The Bradley University fire is remembered

By Beau Ebenezer

January 12, 2013 Updated Jan 14, 2013 at 11:03 AM CDT

PEORIA Ill -- Fifty years ago, Bradley University's campus looked quite different.

Even the January weather was about 50 degrees colder.

It was shortly after 8 p.m. on January 12, 1963 when Ruth Jass, a Bradley University Registrar at the time, heard the news that would change BU history forever.

"I got a phone call from the President and he said, 'Ruth, can you come? Bradley Hall is on fire and if you hurry we may be able to save some stuff from your office.' Well, I was here in ten minutes, and my office was completely engulfed," said Jass.

A fire destroyed Bradley Hall and everything in it.

"Part of the problem was all of our documentation went up in flames. We didn't know what classes were held in Bradley Hall at the time, but it was our job to re-establish them," said Jass.

Max and Ardith Wessler witnessed the blaze from their house, which is now where Morgan Hall is located.

"There was just a ton of smoke and flames coming out of there. And the trucks were just arriving.We watched, and hundreds of people gathered up and down the streets and around the building," said Max Wessler.

By morning, Bradley Hall was covered with ice, frozen from firefighters' hose water.

Witnesses called it a ghostly scene.

"It was incredible because of all the ice that accumulated. Thick ice, not just a little bit but it was thick all over the buildings and all over the ground," said Ardith Wessler.

Luckily, the university was able to restore records within five years through back-up micro-film, and Bradley Hall re-opened, completely renovated inside.

The outside is still almost identical to the 1963 building. Even the walls contain some of the original limestone.

With the fire in Bradley's past, those who experienced it first-hand say they can only look back and think of how it made the university stronger.

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