THE LEGEND: NKU’s former mascot—a dragon named “Hey U!”—was replaced because it was deemed to be too scary for children.
THE VERDICT: Not true
THE BACKSTORY: Just look at the innocent mug of Hey U—the seven-foot green dragon that held the rank of NKU’s mascot from 1992–2005—and ask yourself: how could this rumor possibly be true? To our eyes, Hey U is more Barney than Smaug, so we rifled through the archives and talked to former Director of Athletics Jane Meier to sort things out.
“I like being able to make people laugh,” Hey U said in an interview with The Northerner in 2003. “That’s a good thing that comes along with it, plus I can dance and look stupid, because no one knows who is in the costume.”
For 13 years, Hey U was a fairly popular character around NKU, and even had its own bobblehead night in 2003. But change came two years later when administrators and students decided the school needed something a little closer to the Norse nickname.
“It kind of looked like ‘Puff the Magic Dragon,’” student Paul Sorrell told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2005. “The suit wasn’t very maneuverable and had seen better days.”
Meier confirms the ragged state of the costume and the problem people had moving around in it.
“But then we just wanted to update our logos,” Meier says. “We really had no imagery when I arrived around 1978. So we were just updating it again, plus the costume really was falling apart.”
It was not because it was too scary, she says. Ironically, Hey U’s replacement, a towering, mustachioed, blond behemoth Norseman named Victor E. Viking, was identified by ESPN last year as one of the scariest mascots in the entire country.
Despite this dubious recognition, Victor E. Viking went on to overwhelming popularity, winning the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Mascot of the Year contest. Victor is now celebrating his 10th birthday, so when you see him, don’t be scared. Wish him well. He’s only 10. —Ryan Clark
THE LEGEND: In the late 1980s/early 1990s, there was an offer to bring to Northern Kentucky a professional basketball team whose home base would be NKU.
THE VERDICT: True-ish. Sort of.
THE BACKSTORY: Even in 1990, this idea was floating about. At the time, the Kentucky legislature was considering building a Northern Kentucky arena on the river in Covington or Newport and having NKU play its basketball games there. FOX Sports radio personality Andy Furman started a self-proclaimed crusade on WLW SportsTalk, which he hosted at the time, to convince businessmen and politicians to go all out and build an NBA-worthy arena to house both NKU and a relocated pro team.
“I’ve always wanted to see a pro basketball team in Cincinnati, and I still do, and this seemed to be the best way to do it at the time,” Furman told us when we reached out to him for this story. “We had a lot of people involved, big-time business people, including some people in Kentucky. I like college basketball, I just don’t think it’s as great as NBA basketball.”
Other members of the community weren’t thrilled with the idea. In a 1990 issue of Cincinnati Magazine, writer Albert Pyle chastised the Kentucky state government for dangling the possibility of an arena and NBA team as trade for supporting the governor’s educational reforms and revenue enhancements.
“But the people of Northern Kentucky have been gulled and fleeced too often by the rest of the state to swallow just any old lure without checking it out,” Pyle wrote in the piece. “They looked long and hard at that offer and they figured out it wasn’t worth a dime.”
Over the years, the idea of Northern Kentucky supporting a professional basketball team has gotten a fair amount of attention, but the arena funding never came through—until 15 years later, when NKU’s on-campus arena was built.
As of yet, no NBA team has agreed to come to Northern Kentucky and play at the BB&T Arena. —Ryan Clark
THE LEGEND: NKU’s original academic buildings were designed with a dual purpose: to serve as academic structures for students, and to allow the buildings to be repurposed as a prison if the University ever had to shut down.
THE VERDICT: Not even close
THE BACKSTORY: When architects Harley Fisk and Addison Clipson set out to create a design concept for Northern Kentucky University, their minds weren’t on a prison. They aspired to build a megastructure reminiscent of the old fortified towns situated on high grounds throughout Europe.
Fisk and Clipson are, quite literally, the architects of NKU’s Highland Heights campus. They are credited with designing Nunn Hall, Regents Hall, Founders Hall (then called the Science Building), Steely Library, and the Fine Arts Center.
