Paul and Virginia stand the test of time

Daily Egyptian file photo.

By Anna Spoerre, @ASpoerre_DE

In 1969 two young children looked on as Old Main, one of the original buildings on campus, went up in flames.

The Paul and Virginia statue stands between Shryock Auditorium and Davies Gym. It shows two children holding an umbrella from which water cascades.

The statue was donated by the class of 1887, according to museum records. Now, the class of 1965 is fundraising to restore the historic piece of art.


The bronze and copper statue was installed on the 100th anniversary of a French novel from 1788, “­­­­­Paul et Virginie”, by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, said Eric Jones, a ­­­registrar at the University Museum. The story, often associated with the themes of The Enlightenment, is about two childhood friends who later fall in love.

Michael Hanes, Phillip Pfeffer and Patti Elmore, class of ’65 graduates, were asked by the Alumni Association to be in charge of the their class’ 50th anniversary.

“We’re trying to re-institute the idea of the 50-year anniversary class giving the university some kind of a gift that would be lasting,” Hanes said.

Three projects were suggested to them and Paul and Virginia appealed to the three because they were in school when Old Main still stood and the fountain is an iconic image, Hanes said.

Since Old Main was burned down, the original Paul and Virginia statue was moved because unrest was common on campus in the 1970s. 

“They determined it would be safest for Paul and Virginia to be put at Stone [Center],” Hanes said. 

An exact duplicate was cast in bronze and placed in the current location where it has sat since the 1970s. The original is still at the garden of the Stone Center. With this project, they are hoping to restore and return the original Paul and Virginia statue to the original pool where the replica sits today.


Physical plant employees began working on a sketch last month, and proposed the completed drawing to the class of 1965 alumni during Homecoming weekend.

Concerns include cracks in the bottom of the statue’s pool and the crumbling stone walls that surround the fountain.

“If we don’t fix it soon, it’s going to further deteriorate,” said Brian Gorecki, staff architect at Physical Plant Engineering Services.

After Old Main burned down, the physical plant took usable stones from the building, now considered artifacts, and safely stored them. Gorecki said his department is planning on putting benches made from the old stone around the new fountain area.

They are also planning to add brick paths leading to the fountain like those outside Shryock Auditorium and Davies Gym.

Gorecki said they also want to add lighting and energy saving aspects, like a water re-circulation system.

Andrew Mallinson, a junior from O’Fallon, Mo., studying architecture, is a student-worker at the physical plant who will help draft the project.

Mallinson said he will mainly help architects get drawings out to workers, taking measurements and making changes to drawings.

“It’s pretty cool that I’m able to work with such historical ‘monuments’ on campus,” said Mallinson, who is excited to help improve the statue for future generations.

The next step is to propose estimated costs to donors. They will decide what to do based off how much money is raised, Gorecki said.

More than $30,000 has been donated so far. Hanes said they are hoping to raise $50,000 total. 

Hanes said half of the money will be used on renovations, and the other half is to start a fund to maintain it.

Hanes said they are hoping to have the project completed by next Homecoming.

“It’s kind of an icon of survival,” Jones said. “They just stand quietly and mind their business and every year they’re there. I hope they’re there for a long, long time.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or @ASpoerre_DE