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.
You 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.
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.