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Photography from 2000

Wilson Hall: Inside the Cupola

Wilson Hall cupolaAs anyone who’s ever been a part of the James Madison University community would be able to tell you, despite clever-looking buildings on the east side of Interstate 81, the landmark building at JMU is Wilson Hall, hands down, with its cupola on the top of the building.  The cupola, and at night, the light inside of it, can be seen all around Harrisonburg, from the farther reaches of JMU’s campus to the far reaches of Harrisonburg, as the cupola is even visible from Westover Park all the way across town from JMU.

I had been interested in visiting the Wilson Hall cupola for about a year before doing this photo set, but didn’t get to due to work loads, and then lack of a contact person when I was getting anxious to go up and photograph, as the permanent JMU phone book had not yet been released for the 2001-2002 year, and thus I could not find out the name of the building coordinator for Wilson Hall.  However, once the JMU phone book came out, I quickly looked for that magical page that told me who to contact.  So I sent off an Email to find out whether this was feasible, and it turned out it was!  So, thanks to the Office of Student Success, I was going up!  On Monday, November 19, 2001, I ascended, and recorded the cupola’s insides for all to see…

The Schumin Web would like to take a moment to thank the Office of Student Success for making this venture possible.


Inside a utility closet, a ladder awaits, leading up to a catwalk above the top floor of Wilson Hall...  Inside a utility closet, a ladder awaits, leading up to a catwalk above the top floor of Wilson Hall...

Inside a utility closet, a ladder awaits, leading up to a catwalk above the top floor of Wilson Hall…


Up on the catwalk, which likely dates only as far back as the summer 2001 renovation of the fourth floor, you can see much of the new equipment installed for the renovated fourth floor.

Up on the catwalk, which likely dates only as far back as the summer 2001 renovation of the fourth floor, you can see much of the new equipment installed for the renovated fourth floor.

Up on the catwalk, which likely dates only as far back as the summer 2001 renovation of the fourth floor, you can see much of the new equipment installed for the renovated fourth floor.


And there it is!  The cupola!

And there it is!  The cupola!


But the access to the cupola is via another ladder... this one, not being secured to a wall like the previous ladder, was slightly wobbly, but perfectly safe as long as you held on.

But the access to the cupola is via another ladder… this one, not being secured to a wall like the previous ladder, was slightly wobbly, but perfectly safe as long as you held on.


So let's head on up!

So let’s head on up!


Welcome to the cupola!  My first reaction when I came up here was my amazement that it was actually smaller inside than it looks.

Welcome to the cupola!  My first reaction when I came up here was my amazement that it was actually smaller inside than it looks.


The function of the cupola is strictly decorative.  As these shots up towards the top of the windows show, the purpose of the interior architecture is purely functional - to support the exterior features.  Another interesting thing about these shots is that it emphasizes the height of the structure.  While the cupola may not be as big around as I expected, it was quite tall.  The function of the cupola is strictly decorative.  As these shots up towards the top of the windows show, the purpose of the interior architecture is purely functional - to support the exterior features.  Another interesting thing about these shots is that it emphasizes the height of the structure.  While the cupola may not be as big around as I expected, it was quite tall.

The function of the cupola is strictly decorative.  As these shots up towards the top of the windows show, the purpose of the interior architecture is purely functional – to support the exterior features.  Another interesting thing about these shots is that it emphasizes the height of the structure.  While the cupola may not be as big around as I expected, it was quite tall.


Continuing this same thread regarding the decorative nature of the cupola, there is much bracing inside, to add additional strength.  This bracing also made for slight difficulty getting around up here, due to the need to duck under and step over the beams.

Continuing this same thread regarding the decorative nature of the cupola, there is much bracing inside, to add additional strength.  This bracing also made for slight difficulty getting around up here, due to the need to duck under and step over the beams.

Continuing this same thread regarding the decorative nature of the cupola, there is much bracing inside, to add additional strength.  This bracing also made for slight difficulty getting around up here, due to the need to duck under and step over the beams.


A common misperception about the Wilson Hall cupola is that the glass up there is clear.  As the astute observer from street level might notice, it is actually frosted glass up on the windows.  Afterwards, when I was telling friends about my trip up here, and told them about the frosted glass, they told me that they had either thought it was either clear glass up there, or open-air.

A common misperception about the Wilson Hall cupola is that the glass up there is clear.  As the astute observer from street level might notice, it is actually frosted glass up on the windows.  Afterwards, when I was telling friends about my trip up here, and told them about the frosted glass, they told me that they had either thought it was either clear glass up there, or open-air.


One thing about the cupola being on the top of the building and thus so high up is that birds, not being the brightest creatures on Earth, occasionally hit the windows.  Judging by evidence on the floor, this is likely the reason for a few panes of the frosted glass being replaced over the years.  Note the difference in the frosting on the glass to figure out the replaced panes.

