EIU Memories: Stix and Panther Paw

Welcome to the fourth installment of my series reminiscing about my time at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I attended EIU from 2000 to 2008, eventually earning a Master’s in History. Both the college and the town have changed a lot since then. I wasn’t much for the bar scene in Charleston, but these local watering holes are a staple of college life.

Panther Paw Bar & Grill, at 1412 4th Street, is one of the closer bars to campus. It’s a short walk up 4th Street from Pemberton Hall, across Lincoln Avenue. It was originally owned by Don and Louise Yost and John Budslick and known as Stix, built during the summer of 1990 over a former residential site. Yost and Budlick had previously operated a billiard hall in Carbondale, Illinois by the same name, and thought it would be successful in Charleston.

Stix ad, Sept. 1990.

Stix opened in early September 1990 and was originally a full restaurant and billiard hall, employing up to 60 people as waitresses, cooks, bartenders, disc jockeys, and doormen. It featured 15 Top Flyte pool tables and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ten years later, when I first stepped onto campus as a freshman, local tastes had changed. That summer, Stix rebranded itself as a dance club. They built a stage, refinished the floor with wood, and tore down several walls to open up a dance floor. Patrons ordered food through a window, rather than from a waitress.

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EIU Memories: The Blair Hall Fire of ’04

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On Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at a little after 3pm, the temperature was 72 degrees and rising, the sky was fair, and wind gusted south-southwest up to 32 mph. Humidity was low. By all accounts, it was a beautiful spring day, and Eastern Illinois University’s Spring Semester was quickly coming to a close. Students crammed for final exams, which would begin the following Monday.

I don’t remember what I was doing on campus (probably hanging out in the food court), but as I walked toward the north quad, I noticed a crowd gathering. At 3:14 pm, someone had called 911 from inside Blair Hall, an ivy-covered Gothic Revival building directly southeast of Old Main. Smoke billowed from the third floor windows.

Blair Hall is the third oldest building on campus. It was constructed in 1913 and originally called the Model School, then renamed after football coach Francis G. Blair in 1958. It completed the triad of buildings that made up the old campus, including Old Main and the fabled Pemberton Hall. Blair Hall was home to the anthropology and sociology departments, so I only ever took a handful of elective classes there.

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EIU Memories: Carman Hall

Welcome to the second part in a series reminiscing about my time at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I spent eight years there, from 2000 to 2008, graduating with a Master’s in History. I got accepted to EIU out of high school and moved into a room on the 7th floor of Ruth Carman Hall on August 17, 2000. Although I love EIU and my college years, living in Carman Hall is not something I’d want to repeat. It’s a blessing the building has been closed for several years.

When I first came to EIU, freshman couldn’t park on campus and had to live in a dorm. Carman Hall, at the southeast end of campus, was considered the “freshman dorm.” It was built in 1971 to accommodate the glut of Baby Boomers entering college.

It looked like a Soviet tenement, with twin featureless beige towers, segregated for male and female, connected by a corridor with a shared dining hall. There was a computer lab and laundry room in the basement. Males had to be escorted to the female wing, and every floor had a resident assistant to look after things and make sure everyone was following the rules. That worked much better on the female side than on the male.

Our tower was disgusting. The vomit-encrusted elevator was rarely functional, trash littered the hallways, wires were pulled down from the ceiling, and fire extinguishers went missing. Someone even stole the drinking fountain on our floor! It got so bad the spring semester of my freshman year the college newspaper, Daily Eastern News, ran an article about the vandalism.

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EIU Memories: Friends & Co.

This is the first in a new series reminiscing about my college years at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I spent eight years there, from 2000 to 2008, graduating with a Master’s in History. Both my dad and my great-uncle John Kleen graduated from EIU, so you could say it was a family tradition.

When I attended, there were around 11,000 students at any given time. Attendance has since fallen to 7,500 (a 7.1% increase from the previous year). Carman Hall, where I lived my freshman year, was closed due to budget cuts and falling enrollment. This has been devastating to the local community, which was already struggling when I was there. On return trips to Charleston, I’m saddened to see all the abandoned buildings and empty storefronts.

So this series is meant to not only share some of my own history, but preserve these memories of a rapidly vanishing past. Hopefully there are readers out there who have their own memories of these places and events. Feel free to leave a comment with your own stories. Why start with Friends & Co.? It seems as good a place as any.

Friends & Co. used to be located at 509 Van Buren Avenue, a few blocks south of the Charleston town square. It was attached to a music venue called The Cellar. It opened in the early 1980s (I think), and the owner was a schoolteacher named David Gherardini. My impression was Friends & Co. attracted an intellectual crowd. It was a bar for English and Philosophy majors, and this review on Yelp from Sean R. confirms my impressions:

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Queen’s University’s Haunted Halls

Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario was founded by the Church of Scotland as Queen’s College in October 1841. Queen’s is one of Canada’s oldest degree-granting institutions, predating the country itself by 26 years. With such a long history, rich traditions, and fabled architecture, the university was bound to pick up a ghost or two. Nearly every building on campus has its stories.

It was originally a theological seminary, with a mission toward “the education of youth in the principles of Christian religion and instruction in the various branches in science and literature,” but secularized in 1912. In 1853, it settled in a limestone manor called Summerhill, which remains at the heart of campus.

The institution was not financially stable in its early years and almost disbanded, however, it survived and thrived and today is home to over 24,000 students with an endowment of over $1 billion. During the mid-twentieth century, money from the National Research Council and Ontario Research Fund sparked a growth of research laboratories, including the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.

During the First World War, Grant Hall served as a military hospital and many of its students left to serve in the war. After the war, Queen’s experienced a growth spurt, when a library, residence hall, and stadium were constructed. In 1969, the university purchased a 61-acre parcel of land, then a prison farm and quarry, less than two miles west of campus. The Kingston Penitentiary water tower still stands next to John Orr Tower apartment building, and a popular (but false) legend maintains it was used for hangings.

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The Legend of Pemberton Hall Presentation at Eastern Illinois University

The Legend of Pemberton Hall is among one of the most well-known ghost stories in Illinois. Set at Eastern Illinois University, generations of young women who reside in this residence hall have been telling tales of Mary Hawkins and the ghost of an (allegedly) murdered coed. On October 24, 2013, I explored the facts and the fiction behind the tale at a presentation at MLK Student Union. So many people showed up we actually had to move to a larger room. After many years writing about this EIU legend, giving this presentation on campus was a wonderful opportunity.

Millikin University’s Rail Girl and Other Tales

Like many colleges, Decatur’s Millikin University is home to a bevvy of campus legends, some of which are based on historic tragedies.

Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early in its history.

One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym.

Many students believe the ghost of a woman named Bernice Richardson haunts Ashton Hall, Millikin University’s oldest all-female dorm. Richardson killed herself by drinking carbonic acid in her bedroom on February 1, 1927.

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