Hale Library’s Great Room has secrets, story of its own

The Great Room located in Hale Library on Feb. 15, 2017. (Kelly Pham | The Collegian)

At a university as historic as Kansas State, it may be hard to perceive the changes that have occurred over the years. But 90 years ago, Hale Library’s Great Room was a substantially different place.

A photo from Nov. 16, 1927, shows students sitting in the Great Room’s familiar rows of tables, with the same arching windows lighting the room. However, the chandeliers and bare walls illustrated in the photograph highlight the changes the Great Room had undergone since the photograph was taken nearly a century ago.

“The Great Room is the reading room of what was originally the Farrell Library that was built in 1927, and it was the first free-standing library on campus,” Lori Goetsch, dean of libraries, said.

Goetsch said the room used to be full of books, but following expansions in 1955, 1970 and 1996, it became a reading room with a mystery.

“There used to be really pretty chandeliers that hung from the ceiling of that room that were taken down once renovation and other work was going on, and they were stored away, never to be found again,” Goetsch said. “We don’t know what happened to them, if they’re still stashed away somewhere here on campus or if somebody made off with them, but someday we’re going to find them or we’re going to get ones like them and put them back up there. That’s our little mystery.”

Today, the Great Room is known for its four murals, Goetsch said.

“(The murals) were painted in 1934 during the Depression as part of the ‘Public Works of Art Project’ by David Overmyer, who is a muralist from Topeka,” Goetsch said. “They are intended to represent the four areas of the university’s research and teaching: human ecology, or home economics as it was called at the time, agriculture, the arts and engineering.”

The room’s quiet environment attracts students looking for a place where they can sit down and focus, but that is not always the case, Camryn Webster, sophomore in kinesiology, said.

“I don’t study in the Great Room a lot because so many people go there for study hours or because they think it looks like Harry Potter, so at times it’s not quiet even though it is on the silent floor,” Webster said. “It is a really cool place to study in, but you have to know the right hours to go.”

Students and visitors dub the room the “Harry Potter Room” for its resemblance to the dining hall in the Harry Potter films, Goetsch said.

“When I study in this room, I can’t help but feel like I’m studying in a different world,” Faith Rahman, senior in biochemistry, said.

The Great Room may not have an enchanted ceiling like Hogwarts did in the Harry Potter movies, but Goetsch said it has snowed inside the room before, due to cracked windows rather than any magical charms. Those windows were replaced in 2015 after donor Mark Chapman agreed to fund the $325,000 project as a gift to the university.

“It has become a much nicer environment since those windows were redone,” Goetsch said. “It has really helped us to maintain the beauty of the space and the tradition.”