Posts with the tag: McMahon Hall

The Archivist’s Nook: The Mysterious Case of the Utopian Ghost Car

The Ghost Car parked outside Gibbons Hall, 1953. Real specter or merely a photographic trick?

Question of the week – where’s the Ghost Car? As you ought to know. a mysterious foreign ghost limousine haunted the campus for a few days early this week, and then, just as mysteriously, slipped away to Valhalla. – Tower, October 30, 1953

Once upon a time, the Catholic University of America campus was haunted by a specter so otherworldly and so unpredictable that it moved from building to building with the aid of a society of followers known as the Utopes. What message did this ghostly automobile wish to convey? What was its unfinished business? Why, it was there to advertise the 1953 Hayshaker Brawl dance!

The Hayshaker Brawl was a dance hosted by the Utopian Club – later renamed to the SIgma Phi Delta fraternity – held every other year at Halloween. It was an informal dance – in the 1960 posting for the Brawl, guests were warned, “But whatever you do, don’t you dare wear a coat and tie!” Costumes were encouraged, and the night’s events were marked by the occasional square dance set.

Founded on March 14, 1923, the Utopian Club was among the many social organizations that populated the Catholic University campus during the early twentieth century. Among the various clubs were the Senators Club, the Abbey Club, the Dod Noon Club, and (by 1935) the Cave Dwellers. In 1945, the Columbians would join these ranks as the first all-female social club on campus. All these organizations acted as communal societies, organizing everything from formal galas to, well, Hayshake Brawls. A previous blog discussed the origins of their Homecoming and Thanksgiving galas, but there was so many shaking traditions! Often these organizations would even partner up for a dance, with the Utopians and Columbians working to establish memorable outings such as the 1956 “Cloak and Dagger Drag”, an espionage-themed dance!

Look if you dare! The only known surviving image from the 1953 Hayshaker Brawl.

Party favors were offered to guests, and there was a best costume prize awarded at the end of the evening. The 1949 prize went to,  “Ginny Bradley, dressed as a ‘Flapper’ of 1929,” who “received a homemade television set as a prize for the best costume.” We cannot say for sure whether a homemade television was a real treat or some Utopian trick!

But perhaps the trick of the 1953 dance was its phenomenal promotion. The ghost car was a hit with students. After the Utopians had placed it outside Gibbons Hall, the Tower reports, “various outlanders, enchanted by the old girl, entered the act, and unbeknownst to the Utopes, old Ghost Car made the campus rounds, ending up in McMahon lobby.” Understandably, there were a few people on campus unhappy with this new, indoor parking space and an exorcism of the ghost commenced, with the Ghost Car vanishing to be never heard from again.

Despite the disappearance of the Ghost Car, the 1953 dance managed to remain in the minds of the campus community. As the Tower acclaimed, “we hereby give [the Utopians] the prize for the most original, if not most aesthetic, contribution to the field of advertising, which has been raised to the status of a fine art at the university.” But the car was not the only form of promotion that was deployed. Utopians spread it via word of mouth and through local ads. One of which proclaimed:

The 1949 Hayshaker Brawl experienced its own strange scenes.

Hear ye, hear ye! Be it decreed to all campus kats and kittens that the coolest conclave of the sorcerers’ season, the 15th annual Utopian Hayshaker Brawl is this year set for the misty hills of Northeast Washington.

The 1953 dance became such a legend that its organizer, Michael Clendenin, was heralded in the Tower 3 years later when he was about to graduate. (Of course, being the Tower editor maybe had something to do with the praise…) Clendenin described “his work with…the Utopians as the most rewarding and socially satisfying” during his time at Catholic University.

As for the Utopians? Like the Ghost Car, they have faded from campus and entered memory. In 1956, in honor of its long-time mentor, Fr. Ignatius Smith, O.P, the Utopians changed their name to the Sigma Pi Delta Fraternity, which ceased to be active at the University by the late 1980s. The Archives holds a small collection of Sigma Pi Delta material from the 1960s and 1970s.