From the beginning, they had to plan on a budget. Concrete was less expensive than bricks, buildings were clustered to preserve limited open space, and tunnels were built to create maximum efficiency between structures.
But when NKU first opened with all of that concrete and those tunnels, it led some to wondering: Would NKU make a suitable prison?
We asked Rodney Ballard (’04), who has spent nearly 40 years in criminal justice, most recently as director of detention for the Lexington-Fayette County Government Division of Community Corrections.
Rodney’s verdict? He laughed.
“I don’t have a clue why anyone would think that,” Ballard says. “Could it be retrofitted to a prison? Yes, probably. But it would cost more than just building a new one.”
Ballard says for starters, a prison would have never been placed in such a high-growth area. Prisons generally are built where there are no jobs and land is cheap, he said.
Then there’s the obvious reason this comparison is so absurd: the building’s functional purpose. Jails have to be built to prevent inmates from breaking through walls, and Ballard says two thirds of regular concrete walls are hollow.
Other telltale signs NKU wasn’t built with a prison in mind: multi-story buildings with lots of elevators and large windows that would have to be barred.
“It just wouldn’t make sense,” Ballard says. —Chris Cole
THE LEGEND: The ghost of a former custodian is a frequent traveler in the Lucas Administrative Center elevator.
THE VERDICT: Undetermined
THE BACKSTORY: You’re on the elevator in NKU’s Lucas Administrative Center (AC) riding to one of the building’s upper floors. The elevator begins its ascent only to make an unscheduled stop on the fourth floor.
The doors slowly open, the doors slowly close.
No one gets on and no one gets off.
No one that you can see, anyway.
“Legend has it that the ghost of an employee for whom the elevator was named is still using the elevator,” says J. Patrick Moynahan, interim director of Norse Advising. “The name used to be on a plaque in the back of the elevator until the most recent renovation. The first name may have been Tillie.”
Riders, meet Mathilda Gegan, a.k.a. Tillie, a former NKU custodian who worked for many long years throughout NKU’s campus. Mathilda passed away 15 years ago at the age of 83.
“She was just a sweet person,” says Bonnie Lowe, the former head of NKU custodial services and Tillie’s former boss. “She used to clean up for the president and all of the offices up there and they all really liked her.”
Tillie was so beloved by former NKU president A.D. Albright that he named a certain elevator after her. Yes, that elevator.
But could there be a terrestrial reason for this near-daily phenomenon? Sure, there could be. But we couldn’t find anyone willing to give it.
We called the company responsible for campus elevator maintenance at NKU, The Otis Elevator Company. Alas, it turns out that Otis has never received a service call about Tillie’s elevator and therefore is unwilling to comment.
We also called NKU facilities and maintenance staff, who generally agreed that the issue could stem from the elevators being “zoned” to rest at the middle floor of this eight-story building. Finally, we received this from R.H. Bennett, a local elevator repairman with 34 years of experience in the industry. “If they’re computerized elevators, it’s a software glitch,” he told us. “The elevators could be zoned for the fourth floor. But to stop and open? That would be very unusual.”
Unusual, yes. But you get used to it. —Brent Donaldson
THE LEGEND: The vast system of tunnels that sit below NKU were shut down to the public out of security concerns.
THE VERDICT: False
THE BACKSTORY: There are so many legends about the NKU tunnels that we didn’t know where to start. Among them: the tunnels used to house a nuclear reactor that powered the University; the tunnels were purposely built to withstand a nuclear attack; a staff secretary has been wandering the tunnels, lost, for years.
There is a tunnel system below campus. And you could, theoretically, get around campus through them. But they don’t exactly hit every building and they aren’t all that easy to navigate.
The tunnels were never meant to be a shelter and they were never entirely shut down due to security concerns—because they were never meant to be open to the public in the first place.
“It was never meant for campus circulation by the general population,” said Mary Paula Schuh, director of Campus and Space Planning. “But it was meant for service.”
