Written by Stephanie Pickrell
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Or perhaps write an ode to a nightingale? Or maybe even reminisce about walking through an endless sea of daffodils?
Poets throughout the ages are notorious for waxing sentimental about the natural scenery around them, but depending on where you live, sufficiently beautiful countryside can be hard to find. I, for one, have long lamented the dearth of inspirational settings in suburban Houston. It was a welcome change when I finally came to campus and found myself surrounded by engaging architecture, plenty of foliage, and endless little hideaways to explore. However, the strengths of UT’s scenery lies not only in its beauty, but in its variety. Old or new, welcoming or fear-inspiring, you can find nearly any kind of view on campus if you know where to look.
Whether you live in Austin or not, we’re all missing campus, so here are a few places that I think are particularly reminiscent of certain genres—from the romantic to the terrifying to the strange. If you’re as homesick for campus as I am, maybe these will give you something to look forward to for when we finally get to come back.
High school again – the Batts/Mezes/Benedict Complex
Maybe it’s the loud ringing bell on the first floor, or maybe it’s the endless yellow hallways, but something about the east side of the Six Pack reminds me of my old high school. Or at least what my high school would have been like if it had had better lighting and more reliable plumbing.
The complex has everything a high school should have: the abundance of small rooms, the rows of desks with bright red chairs that squeal like dinosaurs, the aesthetic chalkboards with barely erased cusswords, and the various orgs that claim the rooms for their use after hours. In other words, it’s the perfect place to set a high school romcom. The bell rings and the door flashes dramatically open as the most popular girl in school walks in, miniskirt, heels, and all. She walks by the water fountains and the nerds stare after her, jaws dropping in oval-eyed awe. On her way, she trips our heroine, whose many books go scattering everywhere. Our heroine (who is at this point narrating a self-pitying voice-over) scrambles to pick them up until a tall, handsome stranger kneels to help, and she finds herself falling out of the world and into his deep, deep eyes . . .
Ahem. Anyway, whatever your feelings about high school may be, wandering a bit through the halls is a good way to invoke some of that good ol’ high school nostalgia. Encounters with tall, handsome strangers not guaranteed.
Don’t look back – the Passage beneath the UTC
The University Teaching Center isn’t my favorite building for a variety of reasons: panicked memories from orientation, a frequent shortage of chairs in the study areas, and the strange caterpillar benches that look like they were taken from a pediatrician’s waiting room. However, the passage through the building on the ground floor is the worst of all.
The lighting is dark, the escalators are covered in decades-old gum, and the smell of the bathrooms seems inescapable. Let’s not even mention the empty plant bed toward the back. Why would anyone bother to bring in dirt for a flower bed that never sees the sun? Unless . . . it’s not really a flower bed, but something worse. Perhaps the resting place of a spirit older than time, brought to this institution long ago by a curious professor who didn’t understand the history he was meddling. Left alone by the students preoccupied with their own petty worries, has it been brooding in silence, occasionally snatching an unsuspecting soul from the shadows?
In any case, I never walk here alone, if I can help it. However, it’s the perfect place to set a horror story, so if you’re looking to inspire terror, the UTC is the place to visit.
Another secret garden – Behind Turtle Pond
Next to the tower and the FAC on the edge of a parking lot is a little greenhouse and attached cottage that resembles a building transported from a different time. Or, perhaps more likely, it was simply overlooked as everything else grew up around it. Still, there’s something strange about it. It exudes an aura of otherworldliness, beckoning gently to those who wonder about its secrets, while from others it hides, letting their eyes slip harmlessly over its panes. Who knows what treasures lie inside? Surely not mere plants?
Anyway, this little area behind Turtle Pond has always brought to mind some kind of secret garden—hidden in plain sight and surrounded by soothing greenery and the sound of dripping water. Even if you can’t go inside (please don’t trespass!), it’s a delightful little place to walk around and imagine what could be hidden behind the glass.
A possibly romantic balcony – Painter Staircase
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? Of course, this balcony on the side of Painter Hall hangs over a parking lot rather than a doting Romeo, and the stairs would make the journey to the top more of a simple walk than a daunting climb, but the romantic potential still exists. Oh, Romeo, sweet Romeo! A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, but the parking lot only ever smells of car exhaust.
I love all the staircases on campus, especially the ones in odd places, but this one beats them all in terms of placement. It leads to a beautiful blue door placed squarely in the middle of the side of a building, all over the parking lot where I was (twice) almost hit by a car. What’s not to love? Anyway, it’s a great place to consider the serendipity of life and architecture. Just please remember to look both ways before you cross the street.
