My Most Uplifting Day at BYH

One of the things that fascinated me most about BY High was the imposing old Education Building. From the first time I saw it, I had an image in my mind of flying a kite from the roof on a windy spring day.

We were always discovering a new passageway or trapdoor or ladder inside the building that went somewhere, but never to the roof.

"I wish I could get up in the attic of this building," I said one day to one of my friends, Jim Petty. We were both sophomores and it was 1964.

"You mean you haven't been up there yet?" he sounded surprised. I'd already been at the school for two years. "The way you get up there is by going up the ladder backstage in College Hall," he said.

John Boshard and I agreed to meet Jim after school in the College Hall auditorium. With Jim going first, we crept up the rough wooden ladder. I was excited to enter an ancient world of beams and rafters. It was surprisingly clean – we could hear the pigeons cooing, but not one had found its way inside.

Carpenters had long ago built wooden pathways across rafters, leading to neat piles of junk in distant, dark places. The large attic could be illuminated by light bulbs turned on with the simple tug of a string as you passed by on the wooden plank trail.

I was particularly fascinated by a theatrical contraption we found. It had been built to enable a person to fly through the air. It was designed to be lowered from a ceiling trapdoor near the middle of the auditorium, where it could glide down to the stage. Peter Pan was only one of the characters, I learned, who had descended to the stage using this device. I would have tried it myself, but it looked like the rope was pretty old. I made a mental note, however, to purchase a new rope and someday follow in the footsteps of the Wright brothers. Unfortunately, this is a mischief note that I never pursued.

Over the coming years, six or seven of us -- the "attic rats" in our class -- explored every nook and cranny in the attic, including the massive organ in its "locked" loft behind the "control booth" -- but that's another story.

We were all into "control" at one time or another during those years, and some BYH students considered the elected student body position of Speech Manager to be superior to that of Student Body President. After all, the Speech Manager got to oversee or "control" all stage productions, including assemblies and plays. It was a most prestigious office, and was looked up to by most of the boys who had little interest otherwise in school politics. The symbol of this office was the "control booth" -- but we had learned long ago there was no entrance to the attic from the control booth.

At one time, the BYU Art Department had been located in the top floor classrooms in the Education Building -- the fourth floor -- and when they moved out in the mid-1960s they left behind boxes of half-finished and rejected student and faculty art works, including metal newspaper and yearbook engravings, in various attic hideaways. I am amazed that even after several years of looking we continued to find more boxes.

But in all of our exploring of the attic, we had not yet found an entrance to the bell tower, the central architectural feature on the roof of the Education Building. From just the right angle in teacher Fred Webb's third-floor chorus room, you could see a small wooden bridge that led from the back of the bell tower to the roof. This nearly drove me crazy.

One day in journalism class, held on the fourth floor, I began to ask questions about why BYH did not have a bell in its bell tower. I learned it had been removed in 1949 and installed in a steel beam tower on the hill overlooking the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse. Its main purpose now was that it could be rung after college basketball and football victories. It was known as the "Victory Bell."

"Why don't you write a story about our vacant bell tower?" suggested our journalism teacher, Hal Williams. “Maybe someone has another bell that needs a good home.”

Lights began to glow inside my brain. "Maybe we could take some photos inside the bell tower to illustrate the story," I said casually. “How would we go about getting into the tower?”

Well, one of the keys on our journalism teacher’s key ring, it turned out, opened a door in the photography room. This door led directly to the narrow, steep stairs that went up into the bell tower. We wondered how anyone ever got a large, heavy bell in or out of that cramped space.

We recruited our friend, Phil Thomas, who was then head photographer, and he began to photograph the inside of the tower while we prowled around. The steps inside were very narrow, and it was too dark to take good photos, but we did not mind at all.

I quickly taped a ruler to the inside doorknob, tied a string around the extended end of the ruler, ran the string up over a hook on the inside of the door, and poked the string out an inch or two through an old keyhole that was no longer used.

I tested this device and adjusted it until a small tug on the string pulled the ruler up, turning the doorknob just enough to open the door. From the outside, the small string was almost invisible, and I tied a small metal pull on the end to keep it from slipping back through the keyhole.

We returned the key to Hal Williams, and assumed he was never the wiser. In the evenings when the last administrator got in his car to go home, we were free to open the tower door at will. I drilled holes and bolted a metal rod to the doorknob to make our door opener more permanent.

To our surprise, when we climbed the stairs to the "fifth floor", unlocked the the back door, and crossed the rickety bridge to the rooftop, the top of the roof was flat! We could have put enough tables and chairs up there to hold a fair-sized banquet. In fact, we hoped some day to hold a reunion on that very rooftop.

Brigham T. Higgs with Y Bell in 1930s
The back of the belltower in the 1930s.

But the matter at hand was kite flying! To reduce the possibility of being caught, we met after school on a windy Wednesday afternoon, March 16, 1966. The other n'er-do-wells involved were Phil Thomas, Roger Sheffield, Lynn Tolley and John Boshard. We purchased a large kite kit at Gene Evans' Pharmacy, and assembled it. We tied one roll of string to it, then began to play it out into the air.

The kite rose quickly at that elevation, and all too soon it reached the end of our roll of string. We pooled our money and twice a representative went looking for more string. It took a long time, but finally we had ten more rolls of string. Anticipating the need for more, we sent a small boy to search from store to store.

About the time we reached the end of the sixth roll, the wind picked up. Far overhead, we saw a hawk swinging circles around the kite. We were as fascinated as if we were watching a fish circling around, trying to decide if it would take the bait. A small airplane flew by and dipped its wings, and for all the world our kite looked like it was at the same height as the airplane.

We were tying on a seventh roll when it happened. Like a house of cards reaching its limit, the string snapped somewhere, and the kite disappeared from view, and appeared to go up instead of down.

If we had purchased a second kite we could have continued on for hours, but we were fresh out of kites. The sharp afternoon breeze up on the roof suddenly felt very cold, and we decided to retreat off the roof and back into the warm building.

"This was my most uplifting experience at BY High," I told the others. They laughed at my stupid joke. Looking back, it was no joke.

--by Larry Christensen, Class of 1966

Kite's eye view of today's Academy Square