But if you find yourself in McMahon Hall on a chilly October night, listen closely. Perhaps you may hear the engine roar of the Ghost Car as it idles the ages away.

The Archivist’s Nook: Cataloging the Library’s History

Postcard depiction of the Mullen Library, 1920s.

“Library Too Heavy! Will Sink in 10,000 Years!” exclaimed a tongue-in-cheek Tower article from 1927, calling on all students to help relocate the library building to a more stable location. The Library the article was referring to was the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, then under construction. With its marble and limestone edifice and ability to hold one million volumes, the students were perhaps only half-joking when they stated that it may sink! For Catholic University students of the time were used to a far more humble library.

For nearly a century, Mullen Library has been a hub of campus life, so it may be hard to imagine a time when it was not a fixture on the campus. While the Library as an institution – and not just its current building – has existed since the day the University welcomed its first students, it has not always possessed such a beautiful home all to itself.

First located in the basement of Caldwell Hall (then called Divinity Hall), the Library started life humbly. But as the University expanded, so did the need of its students and faculty for books. It quickly outgrew its Caldwell offices and relocated to the ground floor of McMahon Hall in 1908. But even with this move, the Library was finding itself continuing to encounter issues with space.  By the early 1920s, the University Librarian Joseph Schneider was storing excess books in the basement of the gym. Fortunately, a new chapter in the Library’s history was about to begin.

The Caldwell Library, 1896 (L); McMahon Library, 1917 (R). Which location would you prefer to study in?

In 1921, the founder of the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company, John K. Mullen, provided a donation of $500,000 to construct a new home for the Library. A committee was organized in 1924 to select the designs for the building, with construction beginning in 1925. The building itself would open during the fall of 1928.

The construction of this new central library fit in with the fourth rector Thomas J. Shahan’s vision for Catholic University. Known as the “Builder Rector,” under Shahan’s tenure (1909-1928), the University experienced an explosion of construction, including Graduate Hall (now O’Connell), Maloney Hall, Salve Regina, the gymnasium (today’s Crough Hall), and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Murphy & Olmsted architectural rendering of Mullen Library, 1924.

Murphy & Olmsted Architects was selected to design the new library Frederick Vernon Murphy – the “Murphy” in the firm’s title – was the first professor of Catholic University’s Department of Architecture. Starting at Catholic in 1911, Murphy would become the unofficial “University Architect” in helping make Shahan’s vision a reality. He had lent his expertise to the design of all the buildings mentioned above, save the Shrine!

The new Library building would be constructed of Kentucky limestone and Massachusetts granite, with concrete work performed the prolific John J. Earley. The Library’s cornerstone was laid on April 22, 1925. The ceremony included introductory remarks by Shahan, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, and Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday. Emphasizing Shahan’s monumental vision for the campus – and the new library’s role in it – Guilday drew attention to the symbolic alignment of the library with the National Shrine, then also under construction:

“The sun going down to rest in the evening casts across the greensward of our campus a last ray of splendor that falls athwart two buildings…At one end of this golden axis is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception now being raised to the glory of the Blessed Mother of God by her loving children of the United States, and at the other, this enduring monument.”

Photo reads, “Crypt of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, D.C., Oct. 27, 1925.” The construction of Mullen Library can be seen in the distance on the right.

While originally planned with wings for the stacks, funding issues necessitated the building be opened in 1928 with only the front and central portions and the basement levels complete. The additional wings were not completed until 1958, three decades after the library first opened its doors. Interestingly, this project was part of a second wave of construction blossoming on campus, including McGivney, Pangborn, McCort-Ward, and additions to Caldwell and Curley Halls.

It is best we bookend this post with the original 1927 Tower article. While Mullen Library would not open for another year, the students were already playfully reflecting on its promise of alleviating the space and storage issues of the long-standing library facilities. While an elaborate parody piece, it showed that the students wished to see this palace to knowledge survive for 10,000 years, even if it meant they had to carry it across campus to more secure spot!

