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Rebecca Spithill MPA’03

If you looked at exactly where I sit now? Then, Rebecca, you’re right: you wouldn’t see me there. All you’d see is grass. But if you were standing at the bottom of Bascom Hill in 1916 and looked up the hill, you would see me — and I’d even loom larger because I’d be closer to you.

I was a gift to campus from Thomas Brittingham, who donated me in 1909 on the occasion of the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. At the time, I was placed between North and South Halls, about 100 feet down the hill from where I am today. In 1919, the UW built the Lincoln Terrace in front of Bascom Hall, and I was moved up there. (During the creation of that spot, workers uncovered two graves, but that’s a different story.)

Also, if you were looking prior to October 10, 1916, you’d also see a dome atop Bascom Hall. If it was after October 10, you wouldn’t. If you were looking on October 10, you’d see that dome engulfed in smoke and flame. That was the day of the Bascom fire, when the dome (an original structure) was lost.

Where do I get all this information? Well, when you’ve been sitting in nearly the same spot for 107 years, you can’t help but pick up a little gossip. I also read materials from the Wisconsin Historical Society and from the UW-Madison Archives. Among my favorite books are The University of Wisconsin: A History by Merle Curti; Vernon Carstensen; E. David Cronon MA’49, PhD’53; and John Jenkins MA’73, PhD’78; and The Buildings of the University of Wisconsin by Jim Feldman.

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