February 06, 2020
Susquehanna has just launched efforts to breathe new life into “Bogar Lawn,” the grassy areas between Bogar, Seibert and Selinsgrove halls.
Water runoff flowing from Seibert toward Bogar has left the area bereft of topsoil. But do you know what lies beneath the shady lawn?
Perhaps unknown to most current students, Gustavus Adolphus Hall once stood on the land between Bogar and Selinsgrove halls — and its remains now lie below it after the building was destroyed by fire in 1964.
The fire was first detected in the building’s basement. It was believed at the time that the cause was faulty wiring. Why? Because when two on-duty Pinkerton guards attempted to initiate the building’s fire alarm, it didn’t work. Nearly 75 first-year male students had to be roused from their beds the old-fashioned way – shouts of “Fire!” throughout a slumbering residence hall.
And as proof that fire drills work, the building had coincidentally administered a drill just two days before the Nov. 19 fire.
Eyewitness accounts indicate the seriousness of the fire was of little concern at first, as heavy smoke clouded the view of the flames. Firefighters from seven companies — assisted by the students themselves — fought the blaze for more than three hours until “flames ate through partitions and up stairways to the roof and finally broke through the roof at 2 a.m.,” leading to the roof’s collapse. (Daily Item, Nov. 20, 1964)
Losses at the time were estimated to be approximately $300,000 — equaling $2.8 million present value (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Residents lost everything in their rooms, valued then at about $40,000, as well as a place to live. Many were temporarily housed in other residence halls, fraternity houses and later two local motels. The Student Government Association initiative a fund drive to help them replace their possessions.
A few weeks after the fire, what was left of the building was demolished and buried into the basement, covered over and planted with grass, where it remains today.
The final Bogar Lawn could include an homage to this forgotten part of SU’s history. With efforts in their early phases – the campus was invited to an initial brainstorming session on Feb. 4 – work isn’t likely to begin until 2021.