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THE TOWER

Campus icon has colorful history

On February 26, 2019

VN photos / Marissa Barriuso

By Emily Jones / VN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

It’s the iconic symbol of the university – the building pictured more often than any other to represent the campus.

For more than 90 years, the clock tower has stood taller than any other structure in the neighborhood.

But it’s than just a symbol – or a reminder that you’re running late to class.

“It’s the chimney for the boilers” that heat the buildings, said David Vandelinder, director of facility operations on campus.

There are three boilers in the power house, and their exhaust comes out of the sandstone tower, which was built in 1927.

“It was the engineering and the powerhouse that were the first ones to be built on campus,” Vandelinder said. “The powerhouse used to be coal-fired.”

Because of this, the building used to be black with soot.

In fact, unwashed portions of the tower are still visible, and one can see them by looking carefully.

The tower was dedicated as a memorial to students who gave their lives during World War I.

A plaque affixed to the lower portion of the tower includes the names of the fallen, meticulously etched in the light-colored stone.

“The plaque itself had a big deal when it was done,” said Pat Higo, Detroit Mercy librarian, who is in charge of the university archives.

The clock tower hasn’t always been a successful timekeeper.

According to the university archives, for around 12 years it only told “the right time twice a day.”  

It has also hosted its fair share of guests over the years.

For some time now, peregrine falcons have inhabited the tower.

There is a debate over whether the falcons currently there are part of the original flock.

The falcons have been tagged by the Department of Natural Recourses, so they are identifiable by the pink bracelets worn on their legs.

There was also scaffolding in the tower to accommodate DNR workers, so they could check up on the falcons.

Over the years, the tower has been the site of pranks and shenanigans.

And when the campus hosted a Reserve Office of Training Corps (ROTC), it was reportedly even used for exercises.

Young soldiers would repel down its side on ropes, as if coming off a cliff.

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