The Tower

In the center of the oldest part of the Urbana High School is a small portion that is one story taller than the rest of the building, as seen in the photograph above. This area is commonly referred to as the "tower." Originally, it was accessible by a small staircase (see the photograph at left) on the third floor, across from the auditorium balcony. As in the floor-plan diagram below, the tower consisted to a total of two classrooms: an art room and a music room. When the building was built, in 1913, the Urbana High School only had a small orchestra, but by the twenties, that had grown into a larger music program and the room indicated as a music room was probably not used as a music room for long. There is significant photographic and first-hand evidence to suggest that the room which is labeled 'freehand' drawing was used as it was intended: for an art room.

The dashed lines indicated on the blueprint in the middle of the freehand drawing room and the staircase show were the skylights were located in the ceiling.

The photographs above are of the art class that met in the tower, if first hand reports and other sources can be believed. The discrepancy comes from accounts that speech classes met in the tower and that at one time, it may have even been used as an in-school detention room.

What is for certain, however, is that renovations in the eighties, combined with certain building codes, made the tower unfit for education, as it is inaccessible to handicapped persons. The tower was converted to a utility room and any hint that it once was two classrooms vanished. The wall that divided it is long gone, the wood floor has been replaced with cement floor, the front windows have been tastefully boarded over (to hide the unsightly machinery from outside view), and the humidity from the machinery causes the paint to peel everywhere.

At the very back of the tower, behind some machinery, there is a small door, no taller than two or three feet. This is access to the attic space directly above the auditorium. In the attic, there are catwalks that were once used by the UHS drama club to hang lights through portholes in the ceiling of the auditorium for theatrical productions. The renovations of the auditorium in the eighties made that technique obsolete, but the catwalks remain.

Many a rumor has been made about the tower being haunted. The generally accepted story is that a love-struck teacher hung herself in the tower, haunting it forever.

None of the story, however, is true (according to Jean Gordon: "no one ever died in the tower"), but conditions in the tower's later years would seem that the tower is in fact haunted. Penny Hannah, an Urbana High teacher who taught in the tower, recalled that it was quite drafty in the tower, and on windy days the false ceiling would blow upwards suddenly and reveal the real ceiling above it in a frightening manner. Hannah also related an indoor fire-escape that led out of the tower into another part of the school. Constructed in the 1960's, it made fire drills a harrowing experience because the stairs were of a metal tread that one could see through. Students were quick to say that fire escape was where the ghost hung herself.

A visit to the tower provides no answers to the haunting issue. Perhaps it is all the better that there is no explanation. The myth of the tower ghost will live in infamy.

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