Unseen footage of Old Main fire

burning of old main

I remember it as if it were yesterday. On the bitterly cold night of Jan. 22, 1959, Old Main dormitory, a landmark on the Mississippi State campus burst into flames.  I learned of the fire upon arriving at my sixth grade class at East Side Elementary.  I think everyone in West Point, Mississippi, hopped in their cars and drove over to see the remains.

 

fuireYou could see the flames from our town which was about 15 miles as the crow flies. This fire was a doozie, and the topic of conversation for years to come.  It is unbelievable that only one student lost his life in the fire when you consider that it was one of the largest university dormitories in the nation.

Fast forward fifty-five years.  On January 22, 2014, the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum will present a special program on the burning of Old Main. This program is different from any other because it will feature a video made during the actual burning.

Shot by a student resident at the building, the 8 millimeter film lay dormant in someone’s home for a half century.  It was discovered by Bill Foster who converted it to a DVD which will be played on Wednesday.  The program begins at 10 a.m. and will be led by historian Charles Lowery, author of “Old Main: Images of a Legend” and Roy Ruby, one of the funniest story tellers I’ve ever known.

Old Main housed just over 1,100 students. Fire broke out in the dormitory late in the evening and due to the building’s age and insufficient sprinkler system, the grand old building succumbed to the flames and was still smoldering on the morning of Jan. 23 and for days afterward.

Authorities believed the fire started when one of the students living there overturned one of the decorative candelabra in the building. The building was famous for those adornments, including one famous gold candelabrum created in 1932 by Belgian artist Didier Bonvitesse.

roy

Come join us on Wednesday for what I assure you will be an interesting and entertaining program. At right, Roy is pictured on the site where Old Main was built in the 1888s and added onto many times before it was destroyed.

6 thoughts on “Unseen footage of Old Main fire

  1. Where will this be held? I might try and come over!
    I remember it well. My Uncle Ellis lived in the dorm for a semester or two. Daddy did not live in it. All the athletes lived in the dormitory that was behind the old business building…..can’t remember the name……
    Olivia

  2. Bo and I were staying up all night studying for tests the night Old Main burned. We were living in married students’ housing, better known as the tar paper shacks. Ha. When we heard the popping noises and then saw the fire, Bo went over to see what was happening. At one point during his schooling, Bo had lived in Old Main.

  3. Bet Bo could tell some stories! Please come to our program – we have just installed a monument to old main in the garden beside the mueseum. It incorporates a section of knarled metal fire escape salvaged from the ruins.

    Olivia the program is at the museum which you an see from my house – corner of Russell and Fellowship streets. If you come, we can do lunch afterwards.

  4. I remember wrapping up in a blanket and going out to see the fire. My brother was a member of the Starkville Fire Department that fought the fire.

  5. Both of my older brothers. Lived in Old Main during their freshman years. I visited there are few times. There were charred spots in the floor where trash had been burned. Lots of wild tales have been told of shenanigans in Old Main.
    It might be more than coincidence that the room mate of the guy who died in the fire was later convicted of murder or his next door neighbor.

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