Irish Legends: Campus Tour

We have all heard it. Some of us have even said it. There is an aura about it. To paraphrase Lou Holtz, it is difficult to explain if you have never been there, and yet if you have been there, no description would do it justice. Simply put, there is no place quite like the campus of Notre Dame.

With the recent junior day, recruits have been buzzing about the Notre Dame campus and how beautiful everything was. However, since many Notre Dame fans have never been to campus and experienced it for themselves, Irish Legends will attempt to give a descriptive tour of the campus that has housed greats such as Knute Rockne, George Gipp, seven Heisman trophy winners, Joe Montana, and a host of other Notre Dame football legends.

At its conception, the University of Notre Dame was hardly a university. In fact, it was nothing more than a vision. Founded by Fr. Edward Sorin in November of 1842, the campus consisted of a couple of hundred acres of undeveloped land. Three log cabins were located on the land, but each of them was in need of serious repairs. The vision of Fr. Sorin was to build the premier Catholic university. So why did he pick northern Indiana? Actually, despite being in the middle of nowhere, the location was ideal for the expanding Midwest. Notre Dame was strategically placed in a location that was within reasonable distance of all major Midwestern cities. Northern Indiana may not have been a thriving metropolis, but with the emergence of railroads, there was a major metropolis only hours away, in any direction.

Join Irish Legends on a guided tour of campus, broken up into several parts over the coming weeks. See how Fr. Sorin's undeveloped land has evolved into a campus surpassing 1300 acres and continually expanding. We will first begin where it all started, "God Quad."

The oldest part of Notre Dame's campus is also the most famous. When you first enter the university, you will approach via Notre Dame Avenue. Lined with trees on either side, you will find yourself in the heart of campus. Of course, no matter how many times you have visited, your eyes will be drawn directly ahead to the Golden Dome.

Built in the early 1880s, the 23-karat leaf coated Golden Dome sits atop the university's administration building. After a fire in early 1879, Fr. Sorin vowed that the Main Building would be built bigger and better than the original. To top it off, he envisioned what is the most recognizable part of campus: "We will not cease until we place a great golden dome atop it, and above that, the statue of Our Lady, so that everyone who passes this way can look up and see why this place succeeds."

Inside of the Main Building, which was renovated in 1997, are a number of unique treasures. The ceiling of the dome, resembling Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, was originally painted by Vatican painter, Luigi Gregori. Gregori, whose paintings also decorate the Notre Dame Basilica of the Sacred Heart, practiced on an 18-inch wooden bowl before painting the inside of the dome. It was said that when Gregori was finished painting, he noticed that one of the angels was missing an eyebrow. Always a perfectionist, Gregori grabbed a fishing pole and used it to complete his artwork.

Looking up at the ceiling, you will be standing on a giant ND monogram. There will be three rings of balconies, which is where hundreds of fans gather on football Fridays and Saturday. That is because the Notre Dame trumpets traditionally gather here at 4pm on Friday and shortly before kickoff on game day. They will play the fight song and the alma mater to a host of fans, officially kicking things off for the weekend. The band will later march-off right outside building, and proceed across campus to the stadium.

Some of the hidden treasures inside the dome are quite interesting. First off, if you ever find that you are in need of some relief, the public bathrooms in the Main Building were awarded the best in the nation in 2002. While they may not be lavish, they are pretty clean and have imported Victorian tile floors. Other treasures include hidden paintings on the main floor. If you look closely, within the golden tassels outlining the Columbus paintings, you will notice several hidden pictures. Some of these include: Kermit the Frog, a hula dancer, a fishing hook, and Touchdown Jesus. These were obviously painted during the renovation of the building, but are fun to try and find (hint: they are all on the bottom tassels). One final note about the main building, is that you will never see a Notre Dame student climbing the steps to the dome. Students are told in their fresmen orientations that they have not earned the right to climb the steps to the dome. Freshmen through seniors must enter the dome at the ground level, and then climb the interior stairs. The steps become accessible once the student graduates.

Next to the dome on the north side is the Notre Dame Basilica of the Sacred Heart. In addition to being one of the hardest churches to get a wedding date in, it is one of only 40 basilicas in the United States. The honor was bestowed upon it by Pope John Paul II in 1992. The cross on top of the bell tower is marked at 230 feet in the air. That stands as the tallest point on campus. Another note, is that the Basilica has the oldest known Carillon in North America. For those of you wondering what a Carillon is, it is an instrument, consisting of at least 23 bells that are usually found in a bell tower. While mass is only attended by those in the local area, it is viewed by many across the world. This is because Notre Dame broadcasts their mass on the Hallmark channel and DirecTV each Sunday. If you are not too busy, you might want to tune in and hear a homily intertwined with football metaphors and "inside" Notre Dame references (some priests are more entertaining than others) especially during the masses after football games. This is also where the famous walk to the stadium begins. Prior to each football game, the team attends mass together and then walks through a sea of Notre Dame fans on their way to the stadium. The Basilica itself, also serves as a museum. With seven chapels within the church, you are welcome to walk around and view the different stations during non-mass hours. A final note about the Basilica: if you ever visit, try to attend mass in The Crypt. The Crypt is a chapel located underneath the Basilica, and probably has the most unique location out of the 60 chapels on Notre Dame's campus.