Special thanks to Katherine Santa Ana, for her research on the topic of this blog. Read more about the construction and early history of Mullen Library here: https://cuexhibits.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/mullenhistory/construction

The Archivist’s Nook: Best of the Museum Collection on Campus

Ivory Triptych Date of Gift: 1917 Location: McMahon Hall – Room 109
Ivory Triptych
Date of Gift: 1917
Location: McMahon Hall – Room 109

Here at the Archives, keeping track of the many museum worthy art objects on The Catholic University of America campus is perhaps one of our lesser known duties. While we have written extensively about the history of the museum collection as well as several specific objects in the collection, we have long wanted to take you on a grand tour of the “Best of the Museum Collection on Campus.” It was difficult to narrow down which stops to include on this tour as there are so many treasures to find, but we selected a few of our favorites!

We’ll start at the second oldest campus building, McMahon Hall, which was dedicated in 1895 by Cardinal James Gibbons. Walking inside the foyer, one of the most iconic museum pieces at CUA is hard to miss: the heroic statue of Pope Leo XIII seated on a throne. Crowned with a tiara, the Holy Father is raising his hand in a gesture of blessing. The gift of Joseph F. Loubat, the statue was made from Carrarra marble by Guiseppi Luchetti. This statue was famous in its day; Theodore Roosevelt himself rode over to pay it a visit! In front of this imposing, 12 foot tall statue is a massive marble table, a more recently acquired museum piece whose fascinating history is told in a previous blog post.

St. Paul and Madonna and Child Statues Date of Gift: 1959 Location: Mullen Library – May Gallery
St. Paul and Madonna and Child Statues
Date of Gift: 1959
Location: Mullen Library – May Gallery

Now it’s time to make your way down the hall to room 109, the School of Arts and Sciences. In the main seating area, you’ll find a large ivory relief triptych depicting multiple Gospel scenes. Given to CUA in 1917 by Arthur Connolly, this work of art was completed in 17th century France. Ivory triptychs are rarely found at this scale, this one is unusual for its large size. Among the stories of the life of Christ told through the carved panels, you’ll find many Gothic motifs, such as elaborately carved pointed arches.

Our next stop is Caldwell Hall, the oldest building on campus. Walking through the front doors, you’ll ascend the sweeping staircase and enter Caldwell Chapel. An entire museum piece in its own right, this chapel is also home to seventeen, “Munich style” stained glass windows completed by the Royal Bavarian Art Institute between 1888 and 1890. Exiting the chapel, walk down the hall to room 111. This inconspicuous classroom is home to one of a pair of paintings given to the university in 1961 by Antony Pisani. This 126 inch long oil painting depicts the “Hunting of the Meleager,” a heroic legend of Meleager, Atalanta, Jason, and others hunting the Calydonian boar. This painting and its pair, “Dance of Nymphs” located in the third floor hallway of Caldwell, correspond to two famous paintings by Nicolas Poussin: “The Hunt of Meleager” of the Prado and “Dance in Honor of Priapus” of the Sao Paulo Museu de Arte.

Our last stop in Caldwell is on the first floor, in room 100. Known as the Monsignor Stephen P. Happel Room, this space is home to a large oil painting attributed to the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Donated in 1926, this painting was originally thought to depict St. Francis of Assisi carrying a cross. However, in recent years we have come to believe it may be San Diego de Alcala, as Saint Francis is usually shown as an older, bearded man.

“Dance of the Nymphs” Oil Painting Date of Gift: 1961 Location: Caldwell Hall – 3rd Floor Hallway
“Dance of the Nymphs” Oil Painting
Date of Gift: 1961
Location: Caldwell Hall – 3rd Floor Hallway

Let’s end our museum tour in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. While this library is home to many statues and works of art, we’ll highlight just two in the May Gallery of the first floor. This gallery displays two French Gothic wood statues on either side of the fireplace. On the left, you’ll find a late 14th century statue of St. Paul, donated by a Miss Jesse Jebiley. On the right is a 13th century Madonna and Child, donated by Frederick Jambes. They make a wonderful pair to finish off our tour with!