The original tunnel started around Steely Library at what was then the power plant and central receiving. In the early days, that tunnel was used for all deliveries. Soda and snacks for vending machines and UPS and FedEx deliveries would come to central receiving, where workers would then deliver the goods throughout campus. Food deliveries followed the same route from central receiving to the University Center when UC served as the main campus food court. Today, custodial workers still use the tunnels to gather and remove trash and recycling.
“Sometimes it’s still a route for deliveries because that’s the best way to get deliveries in and out, but not always,” Schuh said. There is a section that runs under the sidewalk connecting the Business Academic Center to MEP and UC, but it is so full of pipes that you can’t walk through it easily.
Tunnels also connect numerous other buildings on campus, and some staff members and faculty members use them to go from place to place. But that is generally frowned upon due to safety concerns. “We try to do everything we can to discourage it,” Schuh says. Just ask the lost secretary, if you ever see her.
THE LEGEND: NKU’s Mathematics, Education, and Psychology (MEP) Center has a divided bottom floor due to a giant rock that could not be removed during construction between May 1978 and May 1980.
THE VERDICT: 50 percent true
THE BACKSTORY: A freshman arrives on the first day of Psych 100 and enters the MEP building looking for Room 120. The student sees room 164 right by the door to the building. Then 158 and 152. Then bathrooms, an exit, the elevator and boom! There is a wall and no Room 120.
Finally, the panicked freshman asks somebody for help, gets a laugh or a knowing smile, and finally the directions to the room. Eventually, the freshman hears one story or another—probably that the building was built around impenetrable rock discovered during construction, causing the two-sided first floor.
It’s true the first floor is split around some pretty tough rock. But the building was designed that way to reduce cost.
“It could have been gotten through,” says Mary Paula Schuh, director of Campus and Space Planning. “It was just cost. They did geological testing to see what they’d encounter and they discovered that there was a lot of rock to be excavated, which is expensive.”
So the rock behind MEP 110 and 120 was not excavated and an NKU legend was born. Much of the second floor of MEP on the side closest to the University Center sits on the rock. To get from one side of the first floor to the other from inside the building, one must go up the stairs or elevator, down the hall, and back down another set of stairs or the elevator.
Now for the 50-percent-false part: this was not a super rock discovered during construction. It could have been vanquished by scraping with a bucket on a backhoe. But that’s not easy and it is quite costly.
“It’s more expensive because it takes more time and more equipment than to excavate softer rock or just soil,” Schuh said. “They weren’t allowed to use dynamite. We’ve never used dynamite to get the rock out like they would for an interstate.” —Tom Ramstetter
THE LEGEND: For an entire semester, a student lived 24/7 in the Fine Arts Center.
THE VERDICT: True
THE BACKSTORY: Matt Langford is known for many things today, including the metal sculptures that dot Northern Kentucky public spaces. But 30 years ago he was just another college student trying to get by.
After dropping out of NKU his sophomore year to care for his ill mother, Langford returned a few years later with a full-time job and an apartment. When a housing subsidy didn’t come through, however, he knew he had a tough choice to make.
“At a certain point, I realized it was me, my car, and NKU,” Langford says. “So I thought maybe with a little bit of ingenuity, I could hang out at NKU and push the envelope. I can say without a doubt that I have slept in every possible corner of that art building.”
Langford calls his “residency” at the FAC a cat-and-mouse game; he knew the patrol schedule of campus police and timed his arrivals and departures accordingly. He also figured out how to get into every locked door in the building, including studio spaces.
That was when he discovered sculpture: “While I was there,” he thought, “I might as well be productive.”
The arrangement worked until his senior year, when photography professor Barry Anderson discovered him sleeping in a corner of the building. “He said, ‘I think it’s time you check out of Hotel Langford.’ All it took was one witty comment from an art professor who I respected to shame me into stepping out into a more responsible life,” Langford said.
He went on to become a sculptor for Hasbro, helping create iconic toys during the 1990’s. Today, Langford’s work can also be seen at Ground Zero in New York City, at the Boone County Library, and just outside the north wall of Nunn Hall, where his statue of Abraham Lincoln stands guard over students, 24-7.