Inside the legends of Jesse Hall

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain: “This building, it speaks to the legacy and the history of who we are.”

The history-filled Jesse Hall dome holds secrets even the oldest graduates are unaware of. Its arching form is visible from almost any point on campus, and Jesse Hall itself is MU’s most recognizable building.

Jesse’s building coordinator and self-professed “keeper of the dome,” John Murray, has monitored the hall and the dome for many years. While one of MU’s seven unofficial traditions is to climb to the top of Jesse, Murray said he has never heard of anyone actually doing it. He has seen evidence of people making their way up there, however.

“There is, on the north side of the dome right at the base — it’s been a year or more since I’ve been up there — but there used to be several pennies glued to the dome with years on them,” Murray said. “My take was that someone, the same someone or groups of someone … would glue the penny to the dome representing the year that they were up there.”

As of late, the inside of the dome has been closed to the public and only those who do repairs are allowed to go in.

“I always found when I took people into the dome they were always very disappointed,” Murray said. “It’s not pretty. It’s just raw wood, and nothing is painted. … The other thing is that all of the windows are frosted, so you don’t even have a view.”

Jim Spain, the vice provost for undergraduate studies and sponsor of the secret honor society QEBH, has had a similar experience with the dome.

“It is very rustic,” he said. “It’s very unfinished. The inside looks like the ugly duckling version of the outside. The inside doesn’t look at all as majestic as the outside, but that in and of itself creates a really unique and sort of mysterious perspective.”

One of the hall’s most legendary traditions is its involvement with MU’s secret societies.

“[The secret societies] would have a ceremony up in the dome,” Murray said. “It would involve painting their initials inside. There are [over] a hundred years of initials painted or even scraped in with a pocket knife into the wood.”

Jesse Hall has history with QEBH, in particular.

“[They] have, since the beginning, associated with Jesse Hall,” Spain said. “As part of their induction ceremony, [they] would access the dome. They’ve had a historical relationship, not just with the dome, but with Jesse Hall more broadly.”

Looking at the very top of the dome, one may notice a sphere. The sphere itself is a replacement of a winged sphere that was once torn off.

“If you go back in history, the story is that a very patriotic student climbed to the top of Jesse Hall and tied an American flag on one of the wings,” Spain said. “It was pulled off because of the weight of the flag in the wind, and as a result of that, they decided not to replace it with the winged sphere, but just the sphere. That's what we have up there now.”

The winged sphere is not lost in MU’s history. A replica of it sits in Jesse Hall today. Spain said members of QEBH worked together to raise $35,000 in order to restore the sphere.

“QEBH adopted the winged sphere as its emblem,” Spain said. “It being in Jesse Hall is significant because it represents Jesse Hall and the original design and the original architecture.”

For Spain, Jesse Hall means something more to him than just an old building. It represents MU as a whole.

“When [students] arrived at the University of Missouri, they arrived at Jesse Hall,” Spain said. “This is where they came; they would pull right up here. The street came right up to us. This building, it speaks to the legacy and the history of who we are.”

Edited by Claire Mitzel | cmitzel@themaneater.com

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