Ogg Hall has never played a very significant role in my personal history, so when I heard it was going to be torn down as part of the Campus Master Plan that aims to change the face of the UW-Madison, I was not overcome with grief and angst. I did not mourn its passing. It did not occur to me to rush to campus and take photographs of it, to document its demise.
Until a few hours ago, I would have told you Ogg Hall didn’t even exist when I moved into Chadbourne Hall to begin my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. I would have been wrong. According to a chronology on the Division of University Housing website, Ogg Hall, named for Frederic Ogg, a member of the University of Wisconsin faculty for 34 years, opened in the fall of 1965. It was the last major residence hall project to open on campus until 2006, when Newell J. Smith Hall opened on North Park Street.
We return for a while to the late 1960s:
When I moved into Chadbourne Hall, in loco parentis was still in effect, as were curfews for women. Men could stay out all night and howl at the moon if they wished, but young women who lived in dormitories, whether university-owned or private, were required to be “home” by 11 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays they were allowed to stay out until 1 a.m. If they failed to return to their dormitories by curfew, they’d find themselves locked out, forced to proffer explanations and excuses to stern housemothers, who invariably grounded them for infractions, forcing them to come “home” by 11 p.m. on weekends, too. Bed checks to make certain everyone was in on time were not infrequent occurrences.
If you planned to spend the night elsewhere, it could only be at your parent’s house – unless you had written permission from them to be elsewhere. If you weren’t going to spend the night in your dormitory room, you had to leave a card on the door providing information about where and with whom you planned to be staying, knowing full well that the housemother might check up on you make certain you really were at the place you claimed to be.
If you were flying away for the weekend to visit that Ivy League boyfriend, everyone on your floor knew where you were going and many of them wanted a detailed report when you returned. If possible, you tried to gloss over the fact that you’d stayed not at a hotel or in his dorm room, but in an approved rooming house full of other young women packed like sardines in uncomfortable bunk beds, awake most of the night complaining about the unfairness of an in loco parentis ethic that seemed to follow you everywhere, even to an all-male college.
Back then, men were only allowed on the ground floor of women’s dormitories at the University of Wisconsin. Except for once a semester on a special visiting day, even fathers were forbidden on the residential floors. Likewise, women were, of course, not allowed in men’s dormitories.
Many young women in dormitories yearned for the time when they could live off-campus, in an apartment. In the meantime, many of them gathered late at night to talk about what they’d done, what someone else had reportedly done, and what they planned to do once they had the opportunity to do so. The ones who closed their doors and hit the books missed out on those discussions about sex, the opposite sex, the absence of sex, and the promise of sex. Surely they were at a loss when there was a panty raid.
That’s what I remember about the Southeast Dormitories – Sellery, Witte, and, I guess, Ogg . Boys who thronged under the windows of Chadbourne Hall, yelling “Silk!” Dorm mothers who locked the exterior doors lest these rude fellows try to muscle their way into the lounge. Girls who wondered if nylon was an adequate substitute for silk. Girls who were sure sensible cotton panties weren’t what the mob wanted – or were they? Brave girls who managed to pry the screens off their dorm room windows and toss something to the mob below, even as they risked being grounded if the housemother figured out who’d dared be so provocative.
In loco parentis would vanish not all that many years later, as would many of the other rules about dormitory life. Several years later, I visited a younger friend living in Ogg Hall. His room contained his girlfriend, his dog, a miniature refrigerator, a huge stereo system, and a television with less than wonderful reception – all verboten when I lived in a dormitory.
A petit mort
But even though Ogg Hall has never played a very significant role in my personal history, during its more than 40-year lifespan, it did play a role in the lives many students who lived in its two thrusting, 13-story towers. It also played a role in the lives of some of their friends, one of whom is a friend of mine. I won’t share with you his harrowing adventures in Ogg Hall, but I will tell you he persuaded me to take some photographs of its destruction. And then I’ll tell you I don’t usually take requests: There’s always something else to do, so don’t pester me.
I had to pick up a book at Memorial Library on Monday, so as long as I was going to be on campus (and since I take my camera everywhere), I decided to walk over to Ogg and see what was happening. When I arrived, I could hear sounds of destruction, but I couldn’t see the source. The two buildings and the space between them are almost entirely surrounded by fences, scaffolding, and a protective canopy.
I took a series of photos from the West Johnson Street side of the Ogg Hall complex, but few of them showed much destruction. Curtains fluttering out of windows in now-vacant rooms were one of the few signs of neglect and abandonment.
Then, I walked around to the West Dayton Street side of the complex to take a few more photos and encountered a friendly construction worker. At first, we talked through the chain link fence. He told me that there would be no exciting implosion: Verboten. Likewise, there would be no giant cranes swinging giant balls into the buildings to knock them down: Verboten. Instead, the demolition crew would use jackhammers and start their work on the top floors. Instead of a quick or dramatic death, Ogg Hall would be whittled away from the top by jackhammers. Not much drama.
But what were the sounds I’d heard but couldn’t see? Well, if I promised to be careful and not venture too far, he’d let me in to see what was happening. It was, of course, an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
The sounds were emanating from the space between the two buildings that once included a structure connecting the two towers. It had to be demolished first, to make way for the equipment necessary to demolish the towers. You’ll see some of the eerie scenes created by this phase of the demolition in my Ogg Hall Part 1 set on Flickr.
How long is all this going to take? I asked. Probably won’t be finished until April 2008 said the construction worker. Can I come back later for an update? I asked. Sure, he said and be sure to tell me when you post some of your photographs on the Internet so I can tell my girlfriend to have a look at them. It’s a deal. See you later.