Perhaps this should be called the Unfamous Bell Tower Prank of 1996, since almost nobody knows about it. It happened on May 26th 1996, which, not coincidentally, was the date that I graduated from high school.

First, some background:
The Bell Tower overlooked my high school's front lawn, where graduation was held every year, where many games of frisbee took place, where much nookie was had in the evenings, and this bell tower can be seen in the movie Dead Poets Society and in the last episode of the second season of The West Wing. It rings every hour on the hour, except after lights-out. Yes, I went to a very picturesque high school, and yes, it had draconian rules. In case you're wondering, it's in Middletown, Delaware, and it's called St. Andrew's. Anyway.

This Dark Tower has really only one way in, which is from the trash room on Voorhees Corridor on the 3rd floor. The door to this trash room opens inward to a blank wall, which will be important later. The left wall is lined with trash cans, and the right wall has two doors. One goes into the broom closet and one goes up to the bell tower. The tower door is locked both at the knob and with a Master lock, so it seemed hopeless that we (the students) would ever get in.

But Dan had a keyring. It had the number two key, which was a sort of skeleton key that was number two in the key hierarchy, and opened everything but the Virgin Mary's chastity belt, the headmaster's house, and the Master Lock. We didn't ask him how he got it, because then if someone asked us, we'd be under the Honor Code to tell them. Plausible Deniability and all that.

So, we could get into the closet, but not the ladder, but that was close enough, because the closet had a crawl space that led to the ladder! Jubilation! Huzzah! Step one was complete--we had access.

Originally, of course, it was access for access' sake. Having access, however, changed our viewpoint considerably, and a prank was devised.

The bells atop the tower turned out to be a big ass amplifier and a timer attached to an audio input that ran to the carillon in the chapel basement. All we needed was to replace the input with something suitably rebellious and we'd be heroes. Dave made a tape of a few obnoxiously juvenile songs like "Asshole" by Denis Leary and "Closer" by NIN. Anything with foul language went on the tape. Someone donated a walkman, and we jerry-rigged it with gaffer tape and hot glue so that it would never function as anything but a player for the tape currently inside it, and it would never stop no matter how much you pushed the button.

Our student lounge had a stereo system provided for our class by filthy rich alumni. At the playing of the National Anthem after our graduation, ownership of this equipment reverted to the class below us, who were, quite frankly, wankers. We needed a receiver to send signal to the amplifiers in the tower, so we did a few late-night stealth trials to ensure that we could retrieve this stereo equipment at will without security finding us. Then we put it back and waited for graduation week.

Meanwhile, other members of the conspiracy were hard at work on ways to glorify and enhance this prank. About a week before the big day, Ganley, Woody, and I took some wood from the theatre program's tech area and dragged it into the woods. No, there's no Indian Cave there. With what meager tools and hardware we could scrape together, we built a truss exactly the width of the narrow dimension of the trash room. We left it in the woods near a pothead refuge called Houses of the Holy, where we knew nobody would look for it, or if they found it, would be too high to disturb it or suss out its true purpose.

Someone bought a hacksaw and a Master Lock downtown, with the idea that we could replace the existing lock with our own lock; this would speed up our access later on, and slow down anyone else trying to put things "right" on Graduation Day.

On the big night, we waited for lights out and sent crews to borrow the stereo receiver, retrieve the truss, and assemble the monstrosity that was our hacked-together propaganda machine. When all the components were in place, it was nearly sunrise. To this day, I regret not climbing the ladder to watch the sun rise over the lake on the morning of my high school graduation. The old lock had been hacked away methodically all night long, and we finally broke it. Once the sun was up, the last one down the ladder pressed PLAY and set the timer for 1:30 PM, by which time we should technically no longer be members of the school (and therefore, not subject to school discipline). The padlock was slapped on the door to the ladder, and Dan locked it with his #2 key. The truss was brought in, leaned against the back wall, opposite the door, and a long thread was tied from its top crossbar to the doorknob. The door was pulled closed, and from out in the hallway of Voorhees, we heard a satisfying thud of the truss slapping into place. Dan locked this door as well.

Graduation came and went uneventfully, except for a moment around 1 PM when someone mentioned that the bell tower's timer might be "plus or minus 15 minutes" because he had been inebriated while setting it. The ceremony went until 1:28. About ten minutes went by with general merriment and relieved looks--no matter what happened now, short of a fire or some other really Bad Thing, we were off the hook.

A loud squeal, some static crackling, and the music began. It was glorious. Profanity blared across the world, courtesy of the most recent graduates of this august institution. From here on out, I have to admit that I was not present, but my retelling of James' words will have to do.

Maintenance, in true Groundskeeper Willie fashion, realized too late that a prank had been pulled. Two of the staff, previously collecting chairs from the lawn, sprinted upstairs. After unlocking the door to the trash room... nothing. The truss held. Bad words were uttered loudly. They went downstairs to their golf cart, drove across campus to their tool shed, and retrieved a circular saw, with which they removed the door from its hinges. Recall, of course, that the door opened inward, so its hinges were out of the way of mischief. The door was kicked down, and the keys for the Master Lock were found. Their lock, however, was now in Noxontown Pond. The new lock was removed with the circular saw--the hasp that the lock was in was simply removed from the door, violently. By the time they reached the top of the ladder, they were understandably pissed off. The first maintenance man up the ladder ripped the entire audio behemoth from its moorings and tossed it down the twenty foot shaft. The Class of 1997's stereo receiver became an expensive and fast-moving paperweight, and a good time was had by all.

names may have been changed to protect the guilty

Postscript (2004) : about a year ago I went to an a cappella party with the Johns Hopkins Mental Notes after an alumni show. It had been almost eight years since I graduated, but here's the kicker. My E2 username is the nickname I went by in high school, and was also a friendly stage name I used in the Mental Notes. At the party after the show, a girl who had been in the audience came up to me and said, "You're Jurph, right? From St. Andrew's?" I admitted that I was that same Jurph. She laughed and said, "I can't believe it's really you! My roommate will be so jealous." It turns out her roommate at JHU went to St. Andrew's, and the girl to whom I was speaking went to one of the big New England schools like Andover. Apparently this node is slightly famous within the boarding schools of the northeastern United States, and I am now something of a minor celebrity, both for helping with the prank, and for bragging about it here.