LSU’s most visible landmark has served as an art museum and, for students of a certain era, as a place to get a first kiss. Neither of those was part of Memorial Tower’s intended purpose.
“A lot of people don’t know why it’s there except it has a clock,” said Randy Gurie, executive director of Cadets of the Ole War Skule, an organization that seeks to preserve the memory of LSU’s military tradition.
With a donation drive scheduled to kick off in September, LSU hopes to turn back that clock to its origins.
LSU will be seeking memorabilia and artifacts from its alumni or family members of alumni who served in the U.S. armed forces. Ultimately, such donations would provide items for the LSU Military Museum to be housed in Memorial Tower.
“LSU is proud of its military heritage, and we are fortunate to see the influence of that legacy on our present-day flagship institution,” said LSU Chancellor Mike Martin. “The LSU Military Museum will enable us to share the history of our Cadet Corps and distinguished military alumni and pay tribute to alumni who have served and continue to serve in our nation’s armed forces, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
This was what the tower, also called the Campanile, was designed to be when it was built in 1923 to honor the 1,447 Louisiana residents who were killed in World War I. The same year, 30 live oaks were planted behind what is now the LSU Union to honor those from the school who died in that war.
The names of all those killed in the “war to end all wars” were inscribed on tablets that were installed inside the tower and unveiled on Nov. 11, 1932, as part of LSU’s Armistice Day ceremonies. The tablets, which listed the names by parish, inadvertently omitted the 14 veterans from Pointe Coupee Parish, a mistake that has never been corrected.
Eventually, though, the rooms in the base of the tower have been used as the Anglo-American Art Museum and as a campus information center. According to LSU history professor Paul Hoffman, in years when the lower section was open to pedestrian traffic, it was a place to sneak a kiss. For the past several years, it has been the office for Cadets of the Ole War Skule.
So, it’s back to the future.
“That’s the first place people see when they enter the campus, and that’s what it was developed for,” said Denver Loupe, who chairs the museum committee. “It was a military museum.”
A museum, however, needs artifacts. Many of those that once were housed there have disappeared.
LSU is hoping to receive items including uniforms and other clothing, trunks, luggage, maps, books, battle plans, photos, correspondence, plaques, medals, citations, flags, cameras and typewriters. Initially, at least, the museum will not accept any operable weapons, Loupe said.
The artifacts can be from any war since LSU’s founding as the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in 1860. That, of course, covers a lot of ground.
The school’s first president, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, resigned at the outbreak of the Civil War, and the school’s president from 1951-63, Lt. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, served in World War II, as did thousands of its students and former students, who attended when military training was required for able-bodied males as freshmen and sophomores. That requirement ended in 1969.
Some of Middleton’s memorabilia, donated to the university by his family, will be a focal point of the permanent collection. Plans include collections related to the history of ROTC at LSU, the school’s military leaders, involvement of LSU faculty, staff and students in America’s wars and Cadets of the Ole War Skule.
Returning Memorial Tower to its military roots arose out of the effort that created the LSU War Memorial, which now occupies the section of the Parade Ground just east of the tower. The memorial honors all LSU students, faculty, staff and alumni who were killed in action, reported missing in action or died in military conflicts from World War II to the present. John Capdevielle and the late Col. Joe Dale are credited with coming up with that idea, and as it neared its 1998 completion, the attention naturally turned to the Campanile.
In addition to artifacts, the museum will need money. Loupe estimates that $15 million will be required to fix cracks in the exterior, repair a roof leak and create an interior space suitable for the museum. An endowment campaign to raise this money and create an endowment for military scholarships for ROTC cadets is being planned, but its kickoff date has not been announced, nor has a projected opening date of the museum.
“I keep telling the group I’m not sure I’ll be here then,” Loupe said. “I’m one of the World War II veterans. I’m not sure I’ll be here when it will all be done and it will be remodeled and looking good again.”
LSU will be accepting donations from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning Sept. 27 at Memorial Tower. For more information, call (225) 578-0420.
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