Around the back of the Basilica, you will find a small little garden path that will lead you to the most hallowed place on campus, the grotto. Always looking for a way to honor "Our Lady," Fr. Sorin asked for a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes to be built on Notre Dame's campus. While Fr. Sorin did indeed have a grotto built, it is not the one currently known by Notre Dame students and visitors. In fact, Fr. Sorin first built a grotto in 1878 that in all likelihood paled in comparison to the current grotto. Nonetheless, it was one of Fr. Sorin's favorite places on campus. When Fr. Sorin passed away, Fr. William Corby took over his dream. In 1895, Fr. Corby visited Lourdes in France, and decided that there needed to be a grotto of great significance in the new world, because not everybody can pilgrimage to France. Thus, upon his return, Fr. Corby had a bigger and better version of the grotto built on Notre Dame's campus. This version, the current grotto, was said to be a much finer replica of the Lourdes Grotto, of which Fr. Sorin would have been proud.

For those not familiar with the grotto, it has been called, "A Cave of Candles." It is a cave built into a hillside, where hundreds of candles are lit, each one representing a special prayer to Mary. When the word "aura" is used to describe Notre Dame's campus, the first place that comes to mind is the grotto. It is a special place on campus that has a tremendous spiritual feel to it, no matter the time of day or the weather. Visit the grotto on a football Saturday and you will likely see a hundred people, some praying, some taking pictures, and others just relaxing on the nearby benches. Stop by the grotto late at night and you may see a couple students, out for a late night walk or taking a break from studying, stopping by the grotto, lighting a candle and saying a prayer. If you are lucky, you might even find Charlie Weis saying a prayer or two. Coach Weis has said many times that the grotto was a special place to him as a student, and continues to be in his life today. If you have never been to the grotto before, you will want to make your first trip either at night or on a sunny spring day. At night, the glowing candles light up the cave and create a peaceful and quiet atmosphere. On a spring day, however, you will see the paths to the grotto lit up with bright pink tulips, inviting you to draw near.

Walking back up to God Quad, you will find the two oldest dormitories on campus: Sorin and St. Ed's. St. Edward's Hall is named after the eleventh century King of England, St. Edward the Confessor. It is currently the oldest building on campus that is used for a dormitory, but it was not the first dormitory, that was Sorin Hall. St. Ed's was built as a boarding school in 1882, but it was later turned into a dormitory in 1929, after the boarding school had closed. If you would like to visit a place of history, take a peak or attend mass inside of St. Ed's chapel. Back in 1925, Knute Rockne received his first communion in that very place. In 1980, St. Ed's Hall suffered a terrible fire to its third and fourth floors. The floors were replaced, but it is quite visible where the damage occurred. Residents of St. Ed's Hall claim that it was the men of rival Zahm Hall that set their dorm on fire. Zahm denies such a claim, but it is known around Notre Dame that Zahm men cannot be trusted. If you ever happen to catch an intramural game at Notre Dame, the Gentlemen (a.k.a. Stedsmen) will be clad in their traditional gold and green uniforms, and likely some non-participant residents will be seen with Burger King crowns on their heads.

On the opposite side of the Dome is Sorin Hall. Known primarily as Sorin College, the dorm is as historic as they come at Notre Dame. Tradition says that prior to the building of Sorin Hall, students all lived in the main building. They slept there, ate there, and studied there. Instead of individual rooms, students would all share large rooms with rows of beds and desks for studying. However, students were awarded for merit and behavior and could acquire a private room if they were lucky. When the University noticed that the private rooms showed trends of increased academic success, the idea for private residences came about. Shortly after, Sorin Hall was built into the first dormitory on campus. Sorin Hall residents, known as Otters, take great pride in their dorm, as well they should. They have a tremendous tradition, including former residents such as Knute Rockne, George Gipp, Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Johnny Lujack, Moose Krause, Johnny Lattner, Paul Hornung, Steve Buerlein, Rocky Bleier, and more recently Chris Zorich. Sorin Hall has always claimed that they have the best and the brightest, a tradition that began back when it was first built. Originally, only upperclassmen that had proven excellence in both the classroom and in their character, were considered for Sorin Hall. Today, 26 other dorms would argue that claim, but the tradition still remains strong for Sorin Hall. Featured in Notre Dame's Scholastic magazine, the Sorin Hall rooms are known for being excessively large and the best party rooms on campus. With ceilings as high as 19 feet, the largest of these rooms are the turret rooms, found on the corners of the building.

