October 23, 2002: From the Archives
This fall PAW features excerpts from Elizabeth Greenberg 02s senior thesis about Princeton rituals and student traditions. Greenberg, who hopes to turn her thesis into a book, seeks further anecdotes and memories from PAWs readers. What were the successful strategies used to steal the bell clapper while you were at Princeton? What happened when you tried to uphold this tradition? E-mail Greenberg at eagreenb@-alumni.princeton.edu or write to her c/o PAW. To learn more about her project, go to www.princeton.edu/paw.
Bell-clapper stealing In March 1864, a daring undergraduate climbed the Nassau Hall tower and took the bell clapper. Since students were called to class by the bell, a missing clapper was an excuse to skip. In later years, stealing the clapper became a rite of honor for freshmen, and students became creative in their attempts to uphold tradition. Many scaled the outside walls to reach the cupola; others hid inside the building until the late hours. In 1986 students dressed as workmen removed the clapper in broad daylight.
The university vacillated between making it easier and harder for student thieves. In lenient times, Nassau Hall was even left unlocked. But when students were injured one year, the university installed alarms in the belfry. The clapper was permanently removed in 1992, when a student fell from the roof and was badly hurt.