By ANISA ARSENAULT
Tucked inside of a gothic granite building is a doorway. It is usually locked. But once in a while, it is slightly ajar, revealing a steep set of stairs leading to darkness. Do you enter? Is it worth the risk?
This air of mystery surrounding the access to Keating Hall’s clock tower is part of what makes it so alluring for students.
“I think a large part of the reason people want to do this so badly is that the school doesn’t allow it,” Patrick Burke, FCRH ’14, said. “I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard rumors that if you’re caught going up to the tower, you’re expelled. The thrill of danger is definitely a huge allure to going up. I would say the other two reasons for going up are the amazing view of the entire campus from up there and the ability to brag about doing it.”
Regardless of rules and an arduous ascent, climbing to the Keating clock tower tops the bucket list of many Fordham students. While several accounts of the climb rival ghost stories and mysteries, the overall assessment is that the experience is worth the risk.
A junior, who wishes to remain anonymous due to rumored repercussions, described the unsettling start to the adventure. “It was actually kind of a creepy experience at first,” he said. “There was a huge spiral staircase going up, and we couldn’t even see the top. Once the door closed behind us, it was pitch black. Halfway up the staircase, there was actually a dark room with only a chair in it so that was pretty scary.”
The student adds that fears of getting trapped permeate the experience. “There wasn’t anything keeping someone from coming and locking the door while we were up in the tower,” he said.
But the more prominent fear is getting caught. The rumored risk of expulsion runs deep among the student body. “I heard the two things that can expel you from school are being in the tunnels in O’Hare and being up there,” Emily Osman, GSB ’15, said. “You’re blatantly not allowed to be there.”
But where are these prohibitions set in stone? “No one said to us, ‘You can’t go up there,’” Averie Sheppard, FCRH ’14, said, pointing out the lack of clarity. “And locked things are intriguing.”
Christopher Rodgers, dean of Students, provided some answers, indicating expulsion is not the go-to course of action. “As with most violations of the code of conduct or policy here at Fordham, there is no set-in-stone rule for ‘punishment’, which we refer to as sanctions,” he said. “Whether a student is expelled for such a violation is always a matter of the circumstances. Over the years, a very small number of students have been found in the area, and the circumstances have usually been simple curiosity.”
Dean Rodgers explained that the hazardous nature of the tower makes it off-limits. “As the clock tower is a rather dangerous, and therefore secured area of campus, students would likely face disciplinary action if they entered it,” he said.
Rules aside, the opportunity to climb the tower rarely presents itself. “I spent a year in Keating on the first floor — I had class down there — and I tried to open it [the door] twice a week,” one current graduate student, referred to as Mike for identity protection, said. “It was never open.”
But at homecoming last year, Mike found the door ajar. “Of the group that I went up with, about half of us thought that maybe Fordham left it open on homecoming as a kind of treat to the alumni,” he said. “Pay $200,000 to our University, and you finally get to climb the bell tower.”
According to Mike, the ascent is full of proof of others who have braved the climb. “There were tiers and tiers,” he said. “On one floor the theme was empty beer cans. And on the next floor the theme was writing on the wall.”
Finally, climbers reach the clock tower itself. “It was an awesome sight because each side of the room was open so you could literally see all of campus from up there,” recalled the anonymous student. “I’d say going up was definitely worth the risk; I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t.”
Blair Hassell, FCRH ’12, attests to a scary but worthwhile experience. “It was a lot of fun and kind of dangerous, especially when my phone lost battery in the dark,” she said. “But once we were up there the view was breathtaking.”
Mairin O’Connor, FCRH ’12, accompanied Hassell in the tower. She offers this warning to future climbers: “Beware of the ghosts. Blair’s phone died on the way down. Kelly swears a ghost tickled her neck.”
Despite making light of the ordeal, O’Connor spoke hesitantly. “If my name goes on the record, I want it known I already have my degree, and Fordham can’t take it away,” she said.
It seems that for Fordham students, breaking the rules is the scariest part of experience.