If you are looking for a bit of history, stop by Sorin Hall's room number 11. This is known as the "Captain's Room," and has been host to many Notre Dame football captains in the past. As if that were not enough, Sorin has plenty more tradition. From rubbing the feet of Fr. Sorin's statue for good luck, to enjoying a warm day on the oversized front porch swings, Sorin hall provides a number of unique opportunities that you will not find anywhere else on campus. Finally, in case you are wondering why Sorin Hall goes by Sorin College, it is not because Notre Dame Law School used to be located within the dorm, but rather it goes back to the Vietnam War. Protesting the war, Sorin residents decided that they would secede (symbolically) from the University, thus proclaiming their residence as Sorin College. The great sense of pride and elitism that comes with being a Sorin Otter, has continued, and the name has remained. Finally, it is said that the greatest of all fight songs was first composed in Sorin Hall. In 1908, Michael Shea was said to have composed the beginnings of the Notre Dame fight song on a piano located in Sorin Hall. Despite all of the tradition and pride, you may have to speak a little louder than normal when speaking to a Sorin Otter. With such a close proximity to the Basilica's Bell Tower, many Sorin men are likely to be hard of hearing.

Rounding out the dorms on God Quad is Walsh Hall. Built in 1909, the dormitory housed many Notre Dame sports legends, as well as Fr. Hesburgh back in 1945. In fact, the namesake of the dorm, former Notre Dame president Fr. Thomas Walsh, was president when Notre Dame played its first football game against Michigan in 1887. It is fitting, therefore, that Walsh Hall hosts a Football 101 session in the early fall, bringing up to speed those who may not be familiar with the game, in time for football season. Of course these days it is more about meeting girls, as Walsh became one of the first women's dorms in 1972, and whose residents are now known as the Wild Women of Walsh.

Prior to becoming a women's dorm in 1972, Walsh Hall was known for its luxuries and its recreation. The basement, now a converted lounge area, once consisted of a handful of pool tables, a dorm bowling alley, and the headquarters for the Knights of Columbus. The rooms, some of the first to offer private bathrooms, single dorm rooms, closets and bay windows, were considered fine living compared to other older dorms. Walsh Hall also set the precedent for the current dorm system at Notre Dame, when its rector, Fr. O'Neil suggested staying in one dorm for the duration of a college career. These days, most students remain in their same dorm for all four years, or until they move off-campus, but this was not normal prior to Walsh Hall in the late 1960s.

Walsh hall borders the edge of South Quad, which we will tour in a later entry, and marks the southern edge of God Quad. Located across the courtyard to the South, you will find Hayes-Healy-Hurley Hall, which is home to the Notre Dame Mathematics Department and study abroad program offices, as well as Crowley Hall which is home to the music department at Notre Dame. Unless you are looking to brush up on your math skills or get some singing lessons, you will probably want to walk right passed those buildings and head to the haven that is LaFortune Hall (a.k.a. LaFun).

Built in 1883, LaFortune was converted from a science hall into a student center in the 1950s. Currently home to several student affairs offices, LaFortune is better known for its basement and ground floor levels. On the basement, recently renovated, you will find the Notre Dame Credit Union, an arcade center, a barber shop, laundry, a pool hall, as well as other randomly placed offices. You will also see Sbarro pizza, and many sleep-deprived students hanging around in the lounge. The main floor is used primarily for watching television on one of the many big screen televisions, or getting a bite to eat. Home to Burger King and Subway, LaFortune is the one place on campus where you can find meat on Fridays during Lent. Of course, no Catholics would ever do that. Finally, LaFortune is also home to the famous Huddle. The Huddle, a student mini-grocery store, is home to overpriced food, tacos, milkshakes, and most notably "Quarter Dogs." For those that have been Notre Dame students, they can tell you about the importance of quarter dogs. Every day at midnight, Notre Dame takes all of the hot dogs that have been sitting in the machine all day, and they reduce the price to $.25 a dog. Feel like a midnight snack? Many do, as The Huddle becomes crammed with students at midnight, looking for those tasty dogs. However, if you decide to hang around LaFortune at midnight, be careful and make sure that it is not Finals week. If so, you may have the misfortune of witnessing a good ole' Bun Run, thanks to your friends at Zahm Hall. Each semester at finals time, members of Zahm Hall gather together and streak through LaFortune, wearing nothing at all except for a strategically placed sock (if you are lucky).

