the bells and the music played in Denny Chimes and he told me that the operation of the bells was somebody else's job. He told me that Mike Largin was in charge of programming the bells and making sure the music plays.
After my interview with Neal Dichiara, he I asked me if I would like to talk to Mike Largin about be music being played in Denny Chimes. I immediately agreed. I thought that would be an excellent idea, but I didn't think I would get a chance to talk to him anytime soon. However, I was wrong. Once I agreed to talk to Mike Largin, Neal picked up the phone and dialed his number. About five minutes later I was sitting inside of Mike Largin's office.
After we introduced ourselves, the first question I asked Mike was what he thinks the significance of Denny Chimes is. Mike pondered the question for a moment then replied, “To me Denny Chimes is like an iconic representative of the university. I mean when people see a picture of Denny Chimes they immediately identify it with the University of Alabama.” His answer just proves what I discussed earlier about how people related Denny Chimes to the University of Alabama.
I asked Mike if he attended college at this university and he said he did not. Which lead to the question of whether or not he attended any of the football games. He said he attended one or two a while back. I mentioned to him that I heard that during home games the Alabama fans could request songs for the Denny Chimes to play. I asked him to tell me what it is like working in Denny Chimes on game days. Mike said, “If we're doing a live performance then someone from the music department would actually play. We have an organ thats inside the base of the chimes that they can play and thats tied in with the bells or it could be simulated chimes that could also be it. Now if a music student isn't available and they're wanting a performance done then that would be my responsibility.” Then he added, “Ordinarily I'm responsible for the up keep of the chimes. I'm responsible for the maintenance to the carillon. The maintenance to the bells, make sure ever thing is in good working order.”
I like to hear about the personal experiences people have at there work place. Mike Lagin has work been working for the University of Alabama for 23 years. I asked him what was the most memorable experience he has had while working in Denny Chimes. Mike replied, “ Well we replaced the old carillon that was in there. We totally up graded it to a new digital carillon. We're in the process of having the organ refurbished. So there's been some changes inside that took place since I took over. I also was involved in the installation of all the electrical work that took place up at the top. I've had to climb around and lift the bells and things like that so.”
No one can see them but each of the 25 bells in Denny Chimes has a plaque on it. I asked Mike to elaborate on the subject. He said, “well first you got to know a little history about the chimes. Some time during world war, two of the original chimes were removed. They were jc diggin chimes they were like brass pipes. Ok, whether they were melted down for war effort I don't know exactly what happened to them. But from approximately from 1943-44 up until 1986 there were no chimes. It was just simulated chimes played through speakers. Well a group of people wanted to change that. They wanted bells put back up there. So there was a fund raising drive that took place and donors were given the option of putting there names on plaques on the bells and so the money was raised to buy the 25 bells. They were installed and the plaques were put in place. And I can verify they're there.”

Interviewing Neal Dichiara and Mike Largin has made me appreciate Denny Chimes more than ever. Now when I look at Denny I see more than just a 115 foot tall tower. When I look at Denny Chimes now, I see inside the tower. I see the 25 bells with the plaques on them. I see the hard work that people like Mike and Neal put into Denny Chimes. But most importantly when I look at Denny Chimes now I see the past, present, and future of the University of Alabama. I see the icon of the university.
However, all this information is not as important as knowing why the landmark was built. The reason most landmarks are built is because something special or important happened at a certain location or place. A landmark is an event marking an important stage of development or a turning point in history, or a building or site with historical significance. Denny Chimes is a landmark that has been on the campus of the University of Alabama for years. But, it's not surprising that some people don't know why Denny Chimes was built. When I say people don't know why it was built, I mean they don't know the events that lead to Denny Chimes being built. What most people know is that it was built for one of the presidents of the University of Alabama. However, most people don't know what made president George H. Denny so special. There were fourteen presidents before George H. Denny, but none of them were celebrated or praised as much as him. What better way is there to learn about Denny Chimes than to learn about the man it was built for.
George Hutcheson Denny received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Virginia's Hampden-Sydney College and in 1896 completed his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Denny served as a professor of Latin and German at Washington and Lee University and in 1902 was named president of the institution, a post he resigned to accept the presidency of the University of Alabama January 1, 1912. The new president quickly won the support of faculty, alumni, and trustees by his forthright assessment of the University's problem and his conviction that with their help he could build an institution of which the entire state would be proud ( Wolfe).
