Beware of the haunted fraternity house, look out for the sliding building (not to mention the backward one), see if your can spot the first Jayhawk, and whatever you do, don’t walk through the Campanile.
As you might expect for an institution that’s been around since 1865, Kansas University is home to more than its share of mysteries, superstitions and urban legends. Here is a look at some of the more notorious pieces of folklore that have been passed down through generations of Jayhawks.
In 2009, paranormal investigators presented recordings and testimony to the occupants of Sigma Nu in the basement of the fraternity house, which sits northwest of campus at 1501 Sigma Nu Place.
According to the fraternity’s website, the building once served as the Kansas governor’s mansion. The house is rumored to be haunted by the mistress and servant of Gov. Walter Stubbs, who lived in the house from 1909 to 1913. According to legend, Mrs. Stubbs became jealous when she learned of the affair in 1911, and the mistress, Virginia, hanged herself in the house.
Fraternity members invited Rob Garcia, founder of Elite Paranormal of Kansas City, to investigate after several instances of occupants having experiences with the spectre.
Sigma Nu is a frequent stop on the Lawrence Ghost Tour, and has been named as one of the top five most haunted places by the Ghost Tours of Kansas for the past three years.
The campus eyesore
As students climb the concrete steps into one of Wescoe Hall’s many entrances, they sometimes joke about its similarity to a parking garage, or lament its unsightly appearance in comparison to neighboring buildings such as the limestone of Stauffer-Flint or the Gothic-style Budig Hall.
Instead of a beautiful tower dwarfing surrounding structures, as was originally intended, it is argued by many that Wescoe Hall is an aesthetic nightmare and an architectural disaster, according to KU History’s article “From Sky-soar to Eyesore.”
The original vision for Wescoe, unveiled in 1967, was a 25-story skyscraper, a centralized building unifying Kansas University’s humanities departments. The 280-foot high building would include 149 rooms, 487 faculty offices, a 300-seat auditorium, refreshment area, 12 electronic classrooms, a classics museum and 150 parking spaces.
But because of cost issues, the 25-story tower was abandoned for a 15-story plan.
Delays and desperation for classroom space in 1969 spurred KU officials to opt for a four-story concrete building, which was completed in 1974. The final plan was 21 stories lower than planned, included no parking and was millions of dollars above budget.
Sliding down the hill
In addition to having abnormal beginnings, Wescoe Hall is also the source of an urban legend that, according to “From Sky-soar to Eyesore,” refuses to die out.
It was believed — and still is, by some — that the building is slowly sliding off the hill toward Malott Hall. The rumor began after Wescoe’s basement floors and ceilings were found to be crooked in 1985.
In 1993, Jim Modig, director of design and construction management at Kansas University, busted this myth.
“To the best of our knowledge, the building sits exactly where it’s always been… on a firm rock base which is stable as far as anyone knows,” Modig told University Daily Kansan reporters.
A backward building
The idea that Strong Hall was built backward comes up in about every third KU History lecture heard by Mike Reid, project director of KU History.
Student ambassadors sometimes include the fun fact on their guided tours, Reid said, but it is not completely accurate.
In 1904, the Kessler campus development plan included an administrative building that faced the football stadium, not Jayhawk Boulevard. However, this plan was put aside, and a design by architect M.P. McArdle was adopted instead.
McArdle’s administration building was a Renaissance-style structure with east and west wings and a central rotunda with colonnade, according to the Historic Mount Oread Fund. The design, and the completed Strong Hall, has an entrance facing Jayhawk Boulevard.
The four-and-a-half-story terra cotta building was built in three sections: The east wing was built in 1911, the west wing in 1918 and the center section in 1923.
The first Jayhawk
Most know that Kansas University’s mascot was chosen in honor of the Jayhawkers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery in Kansas in the 1850s. What is unclear is when the first image of the Jayhawk was created.
According to KU History’s article “Origin of the Jayhawk,” written by F.W. Blackmar, dean of the graduate school in the early 20th century, the image of the bird as the university’s mascot first appeared in 1912. Henry Maloy, a cartoonist for the University Daily Kansan, drew what is now known as the Centennial Jay.
However, some believe that Maloy’s wasn’t the first representation of the mascot.
According to KU History’s article “Finger in the Dyche,” when Dyche Hall, home to the KU Natural History Museum, opened in 1903, it featured rounded arches, Ionic columns and an ornamented exterior with limestone grotesques, which are gargoyles with no drainage function.
On the left side above the front entrance, the grotesque’s plaque is engraved with the word “Jayhawk” — and a question mark.
A stroll through the Campanile
The Kansas University graduating class of 1950 was the first to pass through the World War II Memorial Carillon and Campanile and down the hill on Commencement Day, a ritual that soon became a campus tradition.
The Campanile, which took six years of planning and building, was created in honor of the 277 men and women from the University who had given their lives in World War II. The 120-foot high limestone structure was officially dedicated on May 27, 1951.
According to “The Bells of Mt. Oread,” an article published by KU History and written by history professor John McCool, the graduation rite of passage was taken so seriously that a superstition surrounding the procession quickly began.
It is now — and has been — a widely held belief among students and alumni that one must avoid walking through the Campanile until Commencement Day.
The consequence of walking through the Campanile too soon? Not graduating.