Finishing off the buildings on God Quad, you will have to stop by Washington Hall, located directly between LaFortune and the Main Building. Washington Hall, built in 1881, long served as the performing arts center on campus. However, recently with the opening of the Debartolo Performing Arts Center, Washington Hall has been reassigned to student activities. You probably will not need to visit this building, but there is some tradition that goes with it. In fact, it is said to be haunted.

There are several stories over the years that have added to the lore of Washington Hall. From emphatic Ouija boards to horn blowing and ghosts, the events are numerous. There are three people that have known to have deaths relating to the hall, for which each has become associated with the ghost of Washington Hall. The first, was a laborer who fell to his death in 1881, from a loft in Washington Hall. The second was professor that lived in Washington Hall, who died after an illness. The professor was known for playing a French horn, which was supposedly heard blowing a hard "b-flat" several times late at night, shortly after he died. The third, and most famous, is George Gipp. Gipp, who was locked out of Sorin Hall because he missed curfew, was said to have fallen asleep (or passed out drunk) on the steps of Washington Hall. Fearing the wrath of the Sorin rector, he decided that he would simply spend the night outside. It is said that this is how Gipp contracted pneumonia, which eventually led to his death. On several occasions in 1926, it was reported by a Brazilian student living in nearby Science Hall, that he saw a ghost riding a white horse up the steps of Washington Hall and through the doors. Without hesitation, the student proclaimed that the ghost was that of George Gipp. Gipp's ghost has apparently also been seen at other locations within the building. Of course, that is not the only place on campus where ghosts are said to have been seen. Several accounts of Potawatomi Indian ghost sightings, the natives that used to live on the land where Notre Dame was built, have been claimed across the campus. Many of those accounts were also said to be riding white horses up the stairs of buildings.

Last but not least, are the statues of God Quad. There are several statues that you will find through the quad, especially around the Basilica, but there are three main ones that you should focus on. The first is of Fr. Sorin. If nothing else, you should look at the man that founded this great University. The statue is located at the center of the quad on the far south side, bordering South Quad. As you head towards the dome, the second statue is known as Sacred Heart Statue. This is a large statue of Jesus, based in a circular foundation that sits right at the center of God Quad. The unique positioning of this statue, makes it appear that Jesus is looking up directly to the top of the dome, where the third and most famous statue sits: Our Lady of the Dome.

When Notre Dame caught fire in 1879, one of the first parts of the Main Building to come crashing down, was the statue of Mary. Sitting atop a tin dome, the then white statue of Mary, plummeted to the ground through the dome, as it was being consumed with fire. Fr. Sorin, saw this as God's way of telling him that the university he built was not worthy of being named for God's mother. Sorin said, "I wouldn't care if, even if we had lost everything! We will begin again!" This time Sorin vowed to have the dome painted gold with a golden statue of "Our Lady" atop it. If you have never been up close to the statue of Mary, and most people have not, you may not know that there are fine details to the statue. Specifically, located at the bottom of the statue is a serpent and crescent moon. At one point there was also a crown of stars, but that has since been removed. While the biblical references are quite obvious with the serpent, you may wonder what a crescent moon would have to do with Notre Dame. According to Dorothy V. Corson, a Notre Dame historian, the crescent represents an eternal growth. A crescent is in the early stages of the cycles of the moon. It is growing and developing. She believes that this was Fr. Sorin's intent when putting the crescent moon on the dome. Sorin believed that Notre Dame would always be developing into something better, and something bigger.

The reason we end this part of the tour with the statue of Mary, is because it is the single most important symbol on the campus of Notre Dame. When Fr. Sorin founded the university, he wanted it to honor "Our Lady." Corson cites an excerpt that accurately describes what Fr. Sorin had in mind:

"Notre Dame the Home of the "Ave Maria," Notre Dame the home of Mary to whom all the grounds are dedicated, to whom all the buildings are dedicated, to whom is given all the credit of the work done here for the past fifty years. Mary is sole superior at Notre Dame." Annals, 1896.

That was a basic tour of the Main Quad at Notre Dame, known as God Quad. There are certainly more legends, folklore, and stories to tell, but some you may have to just find out for yourself. In the next edition, Irish Legends will explore the history behind Notre Dame's two lakes, as well as other spots around campus.

Note: Much of this research can be contributed to The Spirit of Notre Dame, a collection by Dorothy V. Corson, about the History, Legends and Lore of Notre Dame. Other sources used include the Notre Dame archives and Residence Hall websites.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send them to my ezmail box, and I will gladly do my best to answer them. Top Stories