Sunday, March 18, 2012

BYU Building that is Haunted by Pioneer Ghosts

Continuing with the tour of Brigham Young University campus, the next logical building is the Maeser Building.  The Maeser Building is the oldest building located on what is now considered BYU campus, where the BYU campus eventually moved to from the Academy Square.  Here is what it looked like in 1925 and what it looks like today (from the front, and the Karl G. Maeser statue on the back side):

Courtesy of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Lee Library, Brigham Young University 

The article on wikipedia gives a great summary of the building.  Here is what it says:

"Soon after the death of Karl G. Maeser in 1901, plans were begun to erect a fitting memorial to this great teacher.  Ten years later (1911) the beautiful Maeser Memorial Building was completed.  This graceful structure was the first permanent building on upper campus, the called Temple Hill.

"Designed originally as a classroom building, it has served thousands of students.  But that has not been its only function.  For a while, the spacious 175-seat assembly hall, occupying the central portion of the third and fourth floors, was used for college devotionals, and for forty years it served also for faculty meetings.  Briefly, in 1918, the building housed a unit of the Student Army Training Corps.

"In 1921, the Maeser Building, became the first home of the newly organized College of Commerce and Business Administration which, for the next thirteen years, occupied most of the building, except for part of the first floor, where the Purchasing Department, under the direction of Kiefer B. Sauls, was housed.

"In 1931 the offices of the University president and other administrators were moved from lower campus to the Maeser Building.  Two years later the BYU Press began its operation in the south end of the first floor, directly under President Franklin S. Harris's office.  Before moving out in 1947, the press had occupied the entire first floor.  For sixteen years the administrative offices shared the third floor with the campus telephone switchboard.

"In the 1950s the Maeser Building assembly hall [the large open theatre style classroom] was dismantled.  A partial floor was built across the second story, and the historic hall was chopped into temporary offices to help alleviate the growing pressure for office space as the University population exploded following World War II.

"Upon completion of the Abraham O. Smoot Building in 1961, the administration moved out and the Archaeology and English Departments moved in, the former to the first floor and the latter to the second and the third.  The Department of English stayed only two years, then History occupied the northern half and the Political Science the southern.  This arrangement lasted for the next fourteen years, until the French and Italian Departments moved into the suites vacated by the History Department, and the German Department took those left by Political Science.  Between 1981 and 1983, Anthropology-Archaelogy and the two language departments also left the building.

"With the decision of the administration and the Board of Trustees to restore the Maeser Building to its original classical dignity, and to make it the center for the University Honors Program, a complete renovation was carried out."  Today, the building is still the home of the University Honors Program.

While researching the building, I found a really interesting article from BYU's newspaper, The (Daily) Universe, which says that the Maeser Building was built atop a pioneer graveyard.  Since the paper did not give any references to where they found the information, I figured that it was probably just conjecture.  However, after doing some additional searches, I found an article from the Provo city library which verifies the Universe's claim.  The pioneer cemetery was original named Fort Field Cemetery (although this was the second cemetery that was named "Fort Field", the first being located across Geneva Rd. from Fort Provo).  Eventually, the cemetery's name was changed to Fort Field to Temple Hill.  By 1880, the site was discarded as a burial ground as the soil was too sandy, causing graves to cave in before burials could take place.

One other interesting piece of information about the Maeser Building is the statue of Karl G. Maeser that is located in front of it.  The statue was built in 1958 and was originally in front of the Eyring Science Center before it was moved to its current location (an article and picture can be found here).  Occasionally, people draw a circle in chalk around the statue, which I always found as a funny reference to one of Maeser's most famous quotes (that has often been used as a way of promoting the honor code): "I have been asked what I mean by "word of honor."  I will tell you.  Place me behind prison walls-walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground-there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it.  Can I get out of that circle? No, never!  I'd die first."

I personally have fond memories of the Maeser Building, mainly because of a music video that I made inside the building.  A few years ago, I was somewhat crazy about Bonnie Tyler's music video for "Total Eclipse of the Heart" mainly because the music video is so crazy and makes no sense.  For one of my birthdays, my friends remade the video and had me be Bonnie Tyler (and if you were at all confused, yes I am a male, and no, I do not make an attractive Bonnie Tyler).  Most of the video was filmed in the Maeser Building and ever since it has always been a place of fond memories for me.  Here is the video:

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