Hess Hall memories

Hess Hall historic

Send your fondest memories of Hess Hall to torch@tennessee.edu and we’ll post them here next month! We suspect that you former denizens of the “other Knoxville Zoo” have some tall tales to share…

Updated September 2010

The August eTorch article on Hess Hall’s 50th anniversary caught my attention since I was at UT Knoxville 50 years ago. I was a bit puzzled, since I didn’t recall a Hess Hall. After reading Hess Hall descriptions from some of the previous residents about the built-in desks and beds and the reverberating courtyard, I concluded that Hess Hall was the dorm I knew as Melrose Hall Addition (MHA).  I moved into Melrose Hall Addition as an RA when it first opened for the fall quarter in August 1961. Mr. Bud Thomas was the resident manager assisted by Mrs. Wiley, Mrs. Chenault, and Mrs. Eggleston. These ladies were also residents in the dorm and one or more were usually on duty in the reception area.  They made every effort to make the dorm a home away from home.??Having lived the previous three years in the “catacombs” formally known as South Stadium Hall, I was impressed by MHA’s spacious reception and lounge area, which was more like a hotel lobby than any dorm I had ever seen.  I recall watching some of the Mercury astronauts’ splashdowns and recoveries there on the “huge” 27-inch black and white TV. The residence areas were much like other dorms, except they were new and had those built-ins. Like any new building, there were lots of snags, which took quite a while to correct. The elevators were often out of service. I recall one fellow got caught on top of one of the elevator cars and was given a wild ride when the elevator suddenly started running. Took quite a while to rescue him. How he got there is still a mystery.? ?I look forward to reading other recollections.  After 50 years I recall mostly good memories of what is now called Hess Hall.?
—Tom Barton (’62)

I remember the best snowball fight ever out in the courtyard. I remember girls living in the dorm. I remember Frisbees barely missing my head when I stuck it out of the room. I remember an upset residence assistant when he got out of bed to find someone had poured cold water under his door on the cold tile floor. Most are good memories. But I also remember some disgusting acts by some residents who apparently couldn’t tell a toilet from a sink or a shower.? ?
—Steve Cardin (’71)

I moved into Hess Hall in the winter quarter of 1974. It was the height of the streaking craze. There were several nights that Cumberland Avenue was completely shut down to traffic while nude streakers ran in long lines through the crowds jamming the streets. Students even climbed by the hundreds on the rooftops on either side of the Strip. They would have “mooning” challenges where one whole side of Cumberland Avenue roof-toppers would moon the other side. Back and forth, all evening long. Johnny Carson even mentioned UT’s streaking activities in his monologue on the Tonight Show.

This all brings me to my most memorable Hess Hall moment. My room was on the courtyard side and the room’s floor level matched the roof level over the lobby area. It was possible to climb out a window on our floor and stand on the lobby roof. One day I had the window open and was sitting at the built-in desk next to the window. The normal din of random screaming and yelling that was common on the courtyard side suddenly increased to a difficult-to-ignore roar. A streaker had climbed on to the roof and was having a high-volume discourse with the rest of the dorm. When I turned my head to look out the window he was facing my direction and about 2 feet away. I was eye level with his… Well, let’s just say that all he had on at the time was a cowboy hat and cowboy boots! Yes, 36 years later, I still have a Hess Hall memory etched into my mind… unfortunately. When I was there, it certainly lived up to its “Zoo” nickname.
—??Steve Crump (’76)

I lived on the fourth floor from September 1966 through June 1967, only a few years after it was built. It was a zoo, very noisy, always something going on, impossible to do any studying. Numerous pranks took place. I suspect most were by freshmen who would not be invited back as sophomores. Fortunately, I lived in one of the outside rooms looking at the street. Those in rooms which looked inward at the courtyard were subjected to the political and other opinions which were routinely expressed each night.

Among the pranks: One morning I awakened to go to a morning class, went down the stairwell to exit on Melrose, and encountered a netlike sheet or wall made of clothes hangers which completely blocked the stairs.

When taking a shower in the community bathroom, occasionally one would get a huge burst of hot water after dormers would flush all the toilets at once, reducing the cold water component. Usually after this happened one’s towel, bathrobe, etc. were taken by the flushers, leaving one to return to the dorm room without clothing.

