My curiosity about the 1948 theft of the 1,200-pound University of Colorado bell, and its mysterious reappearance two years later, was first aroused 10 years ago. I was chatting with members of the Class of ’52, who were on campus to celebrate their 50-year reunion. Naturally, I asked: “How did they do it? Who did it?” No one had any idea.
This intrigued me. Once the threat of consequences had passed, wouldn’t the perpetrators of such a legendary prank want others to know of their accomplishment?
During the intervening years, I’ve asked several alumni about the escapade and always encountered the same response; the shroud of secrecy was, as far as I could tell, complete.
Then in 2011, I came across an article about the heist written by the University of Colorado Heritage Center’s Mona Lambrecht, which mentions that the bell had been put out of commission during a celebratory ringing when CU beat Mines in a 1926 football game. I wondered whether there could be any connection between this and the theft 22 years later. Had the bell somehow come to symbolize the rivalry between the schools?
Motivated to explore further, I broadened the net. Since the bell reappeared in October 1950, perhaps the perpetrators were about to graduate? Acting on this hunch, I emailed every member of the classes of ’50 and ’51 that I could.
That was when the lucky break came. Several people offered helpful suggestions, but only one person had firsthand knowledge. After a long conversation, he put me in touch with one of the two ringleaders, the second is deceased. By the time I finished this second conversation, I had more than enough information for the story.
Since it was not going to be possible to obtain permission to name everyone involved in the heist, both individuals agreed it was best that names not be used, which seems fitting: Having kept details of their escapade secret for so long, it seemed appropriate to leave some of the facts untold.
For me it was exciting to hear the whole story, and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you in this issue. I’m also delighted to be able share the adjacent photo, taken in late September at the University of Colorado Heritage Center on the top floor of Old Main, the building where the bell first hung. Seeing one of the people who masterminded the operation inspect the bell for the first time since it was buried in the clay pits 64 years ago was a priceless moment.
On our way out of the museum, he mentioned that his sons had attended CU Boulder. I asked whether he’d ever told them about the heist and was amazed to learn he hadn’t. However, if I read his face correctly, he’s looking forward to slipping them a copy of this issue.
If more details of this story emerge, we’ll share them with you. And if this episode reminds you of another, please get in touch.
Editor and Director of Communications
Colorado School of Mines Alumni Association