For several years, I have wanted to revisit Indiana University’s campus in Bloomington – about a seven-hour drive north of Chattanooga – and I finally did last week.
As someone who has done some adjunct teaching in recent years at the University of Tennessee, and who also loved my years as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia, I thoroughly enjoy visiting and examining other colleges.
I like to study the architecture and layout of a campus, and try to walk around each one as much as possible and imagine what it might have been like to be a student or even professor there.
And I might occasionally let my imagination run wild and even pretend I am being invited there as a distinguished visitor.
I chose Indiana to revisit for the first time in about a decade because I have also pulled for the Hoosiers’ basketball program over the years dating back to when the demanding-but-honest Bob Knight was the coach.
I also pull for the North Carolina Tar Heels’ basketball team along with, of course, my alma mater of Georgia, and I have visited the Chapel Hill campus several times in recent years for a basketball game and written about the experiences.
I also stay at the historic and pretty Carolina Inn by the campus while there, so I wanted to try and duplicate that somewhat with my visit to Indiana. As a result, I stayed at the neat Biddle Hotel that is in the middle of campus and adjoins the mammoth-sized Indiana Memorial Union.
The Biddle definitely offered me an opportunity to examine the campus closely and feel more connected to the school. I would have loved to be there for a basketball game sometime, but this time I did take advantage of the very distinguished music program by attending a couple of recitals.
I also gathered a little information for another story I hope to write in the coming days about a civil rights era historical connection between Chattanooga and Indiana University.
I arrived in Bloomington last Monday, July 1, around suppertime following a stop in Knoxville and after spending the last 45 minutes driving through some attractive and rolling rural land on Highway 46 off Interstate 65.
After I reached the campus and figured out which street to go down without the help of any GPS, a college-aged woman checked me in with a smile and I went up to my room, which looked out over a New York City-like courtyard.
Knowing a recital for which a pre-paid concert ticket had been purchased was only an hour from starting, I asked her where Auer Concert Hall was and if any of the food court eating facilities inside the Indiana Memorial Union were open.
She amicably told me one cafeteria was still open and the general direction to go to find Auer Hall, so I was on my way. Unfortunately, I could not find the café, although there did appear to be a grab-and-go eatery open.
Even though I was starting to get hungry and it was after 7 p.m., I decided to hold off, thinking maybe I could find a unique college eatery downtown after the 8 p.m. recital, which I figured would not last more than an hour.
As I walked through a part of campus past a student chapel and saw some nice grass and trees and a rolling brook – the latter of which you don’t find at every major state university -- I arrived at where I thought Auer Hall was. However, I could not find it initially, but later realized it was simply a concert hall inside the former education building, now named for Bess Meshulam Simon.
It was one of those nice rectangular shaped concert halls of a few hundred seats perhaps patterned after those of the pre-20th century. Performing that night were faculty members Atar Arad on the viola and Chih-Yi Chen on the piano.
Someone later told me that Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music is considered the second-best collegiate program in the country behind only the Julliard School of Music in New York – although Indiana jokingly says Julliard is second only to Indiana.
Since I could not see a men’s basketball game, I focused on another program with which the university has a lot of tradition of excellence.
As I took my general admission seat, in one that thankfully was made of wood and not plastic, I noticed a lot of high school-aged youngsters as well as a few adults. One man came in with his family and sat next to me and kindly introduced himself.
I think after he heard me say one or two words in a drawl that did not sound like most people from Bloomington, he asked me where I was from. We had a nice talk the rest of the night before the recital and during intermission, and he was telling me that his son was attending a strings camp and that he used to play music but now focused more on supporting his son musically.
He asked me if I had ever heard a somewhat unusual viola recital or concert before, and I said no. He told me the sound of the instrument was slightly lower than that of the violin, which I never realized.
I greatly enjoyed the recital, and almost completely figured out why they clapped at times when they paused between numbers, and why they did not at other times. But I had to later learn on my computer that terms like Allegro, Andante, Vivace and Adagio under the song titles on the program were references to tempos of pieces, and were not names of medicines advertised on the evening news.
Although I enjoyed it greatly, I was starting to get very hungry after the two-hour recital. So I found my way to the campus border street of East Third Street and hurriedly walked toward downtown while making a phone call. I went past some simply gorgeous Indiana limestone campus buildings on my right and beautiful and large fraternity or sorority houses of varying architectural styles on my left.
Even in the dark, I was remembering that Indiana University is indeed a very beautiful campus.
Several restaurants seemed to be closed now that the time was after 10 p.m., but I did find a walk-up pizza place called Wheel Pizza that was open, and I was able to order a slice of pepperoni pizza. The college-aged female cashier, who seemed pleasant but had an obvious manner hinting that she did not want to work there forever, told me they unfortunately only had two-liter Cokes, so I had nothing to wash my pizza down.
