Chicago Bell Ringer



By Donna McEwen




On May 6, 2023, “Ring for the King” events happened all over the bell-ringing world to commemorate the coronation of King Charles III. There are over 5,500 such full circle bell towers in the United Kingdom, and only about 150 in the rest of the ringing world, including 70 in Australia, 10 in South Africa, 7 in Canada and 48 in the United States, all places where the British have settled. The University of Chicago has one of these special bell towers, and about 25 ringers from all over North America, including from California, Washington, DC, Colorado, Minnesota and Quebec, Canada, congregated to merrily ring for the event.

Several of the ringers had only met each other during online ringing sessions, a new phenomenon since the pandemic began and ringers were not allowed inside towers to ring. When a young couple from Boston, Leland, and Brin Reimer, realized that nothing had been invented to allow people from other cities and countries to ring together virtually, they spent months developing the Ringing Room site. Ringing online has allowed people to keep up their skills. Traditionally, ringers meet in person to ring in each other’s towers, a very social sport, or art.


Ringers also practiced hand bell ringing while waiting for a turn on the tower bells


Inside the tower in Chicago, the bells were “rung up” (upside down to begin, which makes the bell speed easier to control).  Change ringing requires a team of people pulling ropes attached to large heavy bells, larger than a bathtub, which rotate a full 360 degrees. The biggest bells, which weigh over 2,000+ lbs. often need two people to ring up. Ringing is a wonderful upper body exercise.


#10 bell, the tenor, weighs 2,443 lbs and required two people to ring it up.


Tom Farthing, the Ringing Master in Chicago and the Communications Officer for the North American Guild of Change Ringers, ran a well-organized practice, making sure that all ringers got to ring whatever they desired, being coached along by other more experienced ringers. He devised games to hone people’s skills at moving around the huge bells and generally had everyone laughing and having a great time.


Many ringers in room.


It takes a few seconds to swing the bell, so the bells do not play melodies, but rather permutations, or changes, with each bell fitting into a rapid, constantly changing sequence. Ringers of all levels formed teams to ring bell sequences such as Plain Bob Minor, Stedman Triples and simple rounds. To ring these methods, ringers memorize a blue line, starting at different positions and ‘knit’ together their lines, without clashing into their neighbor’s bell. Memorizing the sequences and changes is an excellent mental exercise, at times even meditative. These sequences of ringing produce a ribbon of sound for the listeners outside.



According to an article in the UChicago News on May 3, “The bell tower that soars over the Reynolds Club has a strong connection to England. The structure was modeled after a 1509 tower at Oxford’s Magdalen College, and the chimes, which were dedicated in 1908 in honor of Alice Freeman Palmer, the first Dean of Women in the graduate schools, were cast by a London foundry.”

Not all ringers at the event feel a strong connection to England, but certainly Paul Graupner, who wore his British flag vest in between ringing sets and Rick DuPuy, who brought his homemade Coronation Chicken (see recipe here: ) to share at the lunchtime picnic made us happy to be participating in the day.


Paul’s festive vest reminded all of the coronation event happening in London, England.


Ringing friends from online sessions, (Chicago, Quebec, California & Indianapolis) meeting up again to ring in person, second time in the last year (photos by:  Laura Kang Ward and Donna McEwen).


May 6, 2023, was one of the last times the Mitchell bells will be rung full circle. The university has received a gift of ten brand new bells from a Rochester ringer, Chris Haller, alumnus of UChicago, and his wife, Helen Haller. The Mitchell bells will be raised and used exclusively for chiming in the future, when the new bells are installed below the Mitchell bells in the summer of 2023. So, ringers at this event felt doubly lucky to participate in one of the last full circle ringing events for these bells, and also in the coronation ringing for the new king. At the very end of the ringing day, Paul led everyone in saying three times “Hip Hip Hooray!” We didn’t have any bearskin hats to lift, as the British soldiers did in London!


Photo by Haley Barnett


To see the bells in action and for more information consult: