Thursday, July 13, 2006

Treasure Hunt

The campus of IIT hasn't changed much in 35 years. It does now as it has since the 70s, have more space that it needs and so there's been no need to reclaim/re-explore old domains. As enrollment grows now, this is just starting to happen. The result? The school has become an amazingly good packrat. Nothing has been thrown out since the 60s, it seems. Except for Eames chairs (found in the dumpster during the renovation of Wishnick), of course.

On to the story:

While looking through the archives from 1928-1980 of the campus newspaper, the TechNews (then called the Technology News) I found this:

The article is dated from 1963. Apparently an alum donated a carillon (bells) to the university in 1950. Originally they were installed in the old Student Union, which we know now as Armour Mission, which was demolished in 1960 to make space for Galvin Library. The carillon chimed every hour and played the alma mater at 9am, noon, and 5pm. In typical IIT fashion, this being a tech school and also home of the inventor of magnetic tape, the carillon was electronic. It could use real chimes, keyboard, or play from a tape deck.

As another article dated in spring of 1963 states, the students loved the bells and asked that they be saved from the Student Union demolition and reinstalled somewhere else on campus. As this article states, they were, in November of 1963, installed in the basement of MC Building (now known as Perlstein Hall, named in the later 60s after a trustee). It speaks of plans to build a glass room around the carillon so that it could be admired by students.

The next we hear of it is 1978. The TechNews publishes an article (I can't find it online, but the university archivist showed it to me) that briefly states that the carillon was fixed, after stopping working in 1973. ...And that's the last we hear of it, from official sources, anyway.

So, I got curious. This being IIT, it had been entirely possible that the school threw it out at some point when it was feeling overly careless about its past. However, that would have required someone to lift the thing (which looks heavy) out of the basement, which seems against its whole packrat-like nature. So, I had high hopes.

So, I headed down to where it was supposed to be, near the southwest stairwell of Perlstein. The first time I went, back in May, I found nothing, and came back disappointed. This time, this Tuesday, however, I found this:



Well, the plaque was still there. However, from reading the 1978 article, I was convinced the carillon was on the landing of the stairwell, in what is now numbered as room 133. It was locked, so I had to enlist the help of the facilities department and eventually a somewhat mean-acting woman in the President's Office who is also building coordinator of Perlstein. She didn't have the keys but we ended up going down there to see what we could find anyway. So, we checked the unlocked rooms first.

This is what we saw upon entering room 034:

And there it was. Sitting in a dingy but very much used area of the building. According to a woman we talked to that discovered us looking at it down there, who came to IIT in 1975, it worked for only a few years after she came. Apparently, the professors in Wishnick (the speakers for it were mounted on the roof there) got annoyed with it so they shut it off.

Nowadays, I could see the students loving something like this. It would make this old urban campus feel more like a traditional university, yet it being electronic is totally IIT's style. However, the logistics of getting this thing working again are probably insurmountable. If you can see in the photographs, the tape deck uses a type of tape no longer widely available. Also, Wishnick is being renovated and so the speakers atop the roof were probably thrown away in the process. Not to mention the bureaucracy that would be involved in such an undertaking.

But, it's still very much here, seemingly untouched for the past 25 years. Cool, don't you think?

There's a lot more where that came from.


Post a Comment

<< Home