The slice came quickly, so I decided to walk up the 100 yards or so through the Sample Gates into the IU campus and find a seat to sit down and enjoy it. It was delicious that late at night, but I started thinking that it was not enough.
About that time, I saw two female students walk up through the lighted campus eating ice cream from the store that had caught my attention a few minutes before.
So guess what I did? That is right, I got a waffle cone of two dips and enjoyed it as I walked the quarter mile or so back to the Biddle Hotel through the campus. Unfortunately, due to the muggy and humid night and the fact I forgot to get any napkins, the chocolate ice cream started getting on my hand. In fact, it completely covered it.
No need to fear, though, as I came up with the genius idea of washing my hand off in the campus brook.
As a result, all was well as I walked into my room and watched a little TV before going to bed.
The next morning, I woke up before 6:30 or so and jogged around parts of campus as well as the large intramural Woodlawn Field not far from the hotel. Many large state school campuses have their expanse of intramural fields far from the heart of campus, but not here at IU. It is one of a number of unique features the school has.
After driving off campus for a quick breakfast at a Panera a mile or two away, I came back and started walking around again to see the grounds in daylight – and before it started getting too hot.
I headed out again toward the Jacobs School of Music complex of buildings to get a daytime picture of the former education building for the other story I was going to write. This is, of course, the same building where I had attended the concert the night before.
Dating to its previous role in the field of education, the building had a neat quotation on the south end that said, “Teachers must inspire as well as instruct.” It was one of several interesting quotes or sayings found on the various buildings on campus related to the academic discipline studied or once studied inside.
As I walked around, I was reminded that Indiana University seems to be a pretty campus because it has a number of attractive buildings made out of Indiana limestone. Also, these structures are so nicely designed and built, they could be confused for historic federal courthouses or even mansions.
Each one looked a little different from the other, although the general sameness in color and architecture style and outer materials perhaps makes finding one’s way around campus a little harder initially.
IU also has the grounds to go with the buildings. Besides the already-mentioned grassy and tree-covered areas and the rambling creek, there is also a wooded area with paths running through it, called Dunn’s Woods, and a large field called Dunn Meadow.
According to school officials, this is due to a preservation arrangement with the Dunn family, which formerly owned the space. Dunn Meadow is famous for being the place where former basketball coach Knight made a farewell speech to students in 2000 after being fired for grabbing a student and lecturing him after he made what coach Knight thought was a disrespectful comment.
On the day I visited it, I pretty much had the area to myself.
About the only amenities that Indiana’s campus does not seem to have are a large river nearby, like at the University of Tennessee, and mountains or ridges visible on the campus horizon.
A unique place in the wooded areas is the Rose Well House. Kind of like North Carolina’s Old Well, except the water fountain did not seem to be working on the day I was there, the stone-lined gazebo is where college couples are supposed to kiss at midnight.
After a quick visit with Chuck Carney, the congenial IU director of media relations, regarding the other story I was working on, I visited other parts of the campus. Primarily, I got in my car and drove roughly a mile north – past another grass-covered area – to perhaps the most famous building on IU’s campus – Assembly Hall.
Now known as Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall following a lead gift for its renovation from a member of the Simon shopping center development family for which the music hall is also named, it has been home to the Hoosiers basketball team since 1971.
It has been recently remodeled in a way that allows visitors and fans to see onto the court from a glass wall in the lobby, and that is what I was able to do. I looked down and saw some young children and adults on the floor, but no ghost of Bobby Knight. A university representative was sitting in the lobby and I waved to her and probably should have asked if I could go down to the court, but I chickened out.
But I still got a good view of the arena where I had actually attended a game in 1996, when Indiana was still led by coach Knight, and opponent Michigan State had a first-year coach named Tom Izzo.
There were also plenty of plaques and trophies on view there and in the Cook Hall basketball complex next door to past Indiana national and Big 10 championships. That included the 2013 and 2016 conference championship trophies won when current Georgia coach Tom Crean was the Hoosier head coach.
The coaches’ offices were located off the front lobby of Cook Hall, a facility built after coach Knight left.
I then wandered back through the Indiana Memorial Union adjacent to my hotel and had lunch and then some ice cream from a famous campus creamery, the Chocolate Moose. I also passed another local tradition, the Sugar & Spice bakery, and bought a chocolate chip cookie to have that night, since it closed at 4 p.m.
The Indiana Memorial Union has a seemingly endless number of corridors with all kinds of interesting adornments in them. One big room near the front door had lounging and reading furniture befitting a modern-day castle. Needless to say, a number of students and others were making good use of that area.