Another bathroom trick involved stopping all sink and shower drains with soap or wet toilet paper and then turning water on. This was usually done around 1 a.m. One dormmate who lived directly across from the bathroom described taking a step to get out of bed without turning any light on and finding himself in about 3 inches of water. Regrettably, he had left his ROTC uniform on the floor the night before. It was ruined.

One time, while in the dorm room, some imaginative lads stuffed nickels between the bolted door and the door jamb, creating so much friction the bolt could not be released. While trapped in the dorm room, the jokesters would then position a toothpaste tube at the bottom of the jammed door and jump on it. A large squirt of toothpaste would fly across the middle of the room.

There was a television and some vending machines in an area off the first-floor lobby. After that, any late-evening nutritional needs more convenient than walking down the hill to Cumberland Avenue were taken care of by a large wagon known as “Mother Hen.” I never knew anyone to die or develop an unexpected illness from Mother Hen fare. Despite that, I was reluctant to get anything other than one of their milkshakes. It would be an act of desperation for me to go with one of their hoagies. A Krystal trip was much more preferable. Mother Hen did a brisk business. I suspect someone made a good living off Mother Hen.

The main value of dorm living for me was the forced exposure to students from a wide variety of backgrounds whose motivation toward education and other activities also varied greatly. It seemed like a substantial percentage of the freshmen on our floor did not make good enough grades to return as sophomores.

I lived elsewhere the remainder of my college years. That first year at Hess Hall is more memorable than any other as far as living situations go.
—Charles Dietzen

I lived in Hess Hall my freshman year in 1981. I think my father specifically signed me up for that dorm since the dorm was named after our kinfolk, James Preston Hess. I grew up in Humboldt, Tennessee, and if you notice on the bronze plaque on the side wall just inside the entrance door of Hess Hall, you’ll find that James P. Hess was from Humboldt. I enjoyed living in Hess Hall, even though it had no air conditioning. It was a little closer to all my classes versus living in the Presidential Courtyard area. Now, I understand there is air conditioning and all the rooms have been updated with lofts, etc.
—Kimbrough L. Dunlap III (’85)

It was 1968, my freshman year, and I had the pleasure of a second-floor room facing the courtyard. A room facing the courtyard in Hess Hall was alone worth the price of tuition and meant you never missed a pretty girl walking through. Being so close to the ground, I could see a shade of red changing with each comment echoing from the “Courtyard Zoo.” For some reason, it seemed like it was only freshman girls, and it only lasted a few weeks into the semester. The Courtyard Zoo was always good for some choice comments and opinions, except for a late fall night in 1968, a presidential election year where there were three candidates: Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. Those who lived through the late ’60s know how the country was in turmoil with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the Vietnam War raging.  My roommate and I came back from somewhere, and we were talking about the upcoming presidential election. My roommate decided to take a poll from the Courtyard Zoo.  So he goes to the window and yells out, “Nixon!” Surprisingly, it was followed by complete silence. Okay, the Zoo votes no comment on Nixon. Next he yells “Humphrey!” Again, there was silence. My roommate looked back at me and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and say, “Try Wallace.” So he went back to the window and yelled “Wallace!” Again, a complete and eerie silence from the Zoo. But then, the Zoo silence was finally broken with a sole voice shouting,  ”Make up your g-d–n mind!” My roommate and I just laughed, and we both realized the Courtyard Zoo just concentrated on the important things in life: women, Tennessee football, and an extreme hatred for Alabama!
—Jeff Frail (’72)

I was a resident assistant in Hess for the 2007-2008 school year when the first renovation happened. The J-K side of the building for girls and the lobby had major renovations, including a KFC Express in the store. When the students came for move-in, they were speechless with how beautiful it was, especially those that lived in the building before. There were even parents who had lived in the building up to 30 years before who shared awesome stories of their time in Hess. Hess has a rich history, especially being in the middle of campus. The “Zoo” lives on!
—Charity Howard (’08)

I’d like to share that 95 percent of my current circle of friends from UT, I initially met in the Hess Hall lobby.  We all keep in touch to this day! Good times…. Best wishes for a happy 50th anniversary!? 
—Kristen Higgenbottom Hunt (’02)

