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Local Column

Schrader: Be they gargoyles or grotesques atop The Castle?

The gargoyle with open mouth is hanging off the edge of The Castle while the grotesque stands in the garden. The rest of the grotesques are still on top of the building.
The gargoyle with open mouth is hanging off the edge of The Castle while the grotesque stands in the garden. The rest of the grotesques are still on top of the building.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Barry Schrader will be taking a break from column writing while he undergoes treatment for pancreatic cancer.

When walking around the Northern Illinois University campus people can see some figures atop Altgeld Hall, also known as The Castle, but probably don’t know much about them. Actually there are both gargoyles and grotesques up there, terrifying creatures in mythology but one serves a purpose.

The gargoyles are on the ends of the roof with open mouths that in some cases served as spouts to carry water off the roof away from the building. The grotesques are just an ornamental touch, according to Glen Gildemeister in his book “Castle on a Hill.” He writes that originally there were 11 grotesques on the battlements, but some were lost over the years, leaving eight. They were struck by lightning more than once, one of them falling to the ground some time in the 1960s. The hideous-looking figure was then placed in the garden area between Altgeld and Still halls. At some point, vandals knocked the head off, but it was repaired and re-attached.

On holidays, art students have been known to adorn the statue with colorful costuming. The Northern Star held a fun contest in 1996 to give it a name. “Olivegoyle” was the winner, even though it is not a gargoyle but a grotesque. Somewhere in all this history I read there is mention of a gryphon as well, another mythical creature.

Now here is the local legend, dating back to the World War II era. According to lore, if a virgin walks under the archway the gargoyles will break into a grin.

I won’t touch that one.

Another tradition involves the Freshman Bench located near the lagoon. Supposedly a young woman doesn’t become a co-ed until she is kissed by an upperclassman on that bench. Once I was an upperclassman I would occasionally drop by the concrete seat, but never found a freshman coed waiting. Since this is Valentine's Day maybe one will show up, but 50 years too late for me. Now as an elder, I enjoy sitting on a newer, more comfortable bench on the north side of the lagoon, placed there by a son and daughter to honor Mill Misic, a fellow scribe in the journalism field. But that’s another story.

The columnist can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be found on his website www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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