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Columbia Spectator Staff

What exactly does a 40,900-pound bell look like? The public may never know.
The Riverside Church bell tower, which houses the world's largest tuned bell, used to offer visitors a 360 degree view of Harlem, the Hudson River, and Morningside Heights from its observation deck.

The tower has been entirely closed for the past five years due to renovations, but it reopened in a rededication ceremony on Oct. 17. The tower is open for use, but not to the public, officials said.

Columbia students will once more hear the bells on Sunday mornings when they are rung manually, but a strike mechanism that will make the bells chime on the hour will not be installed until spring 2005.

Hearing the bells is only part of the bell tower's draw, Riverside Church Chief Administrative Officer Del Glover said. "It is quite fascinating to see the ringing of the bells," he said. "Part of the thrill is actually watching it."

There are also many misconceptions about how the carillon actually works that can be corrected by watching the process. "Many people do not know that the bells do not actually ring; instead, clappers move and hit the sides of the bell," Glover said.

Along with viewing the bells, the tower's observation deck also allows for a comprehensive view of the city. "When 9/11 happened, you could see right down Riverside Drive to where the towers were from the bell tower," Riverside Church Administrative Music Assistant Barbara Starr said.

Concerns about reopening the bell tower to the public have arisen since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 due to safety concerns. "As of now, the observation deck and the carillon remain closed to the general public, but we are trying to figure out how to share this with the public," Glover said.

One possible idea is installing closed-circuit televisions to show the ringing of the bells and the carillonneur. Still, some say nothing can replace viewing the bells in person.

"Visitors come for the view," longtime Riverside Church volunteer Patricia Clark said. "Sometimes people do just come here for the bell tower, and when they get here and realize that it is not there, they are disappointed."

Final decisions regarding the tower will be made by the Riverside Church Council.
The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Carillon, the set of bells named after John D. Rockefeller's mother, has been a part of Riverside Church since 1930.