Georgetown University students awoke this morning to find that the clock tower on Healy Hall no longer showed the time. The clock hands were missing.
Could this be a modern rendition of a historic Georgetown prank?
In visiting campus and talking with my friends who are Georgetown alumni, I often hear about the legendary prank of stealing the “Healy hands” and mailing them to the Vatican to be blessed by the pope.
The prank got going in the 1960s and ’70s, when students discovered that they could reach the bell tower by navigating a maze of passageways that crisscross the campus, according to Washingtonian magazine. The university has bulked up its security since then, and the prank hardly ever happens.
In September 2005, two Georgetown students successfully stole the hands of the west-facing clock face after scaling construction scaffolding and climbing through a broken window, according to the Hoya student newspaper.
“It is one of the best views on campus,” one of two culprits told the Hoya in 2006. “It’s surreal.”
The two students were busted when their roommate turned them in to campus police. The two students confessed, saying they were just trying to continue a university tradition and planned to return the hands. They were charged with theft, damage and destruction, defacement and trespassing in a restricted area.
They were placed on disciplinary probation for a year (meaning they could get kicked out if they got in trouble again), and each had to write an essay on “more constructive university traditions,” according to the Hoya. The prank damaged the clock, a university spokeswoman said Monday, and cost the university about $25,000 to fix.
What about this time around? Will the hands turn up in a dorm room or the Vatican’s mailbox?
University officials told the Hoya on Monday that they did not remove or authorize the removal of the hands. Georgetown’s Department of Public Safety is investigating the incident, Georgetown spokeswoman Rachel Pugh said in an e-mail. She added that stealing university property is a “serious violation of Georgetown's Student Code of Conduct.”
And while the clock hands are missing, Pugh said, the Healy bell tower is still informing students of the time with its chiming bells.
UPDATE: This blog post was updated on Monday afternoon to include information from the university.
Catholic colleges and unexpected rules (March 2012)