Also that afternoon, I went across East 7th Street and realized that the historic complex of buildings that are now part of the School of Public Health housed two of the school’s intercollegiate men’s basketball facilities.
From 1917-28, the Hoosiers used the Men’s Gymnasium, and from 1928-60 – during which time Indiana won the first two of its five national championships in 1940 and 1953 – they played in the Old Fieldhouse next door. Today, the latter, now known as the Wldermuth Intramural Center, is a long complex of multiple courts. But signs of the old days of glory by the Hoosiers are still present, even though it had to get a new roof in recent years following a fire. One can still imagine a basketball player doing a set shot of old here.
The former Men’s Gymnasium includes entrance hallway tiles depicting symbols of old, too, including what became the Nazi swastika symbol. However, a plaque explains they were put in long before the Nazis came to power and that the symbol formerly had a positive connotation.
The Men’s Gymnasium facility was closed for renovation, except for an open door that allowed nosy people like me to peer inside and view the tiles.
A few feet down from the building, a state historical marker mentions that Indiana was the first school in the Big 10 to play a black player when Bill Garrett began playing for the Hoosiers in 1948.
And connected to the old gym/PE facilities on the north side is Royer Pool, where the Indiana Hoosier swimmers competed while winning multiple Big 10 and national titles in the 1960s and ‘70s. One of their swimmers was Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics.
After a couple of hours back lounging in my room and watching the U.S. women defeat England in the World Cup soccer match on TV, I went to eat supper at a Bloomington tradition just off campus – Nick’s English Hut.
On the way, I stopped and examined the Media School located in Franklin Hall right by the Sample Gates. As a journalist who has done some adjunct journalism teaching at UT, I wanted to see this facility. It had a campus radio station in the lobby as well as a giant – and I mean giant -- TV screen.
There was also a large hall – Presidents Hall -- likely used by the entire university for lectures and special events.
A metal sculpture to World War II correspondent and IU alumnus Ernie Pyle sits outside. The former journalism school building back near the Indiana Memorial Union and my hotel is named Ernie Pyle Hall.
Nick’s restaurant was recommended by Mr. Carney, and I had a Stromboli and some seasoned fries, which were good and unique – unlike the bland hamburger I had back at the Indiana Memorial Union at a stand manned by otherwise conscientious students. And the pub-like, Hoosier-loving atmosphere of the place was neat.
I then walked a little in the direction of downtown from campus and found and examined the pretty and historic First Methodist Church, a tradition for this Methodist when traveling.
Although I had pre-ordered a ticket for another professional, faculty-connected recital at Auer Hall for $12 plus handling fees, I started wondering if I wanted to be out until 10 p.m. and not have time to do much else that night.
So instead, I went to a free piano recital at 7 p.m. in the older Recital Hall by Eun Jin Bang, who is seeking an artist diploma in piano. Probably less than 10 people gathered in the historic facility inside Merrill Hall, which dates to 1937 and has been the scene of numerous performances, including some by those who were or became quite notable.
As a lover of old buildings, I almost liked this hall better than Auer Hall. Ms. Bang really knew how to bang on – or at least bring to life -- the piano, as she strongly belted out several upbeat numbers.
It was quite entertaining and relaxing listening to her, especially since the lights were turned off except on the stage and I could take off my shoes and let my sweaty feet air out after a long walk to town and through campus. I know, even good culture like high-level music by accomplished, symphony-like performers could not completely culture this Southern boy.
She thoroughly entertained us for an hour or so, and I of course knew when to applaud this time – after the others started applauding.
It would have been neat if there had been a time when either she or the previous night’s performers could have greeted the attendees afterward, but I am sure the Jacobs School officials have figured the best way to handle that.
I then looked at the hallway of the building and loved how it had changed so little in decades. Often schools want to update whenever possible to meet current student needs, but I think it is neat that IU alumni from 50 years ago can walk in here and feel like they are back in the era when they were in school.
After leaving there and glad I had made the decision to go to the early concert, even though I gave basically a $16 donation to the Jacobs School of Music, I began walking around parts of campus I had not previously discovered. That included the Auditorium and the Wells Quad campus of nice-looking buildings around Memorial Hall. (Yes, there are several buildings with Memorial in their names here).
Some of these latter buildings were so nice they would have made good guesthouses on the Biltmore grounds due to a somewhat similar style of material used on the outside.
I then went back to my hotel and sat with my computer in a nice and large lounge room connected to the Union and likely used by students.
By now, I felt like a full-fledged Hoosier at heart, and that was only compounded the next morning after I took a jog through Dunn Meadow and the other parts of campus I wanted to see one last time before heading back to Tennessee.