Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Farewell Barnes Hall

by Bryan Whitledge

President Charles Anspach and Mrs. C.C. Barnes, 1952
Barnes Hall started life as the addition to the dormitory wing of the student union building, known then as Keeler Union (today, Central students, staff, and faculty call this building Powers Hall). The initial dormitory wing - a men-only dormitory - had beds for 90 students when it opened in 1939. But male students at Central weren’t accustomed to living on campus, so many of the beds stayed empty that first year. After the US entered World War II, a US Navy V-12 training school was established at CMU and the Keeler dorms became home to 125 cadets. After the War ended, the student population at Central started to boom. In 1949, the Keeler dorms housed 180 students – double the original 90 beds! There was definitely a need for more beds for students.

Central constructed an addition to the Keeler dorms in 1951 and on October 25, 1952, this new structure - one that could accommodate an additional 144 students - was officially dedicated Charles C. Barnes Hall (pictured above). The building was named in honor of the long-serving faculty member, registrar, and the Central’s first Dean of Men. With three beds to a room, the old Keeler dorms and Barnes Hall had room for 266 men. But the post-WWII student boom meant that beds were filling up faster than Central could build them - Robinson, Larzelere, Calkins, and Robinson Halls were all constructed between 1954 and 1959. In 1957, another addition to Barnes Hall was erected. This “third wing” had room for 120 men and incorporated a new innovation first used in Robinson Hall in 1954 - bathrooms in the suites as opposed to common bathrooms, which were found in the first two wings of Barnes Hall. Most students loved the individual bath facilities, but “about 10% of students [at the time] opposed private bathrooms, saying it would make it more difficult to meet people,” as Don Kilbourn, long-time CMU housing staff member noted.

Barnes Hall, ca. 1960s
One of the biggest changes in CMU Housing policies occurred at Barnes in 1971. It was the first hall to allow men and women to reside on the same floor of buildings. Of course, there were rules: students had to be over 21 or they had to have at least 55 credit hours and parental permission. But it was the start of a new era of co-ed living for Central students.

With Barnes Hall regularly filled to the gills with students - over 300 in the late 1950s - many notable alumni called the place home during their time at Central. Central’s first All-American in football, Jim Podoley was in Barnes (1953-54). So was Walter Beach, a professional football player and civil rights activist (1956-57). Broadcasting legend and student body president Dick Enberg called Barnes home from 1953-54. And Janice Fialka, an advocate for disability awareness and CMU commencement speaker in December 2018, hung her hat in Barnes from 1972-74.

And many memories were made by the students who lived in Barnes. Sometimes, it was because of a light-hearted story that brought attention to the students – like in 1964, when the men of Barnes adopted a family of ducks who lived in the courtyard near the building (pictured at right). Or in 1979, when Barnes students paid $20 to bring a 1968 Ford Galaxie to campus…to smash it up! The Barnes Dorm Board charged $0.25 per swing of a sledgehammer or three shots for $0.50 as a way of blowing off some steam at the end of the fall semester.

Other times, the memories were made because of the programs students participated in, such as the Leader Advancement Scholars or the Public Service Residential Community. And of course, thousands of Barnes Hall students have represented the hall in intramural sports.

But most importantly, the memories made were because of the major life changes students experienced while living in Barnes. A poem, found in the Old Ronan Hall when it was demolished in 1970, might best sum up the sentiment for all who passed through the doors of Barnes:

“I would like to know:
How many students laughed in this building? How many cried?
How many rebelled and then grew up?
How many didn’t?
How many found home within these walls?
How many found themselves?
How many housemothers lay awake in the night wondering if it was really worth it…
and found out that it was?
How do you measure love, so I can find out if anyone loved you more than I did?”

In only a few short weeks, we will say farewell to a building that has been a home to many and an anchor in the middle of CMU campus for over 60 years. We look forward to reading and hearing the memories of generations of students who fondly remember their times in this historic building.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Terrible Fragility of History

Frank Boles

On April 15 Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris experienced a catastrophic fire. The images of flames shooting through the roof and the collapse of the cathedral central spire were horrifying to see.

People reacted to the fire in many ways. Those who worshipped at the cathedral or shared the faith of those worshippers could only pray as they watched their beloved church consumed in fire and smoke. Historians grieved over the massive damage occurring at a world heritage site. Those of us in special collections libraries saw the fire through our own lens.
Medieval cathedrals such as Notre Dame were both grand architectural statements and carefully crafted instructional books. The beautiful stained glass windows were not only a form of worship, prayer expressed in color and glass, but also illustrated important religious scenes for a largely illiterate worshiping community. A sixteenth century worshipper inside Notre Dame might not be able to read the Bible, might not understand the Latin spoken by the priest celebrating the mass, but by glancing up to the light, much of the faith’s most important teachings were there to be seen.
As Notre Dame burned, a century’s old tutorial work in the Catholic faith made of glass and stone was suddenly at risk. The fire was a tragic reminder for keepers of history, archivists and rare book librarians in particular, that the collections whose safety they are responsible for are a fragile heritage subject not only to subtle decay but sudden calamity.
Unlike a medieval cathedral, a modern storage facility for rare books and archives such as the Clarke Historical Library has fire walls, smoke alarms, fire suppression systems installed and ready to operate, and many other tools to protect the material. If the worst still happens a disaster plan outlines salvage procedures and priorities. The library has installed precautionary technology and written solid emergency plans, but like any human effort, they are not foolproof. As the fire at Notre Dame starkly illustrated, tragedy can suddenly overcome the physical media that carries our history, whether it exists on paper or is enshrined in glass and stone.  The physical “stuff” of history is fragile. Paper and vellum, light sensitive material used to create visual images, the bits and bytes through which computers store data, are all prone to long-term failure and sudden catastrophe. Preserving these media from destruction is one of the core objectives of the archival profession.
That archival imperative to preserve and protect the material on which history is recorded makes the fire at Notre Dame not only tragic to archivists, but deeply moving. It is what we spend years trying to avoid, and why watching the dramatic failure of those efforts was so profoundly chilling. I am sure I was not the only archivist who watched the video of the cathedral’s central spire falling in flame who, despite all their thought and planning to preserve the collection entrusted to their care, recalled the saying often attributed to the sixteenth century English evangelical preacher John Bradford, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”
We offer our deepest sympathy to the community of worshippers who called Notre Dame their spiritual home, to the people of Paris for whom the building was a central feature, and to the global community who have seen a world heritage site suffer grievously. We hope that all these people and others will unite to preserve those parts of the building that remain and rebuild those parts which have been lost. It is how I like to believe people like archivists, and historians, and those who cherish the past respond, whenever a cultural disaster strikes.