A One-of-a-Kind Campus Tour

Our journey into hidden places brings forgotten UW history to life.

View of the illuminated end of a long dark hallway where On Wisconsin writer Preston Schmitt climbs down a ladder

Schmitt ventures into the UW steam tunnels to give the rest of us a peek. Bryce Richter

Over the last couple months, writer Preston Schmitt ’14 and photographer Bryce Richter were two of the luckiest people at UW–Madison. They got to visit fascinating corners of campus that are hidden, hard to find, or completely inaccessible to the average person.

But the rest of us are lucky, too, because we can tag along on their journey. “UW Mysteries, Secrets, and Hidden Places” ventures down into tunnels, up into attics, and even out into the woods in search of legendary UW spots. It’s your once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore private areas of the university that coexist with the public ones in a parallel dimension.

“As a student, I’d heard rumors about some of these locations and have always been intrigued by them,” Schmitt says.

To find the shadowy spaces, Schmitt and Richter needed help from UW staff, who not only unlocked doors but also told stories likely to surprise you. Did you know about the charred timber in Bascom Hall’s attic from a devastating 1916 fire? About the Lost City in the Arboretum? About the remnants of a massive glass dome concealed above Memorial Union’s Great Hall?

“In some cases, the institutional knowledge of these places has simply been passed down by generations of UW employees,” Schmitt says. “The documentation that does exist often has to be pieced together through a century’s worth of newspaper and magazine archives.”

So what do we gain from this tour, other than the thrill of peeking behind curtains? By providing historical context for each location, the article significantly enriches our understanding of UW–Madison’s evolution. The next time you stroll through campus, you’ll surely see it with new eyes — and you’ll know that, above your head and beneath your feet, there’s more to this place than you ever dreamed of.

Published in the Summer 2022 issue

Tags: Campus buildings, Campus history, history, Student life

Comments

  • H R Doughty June 4, 2022

    A fascinating look at more UW history and mysteries. Thank you

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