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Bell Clapper Explanation

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Bell Clapper Explanation

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A fair amount of lore surrounds the bell clapper at Princeton Theological Seminary.

First, it’s perhaps worth clarifying what a bell clapper is. Within a bell, there is a striking implement, usually a metal tongue suspended from the bell’s center. This is the clapper. The PTS bell clapper was part of the bell hanging over Alexander Hall, the Seminary’s original building. Since the early nineteenth-century, the bell rang to signal the beginning and end of class periods.

Over the years, the bell aggravated thousands of seminarians. A popular prank developed: students would climb into the belfry and remove the clapper from its nest, thus preventing the bell from making any sound when it was rung. Once the bell clapper was freed, students had to put it somewhere; thus, the clapper was passed from student to student and, on some occasions, from state to state. The practice continued through the Seminary’s two hundred year history – but the bell clapper always found its way back to the Seminary. (Of course, some sources suggest that the administration kept a “store” of clappers to cultivate precisely this impression.) A PTS alum recalls the bell clapper being strapped to a classmate’s waist, under his robe, at the 2005 commencement. When his name was called, he mounted the dais, pulled out the clapper, and – bowing before Dr. Torrance – presented the clapper to him. The entire class erupted into applause.

Current PTS students are less familiar with the clapper and its mythology. Indeed, the bell above Alexander Hall is no longer rung, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the bell clapper remains hung within it. Its rich legacy lives on nonetheless – in the PTS Admissions Blog!

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