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.

Third Floor Rendering

Third Floor 6-17-13(1)
The third floor of Alumni Hall is the grandest space in the building. As you can see in this artist’s rendering, the floor is open in the middle, with a view of the reception area below. This floor will be home to the Lincoln Studies Center, the Dick and Joan Whitcomb Heritage Center, and Office of Alumni Relations. This floor also includes a study area and meeting rooms.

Homecoming Tours for Alumni

Homecoming Alumni Hall Tour

Some Knox alumni who returned for 2013 Homecoming got a special treat: an up-close look inside Alumni Hall and a chance to ask experts about its renovation. Representatives of P.J. Hoerr Inc., the project’s general contractor, and Holabird & Root, the architectural firm, led the alumni tours.

Walking through the now-empty building stirred up memories for alumni, including these two members of the Class of 1963, who celebrated their 50th Reunion.

Linda Gist

“When we came here in ’59, that was the entrance to the Gizmo,” she said, pointing to a door on the lowest level. “The Gizmo was in the ground floor of Alumni Hall, and then they built the extension onto Seymour Hall and moved the Gizmo -– our sophomore year, I think.”

The Alumni Hall Gizmo, she added, “was tiny, and it was loud. They just served coffee and tea and snacks. Just a few tables. People stood up all the time. And apparently, we loved it.”

Craig Wanggaard

“I was a political science major, so I was either in Old Main or this building. This building, in the ’60s, was the core of the school. The ’50s and ’60s. It was a grand old building in its time.”

“They’re doing a superb job. I’m really excited” about the renovation. “That’s why our class contributed $1.8 million just for the [Class of 1963 Office of] Financial Aid -– because if it weren’t for financial aid, most of us wouldn’t be here. That’s an important part of what Knox means to our class.”

Second Floor Rendering

Second Floor 6-17-13
In this artist’s rendering, you can see a view of the second floor of Alumni Hall looking south toward campus. As you enter the building from South Street,  the Mark and Jeannette Kleine Center for Community Service will be on the left  and the Gerald and Carol Vovis Center for Research and Advanced Study will be on the right. In the center of this floor will be an atrium opening to the third floor. This is where the theatre was previously located. To the left of the atrium will be the Admission Hospitality Room and staff offices. To the right will be the  Bastian Family Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development and Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies.

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!