There is no real way to briefly tell the story of the Indiana Memorial Union. To do so would take an entire book, as proven by the several that have already been written on the subject.
The building and its highly concentrated history are almost as famous among IU students as Herman B Wells himself. According to Nick Mitchell, an IMU payroll employee, it wasn’t uncommon to see him in the IMU’s barber shop in the ‘80s, as he had once gotten a haircut next to the famous IU president there.
The Union itself was founded in 1909 by student John Wittenberger. The Union originally found its home in the Student Building. The Union was restricted to male students until 1954. Women students, instead, formed the Association of Women Students, an organization that performed similar functions.
The IMU that has become so familiar to students wasn’t built until 1932, but even then, it only extended as far as the Starbucks currently found in on the west side of the IMU. Before this space held a Starbucks, it was the original hotel lobby and front desk.
Since its establishment and additions, the Union Hotel has made countless new stories for itself. It was a frequent place to stay for the Dalai when his brother was the head of the Tibetan Studies program in the 1980s.
Even Eleanor Roosevelt stayed in the Union. The Kennedy family once came through the Union and used the Federal room one night. Jackie Kennedy loved the wallpaper so much that she had the very same artist remake the wallpaper in the White House.
According to Tami Banks from the IMU Custodial Crew, there have been several guests so high-profile that dogs had to be brought in to sniff out bombs before the guest could stay in their room.
The IMU is also a place based in traditions. Sugar and Spice, one of the pastry and coffee shops in the IMU, has kept their same exact gingerbread recipe since 1950. The only change made to this tradition has been the addition of candy-striped pants to the gingerbread men in the winter in honor of the basketball season.
There is also a fire that is always kept going in the South Lounge where studying and sleeping students can be found just across from Starbucks. Herman B Wells walked into the room one day and said that any student should always feel at home there and made it a rule to always have a fire lit there.
There is even a particular process of preserving the same flame and transferring it to a remote location when the fire pit is being cleaned. Even still, there is always a light or something warm feeling set there in its place. “We change enough to keep up with the times, and yet remain the same,” said Assistant Director of Marketing Cheryl Crouch.
There are countless organizations working to maintain the Union’s spirit. There is a book kept constantly updated with every Hoosier’s name who has fought in a war since the Civil War. It was entirely handwritten in calligraphy until recently when all the documents were digitized. It was even updated in recent history to include all women who participated in service.
There is also the Union Board on floor two of the old tower. The Union Board has been making the Union run since its very founding back in 1909. They keep active archives of history from all of IU’s history, including an Arbutus book from 1894. Any IU student can join the Union Board and participate in its vibrant history.
The Union, being as old and filled with history as it is, has also been known to hold its fair share of ghost stories. The most infamous among them being the painting of the woman with unfinished arms in the Federal Room. It has been said that if she does not have a light on her painting, she will appear at night by the fireplace and turn the light on.
There have been other stories of the urn in the Federal Room to the left of the previously mentioned painting. It is said that this urn contains the ashes of someone and will reposition itself if the painting of the angel is facing towards the door.
There are endless stories of the Union that lie in every corner of every hallway. Any employee has proven to be more than happy to share their incredible stories and a good bit of history. The Union has been the proud home of IU students since 1932 and has every intention of keeping it that way for generations of Hoosiers to come.
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