The “No-Bell” Tower or Who’s Got the Biggest (Ping-Pong) Balls of All?

It all began with a tip-off from a friendly Livingston Campus Facilities worker who told the RR team that “if y’all want to see something really scary, go to the Clock Bell Tower on top of the Waksman Institute on Busch Campus”. Now while Ray and I have pursued many leads on the College Avenue, Livingston, and Douglass Campuses – we seem to have a shortage of Busch Campus investigations. Also, once I heard the words “Clock Bell Tower”, I knew this quest was a definite, as there could be a chance for time travel a lá Marty McFly. All we needed was a DeLorean and a little lightning.

How I see the RR team in action (I’m Marty- Ray is Doc).

Anyway, Ray and I were also fortunate enough to have some guest investigators along for the evening. We’re happy to say that NJ Newspaper Staff Members “Writer X” and “Photographer Y” decided to join us in our pursuit for the strange and inexplicable at the Waksman Institute. Now our resident Handyman had told us that he was so scared of the tower that he literally “would never go back to that place” and that it had a “real bad feel”, and he even confided to us that he had found the place while guiding an “abestos expert” to the tower, and that his fear of the place was so strong that he “left that abestos lady up there” because he “just wanted to get the heck outta there”. We salute our Handyman for his candid, if non-chivalrous account (though who’s gonna mess with a woman that handles abestos?). 

In any case, Ray, Writer X, Photographer Y and I were ready for some scaring and the Tower didn’t disappoint. To get to the tower portion of the building, Ray and I had to employ our usual highly refined tactics of obtaining access to a public building; we simply tried the first available door in sight. While blundering about the first floor, we took note that there was a round enclave at the midpoint of the main hallway, which meant that the tower probably was several stories above this spot. After making a few wrong turns and backing hastily away from areas that were marked with BIOHAZARD signs, Ray and I hit the jackpot. We found an extremely narrow circular staircase in one of the maintenance rooms that led into one of the strangest “attic” type rooms I have ever seen at Rutgers. This room was lit, suggesting that someone accessed it previous to our arrival, yet the room below, from which we had come, was dark. The room was large, windowless, semi-circular and contained a ping-pong table which had clearly seen better days. It also contained smashed ping-pong balls, empty dusty beer bottles and old microbiology textbooks, circa 1984. There was also, oddly enough, a current issue of Newsweek, with the address label neatly cut away. Okay, so maybe we found some grad students’ hang-out, where they drink Corona’s, play beer pong and carefully remove any evidence of their identities by removing the address labels off their favorite mags. Actually, Writer X and Photographer Y pointed out another strange fact to us – that the ping pong table was fairly big and even when separated into two connecting sections, would have never fit in the only access point to the room – the narrow opening in the floor that the spiral staircase led up to. Clearly somebody, to satisfy their ping-pong craving, engineered the means to get the table in the room, although they must have had to remove some floorboards to do so. The only other possibility is that the ping-pong table was built into the room. It’s possible that back in the early 50’s when the building was constructed, some jolly and far-seeing builders installed the ping-pong table for the enjoyment of any future attic-dwellers to come. 

Anyway, in this room was another narrow circular stairway which led up into a dark room that turned out to be the balcony-level of the clock tower. While this room was dark, contained a high-ceiling, and was kind of eerie, it contained a door that led to one of the most beautiful views on Busch campus – an overlook of the golf course and a view of the New Brunswick skyline across the river. Ray, the valiant NJ crew and I took a moment to pause and digest this scenic spot, while crouching and keeping an ear to the floor for any movement in the room below. From the balcony level there was another spiral staircase which led us to the clock room proper. Again, it was a pitch-black room which probably contained bats, but alas, no other signs of life or even “un-life”. There was however, a long metal ladder which led up to one more floor, where we assumed the bell of the tower must be housed. 

This was a moment in the investigation where even the dauntless RR Duo had to pause, as we were starting hear weird noises, like soft howling, which we attributed to the wind, and the long staircase seemed to lead into a pitch depth of blackness that even our trusty flashlight couldn’t penetrate. Ray, who can be chivalrous (though I suspect he might have been influenced by the presence of our newspaper guests), manfully took the lead in climbing the ladder which led into, surprise, surprise, another small circular room atop the tower. But what the heck – where was our bell? We immediately noticed that there was no bell in the tower but instead some loudspeakers and wires which indicated an electronic set-up, instead of the expected old liberty bell complete with a crack. What a let down! However, there was one last final ladder that simply led to one off the loudspeakers – a rickety, worm-eaten thing, which felt like it would break under the slightest pressure. Once we ascertained that it was in fact a really crappy ladder that would in no way be safe to climb, the fearless (but maybe just stupid) investigator Ray proceeded at once to climb it, in an attempt to at least demonstrate some balls, ahem bells, in the otherwise bereft tower. After Ray climbed the ladder and proved that it could withstand a man’s weight, we were all struck deaf as for the first time in our knowledge of its existence, the tower “bell” began to chime. Being about two feet from the loudspeakers, all of us recoiled at the deafening clanging above our heads. Nobody fell down the ladder back to the floor below, but we very nearly were toppled over by the ceaseless clanging and chiming that rang in our ears well after our departure. 

In retrospect, Ray and I realized that (a) we have never heard the bell ring before and as we work nearby on Busch campus this is something to further investigate, (b) the tower is a “no-bell” tower which is entirely appropriate as the Waksman Institute is dedicated to “Nobel” prize-winner Selman Waksman for discovering the cure for tuberculosis, and lastly (c) Ray has the biggest balls of ’em all, (ping-pongs aside), at least in the Waksman Tower. 

©Rutgers Rarities and Unexplained Phenomena, 2005

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