For any questions about the museum collection, send us an email at lib-archives@cua.edu. For an easy to print list of all the items mentioned in this post, follow the link: Best of the Museum on Campus List

The Archivist’s Nook: If This Table Had Ears!

The Table, up close and personal, photo by Angela Geosits, 8-13-2015.
The Table, up close and personal, photo by Angela Geosits, 8-13-2015.

This week’s post is guest authored by Angela Geosits, archives assistant and doctoral student in English.

Any visitor to McMahon Hall is likely familiar with the massive marble table which dominates the central foyer. Set between the two great staircases out of the flow of foot traffic, this stately table blends in with the neutral colors of the space and feels as if it has always been there. But contrary to all expectations, this 2 ½ ton marble table is surprisingly well traveled, and even enjoyed a misspent youth loitering in the lobby of Loew’s Capitol Theatre, the last surviving Broadway vaudeville house. Some traces of this thespian origin can be seen in the detailed carvings of Comedy and Tragedy on the table’s supports.

But how on earth did our table get from a vaudeville theatre in New York City to an academic building at Catholic University in Washington, DC? The story begins in the winter of 1967, when the roof of the Army surplus theater the Drama Department had been using as their performance space collapsed under a heavy load of snow. Enthusiastic fundraising efforts began in order to fill the desperate need for a new stage. CUA Drama alumnus Ed McMahon (no relation to Monsignor James McMahon for whom the building is named) knew the Loews and organized a special benefit for the CUA Drama Department on the last night of performances at the Capitol Theatre. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: If This Table Had Ears!”

The Archivist’s Nook: On McMahon’s Oldest Resident

McMahon Hall, undated photo
McMahon Hall, looking pretty timeless in this undated photo.

Good Old McMahon Hall. Built in 1892 to house the school of philosophy, arts and sciences, and the school of social sciences, this Romanesque structure has had many occupants across the last 123 years.  Sociology, biology, languages, math, a plethora of administrative offices—all have been in, out, and back again across the decades. The second building erected as part of CUA’s young campus, McMahon was made possible by a $400,000 (yes, buildings were a lot cheaper way back then) donation by Monsignor James McMahon, an Irish-born priest who had served as a New York pastor. The Monsignor lived in the building in his retirement, passing his final days there until his death in 1901 at the age of eighty-four.

McMahon would surely have had good company there, not only with the professors and students who roamed the halls and occupied the classrooms, but with Giuseppe Luchetti’s imposing Leo XIII, a 12-foot high marble statue with which Theodore Roosevelt explicitly requested an audience. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: On McMahon’s Oldest Resident”

The Archivist’s Nook: Collecting the Sacred and Secular – The Museum at Catholic University

Christ Pantokrator Enthroned by Thomas Xenakis (1997)
Christ Pantokrator Enthroned by Thomas Xenakis (1997)

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the Museum Collection at CUA is the oldest part of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. The first donations date to before CUA opened in 1889. Items were displayed in Caldwell Hall until 1905, and thereafter, until 1976, parts of the collection were either displayed in McMahon Hall, Mullen Library, or in storage. Since then the collection has been stored in Curley Hall, and more recently parts in Aquinas Hall or with items being used in campus exhibitions, often the May Gallery in Mullen, or loaned to secure campus offices to be displayed and enjoyed as office decoration.

CUA continues to accept a small number of artifacts as part of its manuscript collections along with paintings, sculptures, and other objects from individual donors. In 1976, responsibility for the museum was taken up by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives (then known as the Department of Archives and Manuscripts), though it was not until 1994 that a project to establish a comprehensive and descriptive catalog of the entire museum collection was undertaken.  The museum collection today includes art works and artifacts representing different periods and genres, totaling about 5,000 pieces. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Collecting the Sacred and Secular – The Museum at Catholic University”