During Denny's presidency at the University of Alabama, there were a lot of major events happening in the world. World War I began on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This seemingly small conflict between two countries spread rapidly: soon, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, and France were all drawn into the war, largely because they were involved in treaties that obligated them to defend certain other nations. In early April 1917, the United States, angered by attacks upon its ships in the Atlantic, declared war on Germany. World War I ended in 1918 (
Everyone, parents, teachers, students, was effected by the toll of this massive war. Once the war began, the university gradually became a military school. Once the transformation was complete, a lot of sacrifices were made, such as closing down the student bookstore. Acorrding to a 1918 issue of the Crimson White newspaper, “It was understood that the military authorities were not in very hearty sympathy with the continuance of the Supply Store and rather favored shutting it down permanently. The opinion of the military authorities was that the students were soldiers, and should do their trading at Canteen.(1)” It seems that the students didn't have a say what happened during this time. All their money went to war funds. According to the Crimson White, “The quotas that were given to the schools were much larger than quotas assigned to the rest of the country because of the fact that smaller subscriptions were made to bond issues, and the students were more able to give largely to the drive.” The paper also states that the University of Alabama was assigned the largest amount of money of any school in the state to raise.
President George Denny recognized that the students that enrolled during the war did not know what college life was or what college standards were. Even though the war was over, the hard times were not. According to the Crimson White, “he characterized their present as “a trying and a critical period” for colleges throughout the country, stating that no sooner had they passed from a peace curriculum to a war curriculum than the epidemic of influenza swept across the country causing more deaths in six weeks than were caused in the United States in the war which has just ended.” I'm sure that it was almost impossible for college students to focus on their classes during those times. President Denny addressed the hard times during a speech and how he was going to help. According to the Crimson White, “he announced that examinations for the first term began December 12 of that year: that beginners' courses would be offered the second term that began January 3 of the following year and that ten hours' credit would be given for the first term to all students regardless of whether they passed their examinations or not, provided that the examinations at the end of second term were passed.” It's things such as this that made him a close friend and great president to the students
Eleven years later, another tragedy occurred. America's "Great Depression" began with the dramatic crash of the stock market on "Black Thursday", October 24, 1929 when 16 million shares of stock were quickly sold by panicking investors who had lost faith in the American economy. In Alabama, agriculture had been "depressed" for the entire decade, directly effecting 78% of the population that lived in rural areas in 1920. Significant segments of the industrial economy had begun to decline in output and income as early as 1926. Thus, when the Great Depression hit, poorer Alabamians hardly registered the difference ( The same came be said for student at the university since most of their money went to the war effort and the recovery afterwards.
The Great Depression was not a happy time for anyone living in the United States, especially leaders. Many people during that time decided to give up on living. It was not easy to be a leader during the Great Depression because almost everyone had lost everything they had including their faith but not George H. Denny. During the time he served at the University of Alabama, Denny led the institution through the Great Depression of the 1930's, establishing strict financial policies and priorities that would influence the university's direction long after he resigned. However, it wasn't easy and things did not change over night.
Denny knew that the state of Alabama was a poor state even before the Great Depression hit, and he could not ignore that things had gotten worse. Nevertheless, he had to encourage people to believe that an education was still necessary. “We hear the cry of distress in every avenue of life. The rural people are complaining that agriculture is languishing. How is the average farmer of the future to flourish, or even to exist, unless we educate him to mix less fertilizer and more brains with the soil? The number of banks that are collapsing in Alabama and in the lower South is out of all proportion to the number that are collapsing in other sections of the economy” (Denny). Still, George H. Denny pressed on.
The campus Denny inherited in 1912 contained nine major buildings, including classroom buildings and dormitories. Only four hundred students were enrolled at the time. During his years as president, the School of Commerce and Business Administration, the Extension Division, the Graduate School, the School of Chemistry, and the School of Home Economics were established (Wolfe).
All the people of Alabama needed was motivation and George H. Denny was it. Denny knew that the financial crisis they were going through would not last forever. He believed that misfortune and poverty would last as long as they allowed it to last. Denny's main goal was to motivate the people of Alabama to work hard and trust that it would pay off. According to Alabama School Journal “Alabama is, as already said, relatively a poor State measured in terms of per capita wealth. Not only so, but we realize that we must work out our own financial destiny. No one else will help us. We must lift ourselves by our own boot-straps. There is but one way out of such a dilemma. That way is the way of struggle and sacrifice” , Denny said this at a board meeting.
