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Saluki Sleuths

Saluki Sleuths | Inside Pulliam Hall's iconic clock tower

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SIU Pulliam Hall

Pulliam Hall clocktower, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

Matt Purdy got to do a lot of “bucket list” items during his time at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, but there was one thing he did not check off.

A holder of two degrees from SIU and a former director of the university’s business placement center, Purdy could see the distinctive Pulliam Hall clock tower from the windows of the center and he said he always wondered about it.

“I didn’t know if it was possible or allowed, but I always wondered about going up into the clock tower and I always thought it would be the coolest thing,” Purdy, who is now the director of career services at Murray State University said. “I always wanted to see the view from the clock tower.”

One person who has seen the view from the top of Pulliam Hall is Anna Twomey. In her role as public information associate with the SIU Alumni Association, Twomey produces “Saluki Sleuths,” an online video series about the mysteries and legends of the SIU campus. The September edition of the program which premiers Thursday evening on the association’s social media and YouTube channels, is about Pulliam Hall and its iconic tower.

To film the episode, Twomey and other association staff members joined SIU architect Brian Gorecki for a climb up the tower.

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Caleb Hale (right), director of communications for the SIU Alumni Association, films SIU architect Brian Gorecki as he climbs a ladder up to the Pulliam Hall clocktower while recording a segment for “Saluki Sleuths” earlier this year.

“The structure is still original from 1951. It was built very stout,” Gorecki explained.

The only way up into the clock tower is from a locked door on the third floor of Pulliam Hall – originally University School, which housed an elementary and high school from 1951 to 1965.  From there, ascension requires taking a flight of stairs, a circular staircase and two ladders to reach the top of the clock tower. The ladders go pretty much straight up – and can wobble a bit. Climbers note the absence of any guard rails on the last ladder.

“The clock tower has some lightening protection,” Gorecki explained. “There are lightening rods on the room and copper cables that connect those to a coper line that comes down and finds its way to the ground.”

The clock tower has a copper roof (“Maintenance wise, it’s considered very low maintenance,” Gorecki said). The exterior has been repainted several times. On the way to the top, he pointed out a graffiti timeline left by painters – sort of a honor roll of those who had cared for the tower dating back 70-plus years. Exterior lighting and a chime system were installed in 1996, part of a 100th anniversary celebration for the SIU Alumni Association.

“It’s an automatic system,” he said of the clock chimes. “The speakers are actually up behind the clocks.”

Also behind the four clock faces is a central mechanism which controls the hands of the clocks via a series of gears and long rods. The hands themselves originally were wood, but were replaced with a longer-lasting composite material.

Of course, few people have actually seen the mechanism. Some make the climb to maintain the clocks or the structure, undoubtedly enjoying the view windows located just below the clock level. Twomey said it is possible to actually climb to the very tip of the tower’s point – the functional weathervane – via an outside ladder.

“I’m glad we didn’t do that,” she said.

She was, however, delighted to be one of just a few non-maintenance people to go up into the tower.

“Every time I walk by Pulliam Hall now, I look at the tower and say to myself, ‘I’ve been in there.’ It was a great experience,” she said.

Twomey said the view of campus from the windows in the tower was unique and calming, even though the ascent itself was not.

“It was terrifying – even beyond what I was anticipating,” she recalled. “I had no idea that there would be vertical ladders. It definitely made my palms sweat. Still, it was an opportunity I will never forget.”

Twomey’s climb and the view are part of the September edition of “Saluki Sleuths” available on the SIU Alumni Association’s YouTube channel starting Thursday evening.

Veo, carbondale adn SIU launched a new miromobility program with 350 scooters placed throughout town.

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“The building had been given nicknames such as the 'aircraft carrier' and the 'concrete zeppelin,' neither of which belongs in the middle of a rural college campus.” 

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