I came to UTK and Hess Hall in the fall of 1983 from Frankfurt, Germany. The women on my floor were so friendly, and we had so much fun. I also had a dear childhood friend on the floor below. I remember the group photo nights; we would dress up crazy for the pictures. Studying for exams in the study area on our floor was always an adventure in late-night pizza and junk food. I fondly remember times when we would sneak over to the guys’ wing after visiting hours to cause trouble, and everyone ran down the stairwell to escape the RA. Interestingly enough, I became an RA in my sophomore year (in Massey Hall, where things were a little calmer).
—Michelle Kiser

Fall 1963. My first impression of Hess Hall was the first day I arrived. There was a large banner on the building that read, “Welcome to UT.” Home of 11,000 students. Wow!  I thought, What have I got myself into? My wife also stayed in Hess Hall. She said her first memory was washing pantyhose in the urinals!
—L. K.  Lannom (’70) and Susan Douglass Lannom (’72)

Hess Hall in 1990 was the greatest place on earth. My best friend and I traveled from our home state of South Dakota and found our dorm assignment. There it was: Hess Hall. We unloaded my extremely packed ’86 Ford Tempo and proceeded to our assigned rooms on K-6. I will never forget the heat and humidity that August day, mostly because, to our surprise, there was no air conditioning. So that night, we began making our lifelong friendships with the guys on the floor and around 2 a.m., we started the chant “tastes great,” waiting for the expected “less filling.” Of course, someone chanted it back, and we returned it with “tastes  great,” and soon had several others participating on the courtyard side. However, within minutes, we had a knock on our door. We opened it to find several RAs there to “write us up.” We, of course, tried to plead with them, saying “Hey, everyone is yelling out the window.” They simply laughed and said, “Yes, but you guys are the only ones with your lights on.” Boy, did we get smarter after that.

I do believe that a small group of us are legends in the “Zoo,” or at least we were then. How many can say they have rappelled out of the sixth-floor study lounge window during the middle of lunch? (Yes, witnessed by many in the Hess dining area, and yes, photographed.) Or, how many can say they rode on top of the elevator and frightened a few guys returning from the watering holes down the street? We can. Or rode the trains, which crept through the trainyard, finding a good seat atop coal cars? Often, the rides were longer than desired, but we always made it back. This became quite a thrill for many of our K-6 posse, leading to our encounter with the UTPD and dean of students. Believe it or not, the list goes on and on. During that year, we experienced camaraderie with a group of guys I have never forgotten, and I remain friends with many of them now. The experience I had at Hess Hall and the friendships I made there shaped so much of my life, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.  We arrived to Hess a little culture-shocked, but we adapted and left our mark on this place, but probably not as great as the one left in our hearts; the spirit of the University of Tennessee captivated our being, and we still reside in Tennessee.? 
—?Jim Smith (’95) and Erik Kringen (’94)

My first home away from home was K-403 in Hess Hall. It was an exciting event when I arrived in the fall of 1966. By Christmas, I was the president of the Hess Men’s Residence Association. My roommate was Iranian, so it gave me a chance to learn the concept of “diversity” before it became a catchphrase in higher ed. I will always cherish my time at Hess.??
—David Suttles

Even on the top floor, the morning trash pickup never failed to wake me up each morning. Good thing I had 8 a.m. classes.? 
—Keith Van Fossen (’91)

I spent my four years as an undergraduate in Hess Hall from 1968 to 1972. I believe in my first year, the dorm housed all male students. Later, female students occupied half the dorm. I recall the evening when virtually all the female students (campuswide, I believe), stayed out of the dorms past their 10 p.m. curfew in a protest against the curfew for only the female students. Many of us men in the dorm formed a human corridor in the lobby of Hess Hall to congratulate them as they returned to the dorm. Although virtually all my memories of Hess Hall are good, it also brings back a vivid and sad memory of the day four Kent State students, who were protesting our involvement in the Vietnam War, were killed by National Guardsmen. On that day, across the courtyard of the “Zoo” from my room, some person hung a bed sheet out the window, with a score written on it: “National Guard 4, Kent State 0.” But the Zoo, in addition to being my primary place to study, was also a lot of fun, as I and many of my dormmates gathered on weekends (and some weekdays) to enjoy our favorite beverages and the camaraderie.
—Marlon Yankee (’72, ’74)