One thing about the cupola being on the top of the building and thus so high up is that birds, not being the brightest creatures on Earth, occasionally hit the windows.  Judging by evidence on the floor, this is likely the reason for a few panes of the frosted glass being replaced over the years.  Note the difference in the frosting on the glass to figure out the replaced panes.


For information about James Madison University while traveling, or looking to see if classes are cancelled or something, like that, people often tune to AM 1610.  This is the transmitter for AM 1610, broadcasting directly from the top of Wilson Hall.

For information about James Madison University while traveling, or looking to see if classes are cancelled or something, like that, people often tune to AM 1610.  This is the transmitter for AM 1610, broadcasting directly from the top of Wilson Hall.


The floor of the cupola was not the cleanest place in the world.  Besides dust and pigeon poop, we also found old roof tiles, replaced by new tiles as needed, as well as a milk jug with an odd hole in it.

The floor of the cupola was not the cleanest place in the world.  Besides dust and pigeon poop, we also found old roof tiles, replaced by new tiles as needed, as well as a milk jug with an odd hole in it.


Continuing along the floor, we find more tiles, as well as a strange black-and-blue box that was too small to be a discarded box for the light bulb.

Continuing along the floor, we find more tiles, as well as a strange black-and-blue box that was too small to be a discarded box for the light bulb.


The evidence shows that it was probably some bird smashing into the cupola that caused the window panes to need replacing, as we find broken glass on the floor of the cupola.

The evidence shows that it was probably some bird smashing into the cupola that caused the window panes to need replacing, as we find broken glass on the floor of the cupola.


We also found evidence of other birds inside the cupola in the form of remains, as we found this piece of bone as seen above (anyone know what this is?), as well as an owl pellet, with some interesting looking bones on it.  We also found evidence of other birds inside the cupola in the form of remains, as we found this piece of bone as seen above (anyone know what this is?), as well as an owl pellet, with some interesting looking bones on it.

We also found evidence of other birds inside the cupola in the form of remains, as we found this piece of bone as seen above (anyone know what this is?), as well as an owl pellet, with some interesting looking bones on it.


When I visited the Wilson Hall cupola, I followed the time-tested rule of "take only pictures, leave only footsteps".  However, other past and present members of the JMU community were not nearly as kind to their surroundings as I was, leaving graffiti in the cupola structure in the form of engravings, pen and/or marker writing, etc.  When I visited the Wilson Hall cupola, I followed the time-tested rule of "take only pictures, leave only footsteps".  However, other past and present members of the JMU community were not nearly as kind to their surroundings as I was, leaving graffiti in the cupola structure in the form of engravings, pen and/or marker writing, etc.

When I visited the Wilson Hall cupola, I followed the time-tested rule of “take only pictures, leave only footsteps”.  However, other past and present members of the JMU community were not nearly as kind to their surroundings as I was, leaving graffiti in the cupola structure in the form of engravings, pen and/or marker writing, etc.


And this is the bulb that lights the cupola, that can be seen throughout campus, and around much of Harrisonburg, most prominently at night.  Yes, that's really it.  The bulb is small (not much bigger than the size of my fist), but at 400 watts, it really packs some power.

And this is the bulb that lights the cupola, that can be seen throughout campus, and around much of Harrisonburg, most prominently at night.  Yes, that’s really it.  The bulb is small (not much bigger than the size of my fist), but at 400 watts, it really packs some power.


Around the light bulb, many ladybugs found a final resting place.  Kinda gross, but that's what insects do.

Around the light bulb, many ladybugs found a final resting place.  Kinda gross, but that’s what insects do.


Through this hole is the very tip-top of the cupola, with the smaller, circular windows.

Through this hole is the very tip-top of the cupola, with the smaller, circular windows.


To get up there, you go up this ladder.

To get up there, you go up this ladder.


I didn't ascend this ladder for two reasons.  The first reason was the obvious gaping hole right beneath it, where the access ladder is located, meaning a fall could send you tumbling off the ladder, through the hole, and then splat on the catwalk below.

I didn’t ascend this ladder for two reasons.  The first reason was the obvious gaping hole right beneath it, where the access ladder is located, meaning a fall could send you tumbling off the ladder, through the hole, and then splat on the catwalk below.


The second reason I didn't go up to the upper level was the condition of the ladder.  Some of the rungs were in questionable shape, and so when you see parts of the ladder only being held up by only one secure nail, coupled with the previous observation, it's not worth the safety risk.

The second reason I didn’t go up to the upper level was the condition of the ladder.  Some of the rungs were in questionable shape, and so when you see parts of the ladder only being held up by only one secure nail, coupled with the previous observation, it’s not worth the safety risk.


Getting ready to head back down the ladder to leave the cupola, I noticed that there was actually a cover for the opening, in order to allow for people to close it, I guess to do maintenance on stuff in here, and not fall through.

Getting ready to head back down the ladder to leave the cupola, I noticed that there was actually a cover for the opening, in order to allow for people to close it, I guess to do maintenance on stuff in here, and not fall through.

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