Where the Bells Toll, He Keeps Time

Thanks to Leo Croft, Gasson clock can spring ahead and fall behind

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

On this Gothic campus, he turns back the hands of time.

This past Sunday, Boston College electrician Leo Croft climbed a winding spiral staircase to a chamber a flight above the Rotunda dome and turned the hands of the clock in Gasson Tower an hour back to Eastern Standard Time.

Electrician Leo Croft in the Gasson Hall tower: "You can make time go backwards or forwards - time literally flying." (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Next spring, Croft will repeat the process in turning the clock ahead. He's also the man who shinnies out on a board to crank down the Gasson Rotunda chandelier when its bulbs need changing, and who tolls the tower bells on special occasions, as when the 9/11 memorial labyrinth on campus was dedicated last month.

"Some call me the Hunchback of Boston College," the 25-year veteran of the campus electrical shop said, with a laugh.

The job of keeping the time has changed since Gasson Tower was built in 1913. The original cast-iron clockworks made by E. Howard & Co. of Boston are no longer used. Neither are the weighted pulleys that had to be cranked up weekly, as in a grandfather clock.

Croft now changes the clock hands by means of a motor-driven gearbox tucked in the wall of the clock room. "You push the little motor out of the way and it releases the gears," he said. "You can make time go backwards or forwards - time literally flying."

The four bells in the tower parapet that sound on the quarter-hour and ring the Angelus at noon and 6 p.m. are controlled by a computerized mechanism located by the tower entrance in a third-floor utility closet.

History is written inside the tower - literally. A hulking ventilator in the clock room is covered with graffiti left by visitors over the decades. A box of chalk is kept on hand for that purpose. "We ask them nicely if they'd like to leave a little something up there," Croft said.

The veteran electrician known as the Keeper of the Bells has left his own scrawl in at least four places inside the tower. "Who knows how long our names will be up there?" Croft said.

The mark he has left on the school, as when tolling the bells at noon on 9/11, is similarly unseen by most. "A lot of stuff is done behind the scenes and nobody knows who does it," he said. "When you hear the bells toll, no one asks how it's done.

"It is nice to be part of the history of the college. It's thrilling."


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