Exploring Behind the Scenes at PSU

Have you ever wondered about the photovoltaic array on the Hyde Hall roof or about Plymouth’s biofuel heating plant? Or if Lil Nas X will turn out to be more than a one hit wonder?

OK, we don’t have the inside scoop on the next TikTok earworm, but PSU does have a new video series that is set to shed light on campus curiosities. Behind the Scenes at PSU debuted recently on location at a real University high point: the inner workings of the Rounds Hall clock tower.

Rounds is the tallest building on campus and was dedicated in 1891 in honor of Charles C. Rounds, who had served as president of Plymouth Normal School. It was the main academic building in Plymouth for many years, housing classrooms, the library, and the town grade school and high school.

Its clock was originally fully mechanical, gravity powered, and three stories tall, with the bell, faces, and hands on top, the mechanism in the middle, and weights and pendulum beneath. Many of the original components remain in service and were combined with a precision electric motor installed in the 1970s, which stilled the pendulum and eliminated the need for weekly weight raisings. The bell dates to 1874 and may have been hand-wrung before Rounds was built.

“You can really feel the history of the building when you’re inside that space and see the construction components, knowing that for many years weekly treks were made up to the tower to reset the weights,” says Rich Grossman, a member of the senior staff.

Rounds Hall is also home to one of Plymouth’s most mysterious traditions. Every year since 1975, shortly before Halloween, two pumpkins appear on top of the spires above the clock tower.

The iconic timepiece has graced the school newspaper, alumni updates, and countless snapshots. “Who could forget the Rounds Hall clock tower?” asked Plymouth Magazine in 2005 when heralding the new Tower Fund. “This landmark greeted you as an incoming freshman, marked your gait on the way to class, drew your attention during pumpkin season, and stood tall in your rearview mirror as you left town after graduation. The steeple and clock tower remain a lasting tribute to your hours, days, and years at Plymouth.”

Facilities Manager Walter Durack is featured in Behind the Scenes and leads a guided tour up the many hidden stairs rising above the third floor’s classrooms and offices. He points out the nondescript doorway that hundreds walk past daily, never suspecting that it leads to the upper reaches of Rounds, the venerable wood framing and iron tie rods that attest to the building’s Victorian Era construction, and the metal pin which, when released, allows him to reset the clock’s display, after which he knocks on wood for good luck.

Durack offers no clues, however, regarding how seasonal squash miraculously appear on the structure’s spires—like clockwork—every Halloween. “I guess it’s going to continue to be a mystery just how the pumpkins make it out on the clock tower,” he says, grinning.

Historic institutions typically have their share of quirks and enigmas, and the Rounds Hall clock tower is just one of many that distinguish Plymouth State.

“I have always felt, from the moment I stepped foot on the campus, that Plymouth State was a special place,” says Grossman. “We have a sense of community, purpose, and engagement which is without peer. The idea behind this new series is to take those who love PSU on tours of places they may have heard of but not really know that well.”

The photovoltaic array and biofuel plant will be featured in upcoming videos, along with other out-of-the-ordinary items of interest. As for Lil Nas X, Plymouth’s back roads are unquestionably perfect backdrops to his 2019 megahit, “Old Town Road.” Maybe lightning will strike for him once more if he journeys north and pairs up with “Exit 25” composer Tyler Mahoney ’17.

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