Ask Abe: Science Hall

An Alum

Does the fire chute in Science Hall still exist?

Abe

Unfortunately, today’s students will never know the thrill of sliding down Science Hall’s fire chute. A brief history (for the post ’80s grads out there): the chute in question was a forbidden thrill for many UW students up until the early 1980s. It zig-zagged down the west façade of Science Hall’s north wing, with a vertical drop of approximately 50 feet. Adventurous students would climb to the third floor and jump into the spiral, metal tunnel, sliding through the dark to the courtyard below. According to Clarence Olmstead, author of Science Hall: The First Century, Madison-area schoolchildren also loved to slide down the Science Hall fire chute on Saturdays. They would race up the stairs and innocently ask, “Where is the Geology Museum?” if caught by faculty. Occasionally, a pail of water poured down the chute behind them would dampen their seats but not their spirits. To the dismay of many (but probably not the Science Hall maintenance crew), the slide was replaced in the ’80s with large escape stairways in the two rear corner towers.