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.


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.

10 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……

  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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  7. Jim and I were married and living in Miss Louie Wier’s apartment on Main Street. We got up and went to the campus and watched it burn. Jim had lived in it two years.

  8. My brother Dale and I were the last two students to get out of the building. We carried a large armoire out filled with all of our belongings along with our roommate’s and it took 5 people to move it after it was outside; pure adrenelin.

  9. My great uncle lived in Old Main before 1935 due to the records indicating his military service began in 1935. He was an ROTC cadet from Camden NJ who spent the rest of his career serving his country. He retired a Lieutenant Col and saw many different countries during his career. The accomplishment he was most proud of, was being Pres. Eisenhower’s interpreter during WWII.

    Uncle Rogo used to tell of the night he and some friends (I don’t remember if they were inebriated) went out to South Farm and stole a cow. They walked that cow up the stairs in Old Main to one of their rooms. Needless to say, they got caught. Uncle Rogo laughed about doing that until the day he passed.

  10. Actually the fire started after midnight, so the correct date is Jan. 23, 1959. I was up studing for an exam in my room. My two room mates had gone home and the dorm was as quite as a mouse, of which we had or share in Old Main.
    I was studing at our desk/table and it was about 2:00 AM when I noticed ashes and small smoking bits of material falling on my study notes. I stopped and went up one flight of stairs an saw flames roaring out of the door to a room on the outside of the building facing the cafateria. This is where the fire started,system overload, one of the student living there had a lot of electrical sets (radios, speakers, amplifiers, etc}. I turned and went back to my room and pulled on a pair of cowboy boots, left and ran down and out, going to the post office area where I knew that the campus police stayed there. As I approached a campus policeman hollered at me. WHERE YOU GOING BOY? I ran to him and told him the OLD MAIN was burning. He just laughed, and said “not again” and laughed. I told him, in so many words, that is was really burning. Then I went back to my room to gather up stuff to save, after I ran down the halls knocking on doors and yelling FIRE – FIRE in the section where I lived. I could go on forever about the next eight hours but that is another story.
    One final note, as I sat on the curb across the street , completely exhausted, I looked at my feet where I had on my roommate’s boots. they were on the wrong feet and after checking they were one size smaller than I wear,my feet were killing me and I just sat there, all of my belongings gone except, somebody elses boots, a pair of bluejeans, and a tee shirt, all dirty were smoke, ashes sweat and water that I was wearing. SAD DAY and memories.

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