Share Your Favorite Campus Curiosities

If you do it right, college is all about exploring the unknown. So it should come as no surprise that many college campuses are ripe with secret sites and beloved wonders of their very own. There’s MIT’s “Infinite Corridor,” a normal hallway that occasionally becomes a remarkable sun tunnel; at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania there’s a low barrier simply known as “The Fence,” that’s covered in a growing strata of paint layers; at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City they’ve got an unmistakable library that’s covered in dense works of mosaic art. The list of collegiate curiosities is endless, and now we want to hear about the most unforgettable college spots that you’ve ever encountered.

(Image: Mark Hogan/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the thread below, tell us about your college’s greatest campus wonder, or the most incredible college wonder you’ve ever heard of. Let us know how you discovered it, its name and location, and what its story is. If you have any pictures of your campus curiosity, we want to see those too! Your response might be included in an upcoming round-up article on Atlas Obscura. For many it’s summer break, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still discover the wonders of school!

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I did my undergrad at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, which has the incredible Tree of 40 Fruit. I passed by it many, many times on campus before finally hearing about it/finding its location during my senior year.

I also did my MSc at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland, which maintains St Cecilia’s Hall. It’s Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall, and it’s home to an amazing collection of beautiful centuries-old keyboards.

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There’s a tunnel system that runs underneath the entirety of UCLA. One of the entrance points is the orchestra pit of Royce Hall, where I used to work as a stage tech. Never got the chance to explore it.

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St. Joan of Arc chapel on Marquette University’s campus in Milwaukee.

The chapel is originally from the Rhone Valley in France, thought to be built in the 15th century. Legend has it that Joan of Arc prayed there before leading her troops. It was moved in pieces during the '20s from France to Long Island, NY and then moved once again to the middle of Marquette’s campus in the '60s.

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I’ve always love the UCLA Steam Tunnels!

Miami%20U%20Alumni%20Hall

Miami University (the original, not the one in Florida) Alumni Hall 1910

The old library now houses the Architecture and Fine Arts department studios. Back in the late 70’s, during an early am work/study/design session, a few of us, from the Senior architecture studio, managed our way into the central core of the building which is where the old library stacks were located. The building itself was three stories, but the central core was comprised of seven opaque glass floor levels. The stacks themselves ran from the basement all the way up, with the glass floors built around them.

We found the stair access to the seventh level was blocked due to that level housing the University archives. Well, not to be denied, we did the ole “Paper Chase” option and pushed out a stack shelf that was up in the seventh level and climbed through. No shenanigans, we just wanted to say we got up there.

What a great memory, unfortunately, the stack area is long gone and turned into additional studio space.

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ben's%20button
Philadelphia is a lover of odd sculpture and an admirer of the original rebel, Ben Franklin. So, when UPenn placed a large [literally] statute of Ole Ben on campus, meh, no big deal. However one Swedish sculptor, Claes Oldenburg, noticed how stout Mr Franklin was, like any artistic type his imagination kicked in. He imagined that Ben perhaps had the age-old problem many stout people experience; that is popping a button around the belly when you sit down.

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Who could forget the famous John Harvard Statue of Three Lies in Harvard Yard in Cambridge MA?

  1. It isn’t John Harvard
  2. The statue of John Harvard lists him as the founder (he wasn’t)
  3. The plaque states Harvard was founded in 1638 (it was 1636)

Technically, it is the Statue of Four Lies, in that it’s said to stand in Harvard Yard, when in fact, it sits :wink:

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At Pasadena City College in Pasadena, CA, just kitty-corner from Caltech, sits a small structure that you’ll miss unless you are looking for it – an astronomy observatory. Albert Einstein visited the campus in February 1931 to dedicate the building, with about 8,000 people in attendance. It is located at the corner of Hill Avenue and Del Mar Boulevard, where parking lots 3 and 4 meet.

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Williams steam tunnels!

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In Leiden University there is my favourite: Einstein’s Sink.


I recently wrote an article about that Investigations into the origin of Einstein’s Sink

Then there is also

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I guess the library of any university is a treasure trove ripe for exploring. But in terms of non literary curiosities these are a few curiosities that come to mind that I’ve seen on visits to different universities.

UNAM , Mexico :

The botanical garden (Really cool place to chill and awesome place for anyone who loves cacti as there is a massive collection)

The espacio esculturico (A place with really quirky vibes , natural scenery and wildlife of the Pedregal ecological reserve, cool place to get high)

Universum science museum ( A brilliant science museum with interactive displays)

All the murals on the university faculty buildings ( Must see for anyone with an interest in art or architecture etc.)

