Thursday, June 30, 2011

 Some days, it is green and pink; other days, it is red and black. Some nights, it is purple and white; yet by dawn, it is gold and green – or maroon and white. Today we remember the Victory Bell by its coat of paint, but did you know its ring used to be a sound of triumph?

On October 1, 1940, at an assembly sponsored by the Lettermen’s Association (today the Fairmont State Athletic Association), the Victory Bell was presented to Fairmont State Teachers College (today Fairmont State University) by the City of Fairmont.

Once on a Monongahela River oil barge, the bell was rung to announce athletic team victories and could be heard throughout the city. It was given the name “Old Boaz,” likely in honor of Boaz Fleming, the founding father of Fairmont. Students selected John “Shorty” Heim, a well-liked maintenance worker, to be the official bell ringer. In the 1940s, it was required under penalty by the Freshmen Counselors that freshmen men tip their beanie caps to the bell and freshmen women curtsey as they passed by as a symbol of respect.

With World War II, the Victory Bell was declared silent and was not rung again until V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) on May 8, 1945. It was rung for that victory and for the Americans still fighting in the South Pacific. 

When the tradition shifted from ringing to painting the bell remains a mystery, but it likely occurred in the late 1960s. Over the decades, the bell’s location has changed with the expanding campus, and its clapper and handle have been removed. The Victory Bell still stands as a colorful expression of school spirit. For years, student organizations and sororities and fraternities have competed to make their mark on the bell. A Facebook page even serves as a public forum for those claiming the right to say “I have painted the bell.”

Like the colorful layers of paint, the Victory Bell blends traditions – old and new. Today, we pause to say we remember.

Special thanks to retired professor of speech communication and theatre JoAnn Lough, Class of 1952, and Linda Morgan, Class of 1966, for this information.