Riots, raves and romance, SIU alumni share their stories

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

You know you’re in Carbondale when you see Moses in the nude presenting the ten commandments on the roof of PK’s, someone portraying Lady Godiva riding a white horse down Illinois Street or when you are held at gunpoint by the National Guard on your way to class.

In honor of SIU’s 150 year anniversary and homecoming, alumni shared stories with the Daily Egyptian of their time at the university. 

SIU has been known as a party school for a long time.

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The university was 17th on Playboy magazine’s 1987 list of top party schools and still holds the title of 2nd best party school in Illinois, just after University of Illinois Champaign Urbana, according to Niche. 

See more: Top Party Schools in Illinois

SIU’s Halloween celebrations are one of the biggest reasons it became known nationally as a party school.

Doug Graham, an alum who studied journalism, said one of his more memorable stories took place in Carbondale in 1974.

It was Halloween, and there was a naked man portraying Moses and holding the ten commandments while standing on the roof of PK’s bar, Graham said.

“[This was] topped by [a] naked girl riding [a] white horse portraying Lady Godiva down Illinois street,” Graham said. 

Carbondale was plagued by riots during Halloween. 

A DUI awareness car parked in front of Grinnell Dining Hall in Brush Towers, was flipped over and set on fire during the 1996 riots.

It is one thing to stand in the streets and scream because that can be fun,” Kristy Schmidt, a former student interviewed by the Daily Egyptian in 1996, said. “It is quite another thing to go around blowing up cars.”

The 2000 riots ended with police tear gassing students up and down the strip and 156 arrests. Trees were set on fire, windows were broken, neon signs were ripped down and left hanging and businesses along the strip suffered thousands of dollars in damage.

These riots were the last straw for city and university officials, and they banned the holiday and restricted the sale of alcohol during that time up until last year.

See more: Carbondale Hosts Halloween events for the first time in 18 years

The ban inspired the creation of “unofficial Halloween”  where hundreds of students would don disguises and celebrate a week early. 

Halloween wasn’t the only time Carbondale saw riots, and in 1968 and 1969 students protesting the Vietnam war bombed the Agriculture Building and burned down Old Main.

Following these attacks and several protests, the Army National Guard was called in, and the campus was shut down in 1970.

See more: Politics and protests make the university what it is today

Cathie Hutcheson attended the university during the closure and said her professor, Dr. Kilmstra, still insisted on having class.

Hutcheson said she was in a wildlife class, and she and her classmates were told to appear on campus ready to visit a local refuge to observe ducks. They had to bring an observation scope, which was mounted on a gun stock, for the class. 

“We were stopped entering campus by several very nervous and very young National Guard soldiers,” Hutcheson said, “who, when they saw our spotting scope mounted on a gun stock, screamed at us to exit the car.”

The students were then held at gunpoint by the soldiers as they attempted to explain Kilmstra’s class and that there was no gun.

In addition to riots and raving parties, SIU saw its share of romance.

Vicky Cullen, a 1984 graduate who studied commercial graphics design, said she will never forget working as an usher at the city’s Elton John concert in 1980.

“A guy comes up to me, gets on one knee and starts singing ‘Your Song’ to me,” Cullen said. “The next day this guy calls me and asks me out to lunch, so I went.”

Cullen said she will also never forget the Carbondale Frank Zappa concert where he invited female students to the stage to leave their underwear for his “panty sniffing contest” based on one of his songs, “the Madison panty-sniffing festival.”

Zappa later made a quilt out of the underwear he received on his tour.

Stranger things than that have happened in Carbondale, like in 1964 when students arrived on campus to learn the road disappeared. 

Warren Douglas, an alumnus studying forestry in 1964, said the change shocked him and threw him for a curve when he showed up to campus and the road was gone. 

“I had three classes that morning: math, English and history. I attended those classes and walking out of Old Main, along the sidewalk, I noticed something was different,” Douglas said. 

Douglas said it took him a minute to figure out what had happened. He said he asked someone, and they said a landscaping crew had sodded the street he had taken to Old Main with grass. 

“The road was gone,” Douglas said.

 With the existence of Polar bear, Solar bear, unofficial and Halloween, Carbondale remains a top party school in Illinois, despite the decline in enrollment. 

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] of on Twitter @KallieECox. 

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