Myths, Mysteries and Curiosities

Accurate or not, there are campus legends that are passed from each generation of students to the next that seem to enhance their experiences here—or at least their memories of those experiences. We offer a few of the most interesting curiosities associated with the university.

The Gargoyle on Amasa Stone Chapel

Drawing of Amasa Stone Chapel, 1911

The tower of Amasa Stone Chapel, completed in 1911, is adorned on three sides with smiling angels. The west side, however, features a menacing gargoyle, sparking what is probably the most persistent legend concerning the campus. As the story goes, the trustees of Western Reserve University decided to put the gargoyle on the side of the chapel facing the campus of Case School of Applied Science. Their reason for doing so, it is said, was their belief that Leonard Case Jr., who founded Case School, was an atheist.

An amusing story, but the facts suggest otherwise. The chapel was given as a memorial to Amasa Stone (see the section on the history of the university) by his two daughters, Flora Stone Mather and Clara Stone Hay. By all accounts, it would have been difficult to find two more proper and honorable people than they and it is unthinkable that they would allow a memorial to their father to be used in that way.

Further, the chapel was designed by the Boston architect Henry Vaughan, who also designed the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Vaughan probably never visited Cleveland and knew nothing of the history of rivalry between the two institutions. He based the English Gothic Revival design of the chapel on English medieval churches, where it was common to place a gargoyle on the dark (i.e., west) side of the building.

We expect the legend will live on, however.

The Searcher on Tomlinson Hall

If there is such a thing as a "counter-legend," this is it. In 1947, Case Institute of Technology built Tomlinson Hall as its new student center, named for George A. Tomlinson who had operated a fleet of ships on the Great Lakes. Over the main entrance to Tomlinson Hall is a large stone carving of a figure in a boat peering eastward into the distance. He is facing Adelbert College, at the time the men's college of Western Reserve University and Case's principal rival in athletics and other pursuits. Rumor has it that the figure is glaring at the Adelbert students.

Once again, the truth is quite different. Architect Frank E. Rhinehart of the firm of Walker & Weeks, who designed the building, commented: "In modeling this figure, we endeavored to tell a story of the Searcher,' ever searching for new things in the world and in science that make for a better world in which all society may live and prosper."

Who's Buried There

At least two structures on campus are often rumored to be grave markers. Neither is, of course. Rather, both were intended to mark campus entrances.

On the north side of Euclid Avenue, between Mather House and the Church of the Covenant, sits the Mary Chisholm Painter Arch, which served as a main entrance from Euclid to the campus of the College for Women, later Flora Stone Mather College. Built in the Gothic Revival style, the arch gained the nickname "the Tombs" per The Reserve Handbook for 1928-29 (a predecessor to this book), which commented on its "sepulchral tone." But the handbook also noted that the arch was held in high regard for other reasons: "As a trysting spot, it has no equal on the university campus."

Down the street, a low stone marker was built in the 1970s denoting "Case Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University." It is located on the southeast corner of Euclid Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, marking the traditional entrance to the campus of Case Institute of Technology. It was a response to the concern of some CIT alumni and friends who worried that Case would have less visibility than they hoped within the newly federated university. Leonard Case is not buried there (he and his family were laid to rest in the Erie Street Cemetery near Progressive Field... and then moved to rest again at Lake View Cemetery.)

Does the Sundial Tell the Right Time?

The Mather College campus, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features a sundial on the walkway adjoining Clark Hall, Haydn Hall and Guilford House.

"Have you heard," asked The Reserve Handbook for 1928-29, that the sundial "plays an important role in campus life? After student elections, classes hold impromptu rallies around it to cheer their new officers. Our neighbors from the south campus [the men of Adelbert College] find it an attractive rallying spot in their pep rallies before big football games, while Monday night serenaders fresh from fraternity meeting[s] find it indispensable not only for inspiration but for support."

A sundial has been a fixture on the Mather College campus since 1906. The current dial was installed in 1986.

Where Elephants Roam

Connecting the lower (Murray Hill Road) and upper (Carlton Road) levels of the South Residential Village is a covered staircase of such massive proportions that it has come to be known as the "Elephant Stairs." The stairs were built in 1968 to provide access to the then-new Carlton Road housing area from the Murray Hill level, which was built in 1964. The staircase features treads so deep that students of average height will require two or even three steps per stair. Some students use them for training, running up the full length of the staircase at top speed.


Yes, Spitball is the official name of the large black steel sculpture, produced by the late Irish artist Tony Smith, which highlights the Case Quadrangle. Smith's designs were said to be based largely on "geometric forms found in nature." In this case, he found his inspiration in the geometric form of a spitball.

This is just one of the dozens of sculptures that grace the campus. Those acquired in recent years are part of the Putnam Sculpture Collection, recognizing a gift that provides annual income for installing sculptures on campus. Additions to the collection are by artists with connections to this region.