Sixty-two years ago residents watched as Old Main Dormitory went up in flames, taking the lives of one of their classmates. On Thursday, Mississippi State University students gathered in the Colvard Student Union Dawg House to remember the history of this monumental part of Bulldog legend.
Old Main Dormitory was MSU's first dormitory and was said to be the largest college dormitory in the U.S at the time. The first section of the dorm was built in 1880, with additions being added in 1901, 1903, 1906 and 1922.
According to authorities, the fire started as a result of an overturned candelabra which decorated the halls of the dormitory. The fire broke out late during the evening, and due to the building's age and condition, it succumbed to the fire, burning early into the next morning.
Fast forward to last Thursday. The Student Association hosted "Remembering the Main" to allow students to learn more about the history of the Old Main Dormitory and the newly constructed Old Main Academic Center modeled after Old Main's character.
The event showcased the history of Old Main Dormitory and Old Main Academic Center. Students were able to view different posters documenting the history of Old Main.
Chairs of the Student Association's History and Traditions Board, Sara Mae Brodnax, a junior political science major, and Clara Fuller, a sophomore industrial engineering major, were in charge of the "Remembering the Main" event. Both received their position in April and were tasked with showcasing the history of MSU through creative events on campus.
"Remembering the Main" was Brodnax's event which she initially proposed at her History and Traditions interview.
"Last year I was sitting on campus and I thought why don't we do something about this? Why don't we have an event; why don't we talk about this on campus? The way I wanted this to go sans-COVID would have been a service in the Chapel of Memories which is built from the bricks remaining after the dorm burnt down, but because of COVID, we can't have a large gathering of people because of health reasons," Brodnax said. "We got Clara's grandfather, who was actually on campus when Old Main burnt down, to kind of give his account of the night it burnt down, and we just made some really cool posters for students to come in and look at and get the story behind it."
Many of the posters had accounts from Fuller's grandfather, Bob Montgomery, who was on campus when the Old Main Dormitory burned down in 1959.
"When I asked him to say a few words, he was ready. We don't really think about how traumatic it was. But someone did die, and he said when he looked outside it looked like the whole world was in flames," Fuller said. "And he said that, because Old Main was so large, it was so prominent on campus and … when it burned down, everyone on campus didn't really know how to respond because it was such a big thing on campus. And now it was gone."
Montgomery was initially supposed to live in Old Main while attending MSU, but he switched to live in Hull Hall before moving on campus. He watched the building burn from Hull Hall his freshman year.
"I opened the blinds and looked out and it looked like the world was on fire. Just as tremendous, of course, we walked out just as safely as we could to Old Main, but it burned in front of our eyes," a quote from Montgomery on one of the posters read.
Senior communication major Madeline Enlow attended "Remembering the Main" and discussed the significance of the event and why it is important for students to know the history of Old Main.
"I thought it was a really incredible opportunity for students to remember some history of Mississippi State that we forget about so often … It was one of the largest dorms in the nation, and when that happened, it definitely just changed the atmosphere of the campus. We now have so many ways to remember from the chapel and then the class building that is named after it. I think it was really cool for students to come and see somebody who actually had firsthand experience," Enlow said.
As Old Main was and still is an important part of MSU history, the spirit of the building and the residents who resided there continues on in the bricks of the Chapel of Memories and the new Old Main Academic Center.
"Your pride just grows through the things that so many students and fellow Bulldogs have gone through and grown through and the way that our university has done the same," Enlow said.