Most likely to be haunted – Littlefield Home
If you’ve ever been on an official campus tour, you’ve likely heard the story of Mrs. Alice Littlefield, who supposedly haunts Littlefield Home for no reason other than its Victorian architecture. Even though we’re told the building now houses the offices of University Events instead of her ghost, there’s no guarantee that Mrs. Littlefield doesn’t still wander about the premises from time to time.
Despite its imposing structure, I’ve always thought that Littlefield seems more likely to house a friendly ghost that bakes cookies and dusts the bookshelves than an evil spirit that leaves blood on the walls. I’ve been fought on this point before, but I get the feeling that Mrs. Littlefield isn’t a malicious ghost. She does the rounds, makes the curtains flutter, does the whispering in the wind and the occasional high-pitched scream, but her heart’s not really into the haunting, you know? In any case, whether you believe in ghosts or not, maybe you can find inspiration for a friendly (or not so friendly) ghost story in the yard.
Etched into stone – the Tower Benches
Personally one of my favorite places to sit after a long day of classes (weather permitting), the booths by the tower have always intrigued me for the names, insults, and professions of love scratched all over their surfaces. I love the idea of leaving something personal behind for other people to discover, and these seats seem to exemplify that human impulse. What’s the story behind the “Marry Me?” scratched an inch deep into the seat? Or the initials in the heart that someone etched a jagged line through the middle? Or the drawing there that looks kind of like a—oh. Never mind.
Still secluded despite its central-to-campus location, it’s a calming place to sit, watch the world go by, and think about the stories of the people who’ve left their mark in the stone around you.
Most historic – Waggener Hall
One of the most satisfying things about campus is that the Classics building looks like a classics building. Maybe it’s the tiny wooden desks still nailed to the floor, or the creaky flooring, or the elevator that is slower than taking the questionably-constructed stairs, but Waggener has somehow preserved the Look of an ancient liberal arts college, and I hope modern renovations never happen.
It’s the perfect place to wander around between classes, listening to the snippets of conversation on the merits of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, looking at the signs to the nuclear fallout shelter, or browsing the shelves of the Classics Library on the ground floor (which also looks exactly like you’d expect a Classics Library to look). If you’re ever needing inspiration for a historical novel or just want to find out if nails on a chalkboard is truly the worst sound to human ears, Waggener Hall is the perfect place to visit.
Passage to Somewhere – the Staircase behind Greg
I owe the discovery of this staircase to a random student who heard a friend and I wondering if there was a way to get to Jester from Patton Hall without going down Speedway—and the answer is yes, there is. It’s a slim staircase that starts from the back of the Patton Hall patio, winds around the back of Greg, and finishes behind Moore-Hill. It’s a nice little path and a perfect alternative to Speedway, if the mere thought of tabling orgs makes you shudder. It also borders the creek by San Jacinto, which means it’s quiet and protected from the rest of the world.
One could almost say it’s mystical in its unique silence. Almost as if it hides the entrance to a world parallel to this one, with a UT that is just like ours, but older, stranger, and suffering from dark forces . . . Whether or not you actually find anything supernatural on the path, it’s ideal for imagining passageways to new worlds—or just somewhere less busy.
Dead or only sleeping – the East Mall Fountain
Another one of the places on campus that lands more on the haunted than the peaceful side of things, the dead East Mall fountain gives off an air of crumbling dereliction. I saw it going once—and the water sprayed well above the second story—but I have lost all hope of ever seeing it run again.
Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but take into account its prolonged sabbatical and it does seem odd to have such a big fountain that is never kept going. It’s the kind of place that seems like it came out of a John Green novel, where the characters are remarkably aware of the symbolism of their own lives and make up metaphors just for fun. In any case, its elevated position in the east makes it a good location from which to watch the sunrise and have a short-lived relationship filled with too many philosophical discussions.
Hideaway ft. another dead fountain – Goldsmith Hall
Otherwise known as the Architecture courtyard, this is one of the most well-known picturesque places on campus—with good reason. Besides the pretty blue window frames, the benches, and the colorfully tiled dry pond in the middle (what is it with the number of broken fountains on campus, anyway?), the beautiful pink magnolia trees in each corner bloom every February and shower the courtyard in soft blossoms.
It’s a truly nice location and somewhat of a neutral one. It could be anything you wanted it to be, from a romantic hideaway to an example of post-apocalyptic beauty to a garden on an alien planet. It’s a good place to sit in silence and just think for a while in the early morning, shielded briefly from the rest of the hustle and bustle on campus. Just make sure you’re truly alone before you start talking to yourself out loud . . . not speaking from personal experience or anything.