Alumni Hall as a Library

Alumni Hall - Library

As seen in recent construction update shots, the center hall of Alumni Hall is a large area with a stage and space for seats — an auditorium. It was originally intended to be a chapel, but over its tenure thus far, it has also been an auditorium, a theatre, and a library.

The original Knox College library was housed in Old Main, while Alumni Hall’s center hall was serving as a chapel. After Beecher Chapel was acquired by the school and the need for a larger library was realized, the books were moved to Alumni Hall in 1909.

This wasn’t the first time a library was in Alumni Hall. Both literary societies, Adelphi and Gnothautii, had separate libraries on their sides, starting sometime around 1892. Once the College’s library was moved to Alumni Hall, the literary societies combined their books and contributed to the centralized collection.

The library featured not only books, but two large tapestries from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. They framed the stage, as seen in the photo below.

Flooring was laid down from the lobby to the stage to level out the slope intended for auditorium seating. Two staircases were installed to reach from the bottom floor to the top balcony where Dr. Elder, the librarian, had an office and additional stacks were housed.

The center hall of Alumni Hall remained this way until the completion of Seymour Library, which still houses Knox’s collection of books and library materials, in 1928.

As seen in the photo above, books lined the back walls of the lower level, and tables, chairs, and even statues decorated the area. It wasn’t intended to look makeshift, although it was a temporary solution. From the convincing looks of it, it probably fooled a few students between 1909 and 1928 who would’ve never known it was an auditorium space.

Alumni Hall’s library viewed from the balcony, featuring tapestries from the 1893 World Exposition over the stage.

The Original Gizmo

Alumni Hall Interior: The Hearth

As an alumna recalled on the recent Homecoming weekend tour through Alumni Hall, the original location of the Gizmo was on the lowest level of the building.

The Gizmo, however, wasn’t the original name for the student hangout, nor the original snack spot.

In 1938, three enterprising Knox students started a food stand called The Goal Post, nicknamed The Geep. It was located near Williston Hall. One of the students, Ed Waldmire, would later go on to invent the corn dog. Little did Waldmire know, his creation would someday be a staple of Flunk Day lunches.

The Geep became popular, and the College realized there was an untapped market for student snacking. The original Gizmo, first called The Hearth, opened in 1946 to “encourage students to stay on campus for food and fun,” as one article puts it.

The Hearth featured, as its name suggests, two large fireplaces in the basement of Alumni Hall. We have student Howard Watt to thank for the original name. He won $15 for suggesting The Hearth in a contest held to name the new snack bar. The fireplaces were the gift of 1894 alumna Janet Grieg Post, who is also the namesake of Post Hall.

In appearance, The Hearth was very modern for its time: pastel paints, indirect lighting, and upholstered booths. Some of these booths were claimed by Greek organizations and other groups as a designated hangout spot for their members.

The Hearth was the heart of campus. It is unclear when it adopted its new and current name, the Gizmo, but it found its new location in the early 1960s, when the current Gizmo was constructed and snack bar operations were moved out of Alumni Hall.

Do you have any memories of fond times shared with classmates in the original Gizmo?

The May 1946 issue of the Knox Alumnus features the brand new snack bar.

Seances and Spiritualism in Alumni Hall

Alumni Hall at dusk.

In a building as old and large and looming as Alumni Hall, ghost stories are bound to circulate. And, from what we know, spooky speculations have surrounded Alumni Hall since early in the building’s history. These ghostly rumors sparked certain student activities, like séances.

Spiritualism rose in popularity during the Civil War, and people’s interest in it continued until the late 1920s.

The giant theatre in the middle of the building, which at the time was being transitioned from the library to a performance theatre, had poor acoustics before a remodeling in the 1960s. The poor acoustics were what caused students to hear things, explains Lance Factor, George Appleton Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy and a campus expert on Alumni Hall as well as Old Main.

“If we were to spend some time sitting here in silence, we might share that experience. I don’t know what we’d hear,” Factor says, standing on the stage during a tour of the building this summer.

Factor shares the same view of Professor Raub, a professor of philosophy, physics and psychology from the early 20th century, who spoke out against the student séances. Their stance: There’s nothing there.

“[Professor Raub's] remark was, ‘Why don’t they ever tell us what life is like on the other side? They never report,’” Factor said.

Students keep searching. Factor reports he has received requests for ghost tours of Old Main and the Old Jail.

“They’ve heard there’s haunts or spirits or whatever,” Factor said. “but I think the séances were more of a social experiment. It was trendy.”

Still, there are those among us who do get a little spooked by the empty building glowing at night and wonder about the many spirits who have come and gone in the 122-year history of Alumni Hall. To those folks, Happy Halloween!