Construction on campus caused me to detour the other day to an out of the way corner of the Green where a tower sits. I had, of course, seen this tower before, but never close up and its (very well-locked) entrance. The inscription above the door identifies it as the Carrie Tower, with the quote, “Love is as strong as death,” an excerpt from Song of Songs 8:6-7:
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned.
The tower has a story behind it. This from the Encylopedia Brunoniana:
Carrie Tower was erected in 1904, a gift of Paul Bajnotti of Turin, Italy, and a memorial to his wife, born Caroline Mathilde Brown, granddaughter of Nicholas Brown 1786, for whom the University is named, and daughter of Nicholas Brown 1811. She died in Palermo in 1892 after sixteen years of marriage to Bajnotti, who also erected a fountain in her memory in Burnside Park in Providence. Carrie Tower was designed by Guy Lowell of Boston, who was selected from a competition of well-known architects. It was built by J. W. Bishop Company on the Front Campus close to the corner of Prospect and Waterman Streets. The tower of red brick is 95 feet high, and is elaborately adorned with stonework, done under the direction of John L. Thorpe of Boston. There are festoons of fruit near the base, and at the top, above four clock faces on the sides of the tower flanked by eight panels of fruit, are in rising succession, 32 carved urns, eight capitals, four shields, and at the very top, four urns with flame. On the foundation is inscribed “Love is Strong as Death.” A strange occurrence in 1950 caused the clock to run erratically. When this was investigated, it appeared that an essential part of the clock’s mechanism had been removed, and it further appeared that this had been done purposely to call attention to the prank that had caused eight of the elaborate “beefeater” hats belonging to Corporation members to be lying on top of the tower.
There is something hauntingly beautiful about this story. A grieving, childless husband memorializes his love for his foreign wife with relatively simple monument. (An account of the couple and their ties to Brown can be found here.) The tower held a bell that rang to signal the start and end of each class. In every ring, several times a day, his love for her went out across campus, pointing both back at his loss and forward to the vitality of a new generation of students. Inexorably. Eternally.
Well, not exactly. The clock mechanisms broke and it appears a new bell was installed (or was the old one moved?) in another building, University Hall. Carrie Tower now sits without purpose, slowly crumbling, occasionally receiving an infusion of university funding to keep it from falling down.
There are many ways we can memorialize our love. We can give a building or part of one; create a fund for scholarships or research; set up a gravestone; or write a poem. Thinking about Carrie Tower made me ask my own wife how, if everything was possible and the situation unfortunately arose, she would wish me to memorialize her: A building would be nice, she said, but a scholarship fund better. I see that logic. An endowed fund keeps giving, serves a constructive purpose, and will (hopefully) not crumble. At the same time, every time I hear about this or that fund or endowed lecture, I tend to tune out; I have to struggle to try to imagine the pathos behind each one of these gifts of love, the stories behind the flat names. This week, though, I had no problem remembering Caroline Mathilde Brown and how much her Italian husband Paul Bajnatti loved her. And I appreciated the gift of this memory, 111 years after it was made.