Bernard Bangley ’57 and Randolph Gregg ’57 channeled their inner Edward R. Murrow on the night of March 29, 1957, as they recorded the burning of McIlwaine Hall. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair and its fate was the topic of many discussions around campus. So, when students noticed flames dancing around the roof of the building, between Cushing and College Road, everyone turned out, including Bangley and Gregg with microphones in hand ready to record the events as they unfolded.
Rev. Bangley is retired from a career in the ministry and he recalled that night with great detail and joy: “Nobody had portable recording equipment at that time, so what I did was string long extension cords out of Cushing Hall to an old Webcor wire recorder. We recorded the whole thing on wire."
He says the scene was quite lively with students cheering and standing on fire hoses as the building burned. “We were quite frankly being playful. The student body was celebrating. Nobody except for the older faculty thought anything bad was happening.”
Just days before the fire Bangley and John L. Brinkley ’59, who was then a sophomore, debated the fate of McIlwaine Hall before a packed Johns Auditorium. “I thought the building was a desecration to our otherwise beautiful campus,” says Bangley. “John had taken the defensive side and said it was a valuable relic.”
At the time, McIlwaine was being used for storage by Buildings and Grounds.
As the fire raged, Bangley and Gregg lightheartedly described the scene. Bangley says, “Randy was a playful and clever chap. He invented in his imagination a couple of the interviews. Some of what you hear is Randy disguising his voice.”
While Bangley and Gregg were recording audio, Dr. Graves H. Thompson ’27 was filming the fire. Media Librarian Brian Burns has combined the audio and film in a video that is available online at http://bit.ly/1957fire.
As to how the McIlwaine fire started, Bangley says he is quite certain it was arson and, just as Brinkley used to claim, Bangley thinks he knows who started it. That, however, is a secret neither man has ever revealed.