The following was written by John Broughan, Chime #53, who served as Ephus of the Chimes in the 1961-62 and 1963-64 school years. John, along with 1789 and Tombs founder Richard McCooey, was instrumental in the institution of Chimes performances at the Tombs (Chimes Nights) and 1789, which continue to this day.
The initial concept of a relationship with the newly opened 1789 and the Chimes was established in early January 1962 between the founder of 1789, Richard McCooey, and myself, during a meeting set up by a mutual friend, Frank Gannon. McCooey had expressed to Frank, who worked at 1789 and was a close friend to the Chimes, an interest in developing a relationship with the Chimes similar to the long-standing weekly concert the Whiffenpoofs performed at Morey’s near the Yale campus. To replicate that tradition, it was agreed that the Chimes would sing a set each Friday afternoon in the Pub portion of the ’89 restaurant. Signs were made and posted around campus inviting students and faculty to join us. From late February to mid-March, these weekly sets attracted little interest and a small audience, primarily of friends who were offered a free beer to show up.
By mid-March, all parties agreed that this initial concept was not working – perhaps the wrong time of day, wrong location – and definitely too genteel for the group; it was not the Chimes’ style. So, it was agreed that the timing and location would be changed to a Wednesday night set in the Tombs. Richard felt the large table in front of the fireplace would work and had one of his technicians rig a few speakers with a feed into the Tombs sound system, mixed with a set of overhead lights. Quite elementary, but it worked. Another set of posters announcing the new venue were posted around the campus, in hopes students (in addition to our small group of “Chime Buffs”) would show.
The weeks leading up to that first Chimes Night were quite busy and successful for us – including a sold-out concert in Gaston Hall, and a gig to sing for then President Lyndon Johnson and former President Truman at Harry’s 80th.
So, as we headed to the tombs that Wednesday night, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, but clearly unsure how this new concept would work. To our pleasant surprise, we arrived to find an overflowing boisterous crowd awaiting us, with an even larger group waiting patiently up the stairs and down the street. Initially, we thought this huge showing we due to our popularity but then we quickly realized that Thursday was a Holy Day and there were no classes, so students were out to party.
Once seated at the table, mugs and bottles of Black Horse Ale were generously supplied to our group by the staff. Then, the room went dark, the crowd hushed and the lights came on over the table. Before we completed “We Meet,” we looked at each other and knew we were embarking on something quite special. The set ended to great cheers, and the appreciative crowd was ready for more. So that initial set lead to additional sets well into the night. It was a true party, and we were enjoying every minute of it – right up to “last call.” McCooey also enjoyed the night, calling it magical, and we immediately agreed that Chimes Night at the Tombs would continue every Wednesday night until the late May end of the semester. (GU cost less then, and the school year was longer.)
The word of that first Chimes Night spread quickly and every Wednesday night for the remainder of the spring brought out enthusiastic crowds. Even The Washington Post reported in the entertainment section that Wednesday nights in the Tombs was “the new hot spot,” bringing students from surrounding schools as well.
Before the last event in May, both McCooey and ourselves realized a special bond between the Chimes and the ’89 had been established which, hopefully, would continue in the future. So confident was McCooey that he ordered the brass plate for “The Chimes Table,” as well as the double handed Chime mugs from a pewter company in the UK.
In an era before iPhones and personal videos, there are only a few photos that recorded those long and memorable evenings. A tape recorder, however, was added to the sound system during the final concerts that provided the content for the 1964 Live at the ’89 album. Those who have listened to that album would have likely noted the vitality and genuine enthusiasm those nights brought to our group and “adoring fans!”
And as we look back over those fifty years, all Chimes owe a great debt of gratitude to Richard McCooey, a true friend and benefactor, who provided a wonderful tradition for each of us.
May that tradition continue for the next half century in that same spirit in which it began so long ago.