INAH (university of anthropology and history) Mexico city:

The murals of the university building (stripy and strikingly modernist , sort of like a sherbert sweet , which contrast sharply with the traffic and bustle of the Periferico)

The ruins of the pyramid of Cuilcuilco which are literally next door (The oldest pyramid of the Americas , built by an ancient civilization destroyed by a pompeii type volcanic eruption , enough said)

UCL , London :

The Grant museum of zoology ( One of my favourite museums in London , very Victoriana / cabinet of curiosity atmosphere and full of fascinating natural history specimens like thylacine skins , quagga bones , slow loris embryos and fruit bats in pickle jars , gorilla skulls and maned wolf skeletons)

The Petrie museum ( Founded by the great archeologist August Petrie , I can’t reccomend this enough. It has a real old school / early 20th century feel and ambience , maintains it’s character and intimacy and showcases all the smaller artifacts of Ancient Egyptian that places like the British museum overlook)

University of Oxford :

The Ashmolean museum (Excellent archeological / history museum , its sort of an intermedietary between the Petrie museum and the British museum in terms of ambience and intimacy , some superb artifacts from different civilizations on display , plus awesome exhibitions)

The Pitt Rivers museum ( One of the best anthropology museums in the world , maintains and stays faithful to the old school 20th century feel and stylism , you could potentially spend hours contemplating the cabinets of curiosity )

The Oxford Botanical garden (Just a lovely botanical garden and full of literary history , the waterlilly house is beautiful)

The Natural history museum , Oxford (Not as impressive as the NHM of London but worth a visit just to see the dodo)

USP (University of Sao Paulo) , Brazil

Museum of Contemporary art ( There is a brilliant variety of artwork from Modigliani , Picasso etc. and lots of famous Latin American artists like Wilfredo Lam , Portinari and others )

Museum of Zoology (Not really on a par with world class natural history museum due to some pretty obvious underfunding issues courtesy of the Brazilian government but still has some pretty interesting specimens of taxidermy , bones and preserved creatures of native and exotic species)

(A couple more museums for USP too, soon I’ll write some entries for them for AO as soon as I’ve got round to visiting them)

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Like what seems like the majority of American Schools, Millersville University rose from the ashes of the civil war. It’s actually a few years older than that, but at its founding in 1855, I had heard legend that every building at the time was connected by underground tunnels. This fascinated me for my entire time at the school and underclassmen had to park in a faraway lot close to nothing but a storm water outflow.

for years i walked past that and wondered if it was my access point to the tunnels. I had friends that worked in the library (on the site of old main) and they swore the library used the tunnels for storage. My imagination ran wild.

I did nothing about it.

Finally, the night before I was supposed to graduate, I went to a party. I don’t remember much about it, but at the end of the night, it was me and a half dozen of my friends hanging out on a balcony. The guy who lived there set off his fire extinguisher, coating the whole apartment in corn starch, then came out to the balcony to tell the six of us that the party was getting out of control and that we’d have to leave.

We did.

I was milling about on the lawn like a zombie whose unaware of what a zombie is when I heard my name.

I jerked around and saw my friends Parker, Ben and Jesse. They had been looking for me for a while, and it was time. We were going into the storm water outflow.

The four of us crawled in, in this era before camera phones and cell phones of any kind, really. They had grabbed flashlights, but the only thing I had brought was the faint odor of corn starch.

About 300 feet in, Ben and I, who were both graduating in the morning, decided to go back to get a video camera. Parker and Jesse continued on.

After retrieving the camera, we walked back to the grate that we told the others we would meet them at. My stomach sank. Two police officers were parked on top of the grate and Ben and I swore that they were there to drag out our buddies.

Ben and I cowered in the bushes for a half an hour until the cars pulled away.

Locked away from the world in the bowels of the university Jesse and Parker thought we got in trouble. When we eventually got them the camera, they were sick of the spiders and decided to just come back out.

I was spurred on by that first journey and bought a skateboard with gigantic tires to felt me through the underworld, but alas, we never returned. The skateboard eventually rotted away, as did my desire to return to the bowels of central pennsylvania.

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hahaha This in incredible story. Thank you.

Here’s mine…

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The campus of my alma mater, Twente University, features a piece of art (in quite a prominent location) that was a mystery for a long time: nobody knew where it came from when it appeared in april 1974. Only in 2013 were the makers revealed. All this time, the groundsmen of the University took care of it and even fixed it.

The Dutch-only Wikipedia page for this artwork has more details: Het ding (kunstwerk) - Wikipedia

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One of my favorite places to visit is St. Augustine Florida. Flagler College is in the heart of the old city and has a marvelous tour that is guided by current students. On that tour you get to go to the dinning room that has original Tiffany Glass windows. They are stunning! The school started life as a winter hotel for the upper crust of the American industrial era. It has so many beautiful architectural features that I cannot begin to name them all. Highly recommend visiting Flagler College and the surrounding historic area.
Louis Comfort Tiffany at Flagler College

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Each year, the graduating class at Meredith College designs and dedicates a doll to the private college. This tradition began in 1936. Each doll is dressed in popular fashions during their year of dedication and are on display in Johnson Hall. The true curiosity about Meredith College is that the college was chosen as the most haunted college campus because of the doll collection.

If you are curious, here is a link to the entire collection, which includes information about each doll: Year-by-Year Doll Listing

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We have steam tunnels like this at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL too. I think they’re also under EIU. I work in the library and am on a committee that holds trainings but also fun things too. We did a behind the scenes, hidden secrets of Morris Library, and we peeked into one of the tunnels that connects to our building. Creepy looking! Of course there are the urban legends about students sneaking into them and dying etc lol! Pretty sure no one has actually died in one lol! I will look for the photo I took and links of these stories I’ve found before.

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