The solemnly melodic sound of the Lowell House bells, rung at 1 p.m. every Sunday, should be familiar to students and Cambridge residents who live near the river houses or the Yard.
Some, frustrated by the loud interruptions to Sunday naps, jokingly complain that the reverberations must reach as far as the Quad.
To Jamie Knox '97, one of the four Lowell residents who pull the ropes of the bells, the little-known privilege is also an effort to preserve one of the best audible traditions at Harvard.
«[My blockmates and I] did it a few times last year, and we enjoyed it a lot,» says Knox, who since September has shared the duty with Brian R. Blais '97, Michael A. Cress '97 and Rolland W. Ho '97.
«It’s a cool tradition,» Knox says.
The set of 15 bronze bells was later given to Lowell House by an alum, who acquired them from a Ukrainian monastery earlier this century.
They were originally intended for a similar bell tower in Eliot.
Traditionally a reminder of Sunday brunches, the bells are also rung at special events, such as house dinners and Halloween, when they’re are struck 13 times.
In the past, house residents took turns ringing the 15 bells at the top of the Lowell tower.
The bell ringer has never been an official position in the house, and Knox says there was no selection process for bell ringers.
This flexibility makes the bell tower a bit more accessible than it perhaps ought to be.
«Lots of people have keys to the bells,» says Knox, noting that previous bell ringers have allegedly distributed copies of the key to many students in the house. Drinking parties in the tower are the stuff of campus legends.
Students are welcome to simply show up at the tower pulpit if they want to wake up hundreds of grudging residents.
In fact, the blockmates say they would be happy to show anyone interested the right way to rock the Lowell bells.
«No one did the ringing the first two weeks of school so we just went to the house masters,» Knox says.
Ever since the four became the official bell ringers of Lowell, they have never missed a Sunday at the bells. They begin at 1, and the ringing stops by 1:15 p.m.
The 15-minute limit is no arbitrary choice. According to Knox, a Cambridge ordinance restricts the duration of public bell-ringing.
The limit may have been imposed by annoyed Cantabrigians.
Although the bell ringing tradition is a source of pride for Lowell residents, not everyone is enthusiastic about having an alarm many times louder than even residents in distant Wigglesworth would like.
«Some people are annoyed by [the bells’] atonal sound,» says Benjamin Brown '98, a Lowell House resident. «You can understand people getting a little bit cranky waking up to [the bells] after a late night.»
One might expect those living in the room directly under the bells to be the most disgruntled, but luckily, Knox and his roommates occupy that space.
Despite complaints and whining from Saturday night partiers, Brown says he wouldn’t mind trying the bell ringing some quiet Sunday morning.
«I definitely want to do it before I leave here,» he says. «It’s one of those quirky things about Harvard you shouldn’t miss.»