The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 2nd

Echoes of history resonate across campus

The Pit is the nexus of all campus activity, and standing on its mottled red brick in the shade of lazy trees, change is all around.

Sandwiched between the renovations and remodeled classrooms walks a group of new and prospective students passing on the storied Carolina tradition.

Outside the national shine of legendary coaches and basketball seasons, of literally painting Franklin Street blue in celebration and of writers such as Tom Wolfe, are stories of campus folklore, entrenched in old buildings and student myth.

Standing at the foot of McCorkle Place, junior Erin Watson, a tour guide, says, “This is where most of the University’s history takes place — in front of Old East.”

Old East, whose first cornerstone was laid Oct. 12, 1793, was the first building constructed to house America’s first public university.

Students familiar with the long trek toward Middle and North campuses from the valley of the South Campus high rises might remember another first in Hinton James.

Watson explains that James, the University’s first student, walked to UNC from Wilmington.

The tour makes its way to the Old Well, between Old East and West, facing South Building.

Fronted by slender, white columns, the building, home to Chancellor James Moeser, stood without a roof for more than ten years when funds ran dry in the middle of construction. At the time it was still a working residence hall, and students and teachers suffered rained-out assignments together.

“It also became a pretty common excuse for students to use (for not having their homework),” Watson says, grinning.

Watson goes on to say that the Old Well, the unflinching symbol of the University, was once the only source of water in Chapel Hill, Watson says. Legend stands that drinking from the well the first day of classes will garner students a 4.0 GPA, and the long lines return every year.

“I did it every semester, and the water in there — foul,” says Tiffianna Honsinger, a 2000 UNC graduate, who works at the media resources center at the Undergraduate Library.

“I tell all my new students to do it, too,” she added.

Ben Pulley, a junior biology major, didn’t agree.

“I did it freshman year, didn’t work,” he said.

The tour continues down the grassy length of the quad, where Silent Sam, staring out over Franklin Street, presides over the town with an (unloaded) gun. The statue was put up during the Civil War and is said to fire off its weapon when a virgin passes by, though suspiciously little gunfire has been heard.

Standing behind Sam’s ramrod back, the Davie Poplar stands as a vision of the University.

“It’s said that if the Davie Poplar ever falls, so will the University,” Watson says.

The tree has survived everything from Hurricane Fran to lightning strikes, Watson says. As an added security measure, the tree has been hollowed, filled with cement, and attached by wires to other trees on the quad.

In case the Davie Poplar should still break, a branch was taken from the original tree and planted beside it, Watson says.

Although Silent Sam’s unloaded gun and superstitious hopes for perfect semesters aren’t what bring students to the campus, they are part of a culture that grows up and around the student population. Take Davie poplars II and III, for example, which Watson says were planted to carry on the tradition should their patriarch ever fall.

The trees stand in line across the quad, and Watson, when asked what would happen if Davie Poplar should fall on its offspring, shrugged and laughed, saying, “I’m pretty sure we’d all just go home.”

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