LETTER: What it was like to see Nichols Hall burn down 50 years ago


This letter to the editor was written by David Kromm, retired Kansas State professor of geography. If you would like to write a letter to the Collegian, send us an email at letters@kstatecollegian.com or visit kstatecollegian.com/contact.

1968 is remembered as a momentous year because of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the passing of the Civil Rights Acts, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, ending the Prague Spring and many other major events.

Much happened at Kansas State as well, most importantly the destruction of Nichols Hall by fire on Dec. 13, 1968. K-State’s castle was built as a venue for basketball games, physical education and military science. Fifty years ago, Nichols was home to the Department of Music, which meant it housed valuable sheet music and instruments.

I was a young assistant professor in the geography department, and we occupied the second floor of Thompson Hall, sharing some classrooms with geology on the first floor. My office was in the southwest corner of Thompson, with my windows looking out over Anderson Avenue to the south and Nichols Hall to the west. I admired Nichols every day out of my east-facing office window. It was a beautiful building to behold.

Dec. 13 was a cold night, and before 2 a.m., my home phone rang. I was told to come quickly because Nichols was on fire and burning pieces were flying onto the roof of Thompson. I should come and take valuable items out of my office.

Once there, I joined a group of geographers and geologists putting out miniature roof fires and watching the flaming inferno. I took most of the important teaching and research papers I kept in my office to my home, where many of them stayed until I retired in 2002.

In April of this year, Hale Library looked back half a century with the exhibit “Best of Times, Worst of Times: K-State in 1968.” On May 12, 2018, an accidental fire led to significant smoke and water damage in the library.

Fortunately, the exhibit was saved by archivist Cliff Hight and others on the library staff. It could be part of remembering K-State in 2068.

I have vivid memories of that cold December night 50 years ago. I think of it every time I hear “The Wabash Cannonball.”

P.S. Thank you, Coach Bill Snyder, for all you have done for K-State.

David Kromm is a retired Kansas State professor emeritus of geography. The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.