petnamelessUrban and Civil

Nov 15, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)



by Kathryn Warden, SP University Editor

You won't find them in the official histories, but urban myths about the University of

from the secrets of the '
airplane room
' to the drama department g

are retold to every crop of first
year students.

On an orientation tour this week, a group of agriculture students was enthralled to hear
tales of why Room 271 in the 73
old Thorvaldson building is called the
. The cathedral
, brick
lined lecture theater has 272 wooden seats arranged in
curved tiers that rise steeply toward a high domed ceiling. The idea was to give all
students a clear view of chemistry experiments performed at the professor's desk. For
decades, students have

affixed paper clips, pens or keys to paper airplanes and flung them
up to the ceiling. The missiles go straight to the dome, due to air currents in the giant
room, and their anchors would stick in the asbestos lining the dome.

But according to student l
ore, young airmen receiving pilot training in the room during
the Second World War wrote their names on paper planes and tossed them up to the
dome. When the pilots went off to war, some families would come weekly, even daily, to
see if their son's plane w
as still stuck to the ceiling.

'The story goes that if the paper plane fell, it meant the pilot died in action. The only
trouble with the story is it's openly half true." Historian and U of S professor Michael
Hayden confirms pilots were trained at Thorv
aldson, but no paper planes dated from that
era have been found. There's also no evidence to suggest families came regularly to check
on the paper planes, he says.

The university archives has a collection of 366 paper planes retrieved prior to the 1995
emoval of asbestos from the ceiling. But the oldest one with a date is from 1961.
However, some that are yellowed and brittle with age could be older. One states: 'By the
time you read this, I'll be rich.' Another unsigned missile was apparently a suicide
'After this message was written, a young gentleman committed suicide.'

Stories also swirl about a large, square block of concrete in front of the Thorvaldson
annex. According to student lore, Thorbergur Thorvaldson, the inventor of a long
ype of cement, failed to get a patent on his invention, but wanted to be long remembered.
So he asked to be, and was, buried in the cement block that bears his name. In one
version, he's encased in his wheelchair, in another, cryogenically frozen.

Does E
xner believe this story? 'Well, we've met a lot of eccentric professors in our time
so you never know,' he says with a smile.

Then there's the mystery of the small silver plaque on a window ledge at the top of the
escalator to the arts building. It's ded
icated to the memory of four people identified only
by first names or initials and bears the dates 1981
1985. As the story goes, there were
four great friends who spent their entire time at university sitting on the ledge drinking
[What else is new

Suddenly, in 1985 they disappeared, leaving no sign of their whereabouts to family or
friends. Friends honored their memory with a plaque. Then, unsigned postcards addressed
to the 'arts escalator' began arriving at the university from places lik
e Africa and the
Soviet Union. While no one has been able to verify the story, no one seems to have any
facts to disprove it or explain the plaque.

There's also a leap of faith involved in the story of Hank, the ghost of a dead student said
to haunt the
drama department. When the department was still housed in the old Hangar
building, Hank made an appearance during a production of Hamlet, sitting on the edge of
the stage in his parka. None of the cast saw him, but after the play, the audience kept
what the guy in the parka was doing. Actors and audience still see Hank amongst
the rafters and sets of the drama department,' states the guide for training orientation

At the Faculty of Law, students working late at night in the library claim t
o have been
visited by a robed stranger who stalks the building in complete silence. This ghost
appears to be some kind of artist, quietly assembling sculpture from a cache of stolen re
bar secreted in the area.

Hayden was not familiar with the "Law Scho
ol Ghost", but says there have always been
isolated stories around the university. Sometimes the myths represent an attempt to
explain things that seem puzzling or unusual, such as the layout of the engineering
building: attributed to a dog
loving architec
t who put a hallway wherever his pet retriever
wandered on the building site. Others crop up on campuses across the country.

One example is the myth about why t
here are so many empty shelves in the library. It
says that when the architects designed the building, they forgot to consider the weight of
the books. If the library were full, it would collapse. While there's no truth to the rumor,
this is a universal ca
mpus myth that seems to recur. Hayden remembers the same story
circulated in the early '70s to explain why a new U of S library had to be built.

Campus myths als
o reflect 'an abysmal ignorance of the real history of the university'
Hayden says. 'This creates rumors that have no basis in fact.' For example, claims of
wolves being seen recently on campus grounds. "Complete tripe," Hayden scoffs.