One of the reasons the students loved Denny so much was because he was involved in their lives on campus. He wanted the students at the University of Alabama to enjoy all the privileges that other universities had. With Denny's encouragement, fraternities, sororities, and athletics flourished. In addition, women's enrollment rose, and the first recreational and housing facilities built exclusively for women were constructed. The amazing record growth was made possible by funds from the highly successful Million Dollar Campaign of 1922, by legislative appropriations in the late 1920's and by the stringent spending policies that Denny imposed on almost every aspect of campus(Wolfe).
Indeed, George Denny had it all planned out. He already had a proposal for when he came before board to discuss the present crisis of the school. Alabama School Journal “We can for the time being eliminate the least import things in our programs. We can tighten our belts. We can live within our budgets. We can keep our own house in order. We cab refuse to over-spend. We can make more conservative estimates of our probable income. We can provide in part for losses in our income (1) by retrenchments, or (2) by postponement of proposed expansions, or (3) by the use of reserves set up in more prosperous times. These are the devices that I have attempted to employ during three decades of experience in educational administration both in Virginia and in Alabama. These are the devices that tend to fortify us in times of financial stress” (Denny).
The university's financial situation remained one of Denny's primary concerns throughout his term as president. In 1914 he presented the board of trustees with statistics showing that the university's annual per student income from the state was forty three percent lower than the average income received by nineteen comparable state universities in the South and the West. In 1917, he remained the legislature that university appropriations had increased only slightly in ten years. And in 1919 he noted that university appropriations exceeded those allocated to the state's normal schools by only five thousand dollars. Said Denny, “There is no parallel to this situation, as far as I can ascertain, in the case of any university owned and controlled by an American commonwealth” (Wolfe).
George Denny was indeed an amazing leader of his time. It takes a real man with ultimate strengths to successfully lead an entire university through World War I and the Great Depression. What I found so amazing about him was his ability to influence and encourage others around him. Denny had a tremendous amount of passion for improving the university and its financial situation. The passion he had gave him an extraordinary amount of power. The “financial wizardry” that had enabled him to increase the university's endowment while constructing “one of the most beautiful campuses in the South” were repeatedly lauded ( Wolfe).
It was no wonder the students on campus were devastated when they heard that president Denny was retiring. At first it was just a rumor but the students quickly learned it was true. The students were very sad because he was not just a president but also a friend to the students. He had a remarkable memory for names and faces that won him countless friends throughout the state as well. All the students referred to president Denny as Mike. The students would not let Mike go without a fight and they were relieved when he decided to stay. According to a 1928 issue of The Crimson White, “The cry of “We Want Mike” has had some effect. All are just now beginning to realize how and where they stand and what he means to the school. In every student's mind there was the question, “Is Mike going to stay with us?” “Yes”. That is characteristic of Dr. Denny. All have expressed appreciation at his remaining at Alabama”. A man that incredible was not easy to let go.
However, the students and faculty knew that Denny would not be president of the university forever. Denny had to retire eventually so they wanted a way to remember him and what he achieved for the University of Alabama. President George H. Denny definitely left his mark on the university. Therefore, the students thought that it was necessary to dedicate something on the campus to him. The idea of a bell tower came up again. All the students and faculty agreed it would be a good idea to build the tower and name it Denny Chimes.
Unfortunately, the school's funds were still low at the time. So the students had to raise the money themselves. The students decided to make a fund drive. According to the 1928 issue of the Crimson White newspaper, Every student was expected to contribute one dollar, making the quota for the initial drive three thousand dollars. That amount, is was said, was sufficient for an immediate start on the work of installing the Chimes. Contributions were received by class roll call on December 18 of that year. Although it was expected that every student would give one dollar to the Campanile fund, some students gave more.
Less than a year later, Denny Chimes was complete in 1929. Thus, Denny Chimes is not just another land mark. It is the icon of the University of Alabama. It symbolizes what the university and the state of Alabama has been through since WWI and the Great Depression and who helped the students pull through those hard times.


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