From August 2010 eTorch

My sister Kathleen Hines Baker resided in Hess Hall in 1966-1967. I lived in Henson Hall, next door, for more than two years and worked there as a resident assistant under Jim Easton. She made many friends and enjoyed her stay at Hess while attending classes at UT. Unfortunately, she passed away on Valentine’s Day in 1990, more than 20 years ago now, with cancer. I still miss her every day, and when I saw the tribute to Hess Hall, I thought I should write a short note.
—E. Chilton Hines (CBA, ’69)

I moved into Hess Hall in 1963 as a budding freshman from Humboldt, Tennessee. All freshman men were living in Hess, and the top two floors were not used. There just weren’t that many of us, as the university only had a little over 11,000 students at the time. Bud Thomas was the hall director. He later moved on to the University of Maryland, where he became the vice president for student affairs. His wife Betsy was the program director for the University Center while at UT Knoxville.

My RA was Fred Humphreys from Arlington, Virginia. Our floor was quite diverse, with guys from all over Tennessee and from out-of-state.  As I recall, we were a fairly rowdy bunch! On occasion, one of the residents (after an evening in his cups) would mount the loading dock and “preach” a very disjointed “sermon” for our listening pleasure. My room was on the courtyard side, so we got the full effect of his efforts. Hess truly was the “zoo” that year!

Rooms without air conditioning, tile floors with gaps under the doors (great for slinging pennies late at night across the hall to hit the metal trash can in the other room), built-in beds and desks, and no food service except the “ptomaine” wagons that parked out front in the evening for our gustatory delights. Of course, we were also very close to the “pump room” to quench our thirst before coming back to the dorm to create havoc in the lobby and hallways.

All of my 30-plus Alpha Tau Omega pledge brothers lived in Hess, so there was always someone to visit and to get into trouble with.

Was it fun?  You bet!  Would I do it again?  Not a chance!
—Bert Sams (’67, ’69)

As a junior transfer student from a small girls school, I have vivid memories of my mother and me coming to the campus early and staying at Hess Hall. Since Hess had just been converted from an all men’s dormitory to both men’s and women’s floors, the urinals in the women’s bathrooms are still a humorous memory for both my 92-year-old mom and myself. Happy 50th, and may you have many more!
—Susan A. Thornton

7 Comments on “Hess Hall memories

  1. I do indeed have fond memories of the Zoo! I still have friends that I met there, one of whom is in the BFF category. And friends of those friends, one of whom is no longer with us… Details are somewhat blurry; probably not a bad thing, though! I remember the bathroom down the hall, and the tiny refrigerators in the commons.
    Karen Grubbs (’74 & ’75)

  2. I lived in Hess Hall from 1970-1972, I had so much fun living there and met some really good people. I ran and was elected president of Hess Hall during the 1971-72 school year. I was the first African-American to be elected as president of Hess Hall.

  3. I moved into Hess Hall my Freshmen year in the fall of 1978. One of my sisters had also lived in “The Zoo”. My room was on the 7th flloor, aka “The Virgin Vault” because no males were allowed on the floor except for a few rare occassions. My roomate was Carol Smelley from Chattanooga.Our room looked out towards Clarence Brown Theater and also had a magnificant view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which would become the best place I have ever worked. There was never a dull moment at “The Zoo”, however the fire alam went off way to many times as the guys just wanted to see what the girls were wearing to bed. Some of my fondest memories are of watching SNL down in the lobby. Often I wonder what happened to the ladies who resided on the 7th floor with me.

  4. I moved into Hess Hall my Freshman year in the Fall of 1993. I came to Hess from Humboldt TN and was amazed at the sheer number of residents and the size of the building. I distinctly remember “Welcome To the Jungle” blaring from a stereo in someones window into the courtyard that first night and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Needless to say, Hess was an incredible place to live as a freshman and I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

    Charles Jones (1997, 2000)

  5. I lived there on the second floor facing the inner side about 4 doors from the outer stairwell (facing the Carrick dorms) during my freshman year beginning fall 1966. We used to play soap hockey in the showers late at night-we blocked the drains and slid around on the floor in several inches deep water. My roommate, whom I had never met until he checked in, used to get so drunk on Saturday nights after football games on peppermint or orange vodka that he and his best fried would get, and throw up in his sleep. I would have to roll him out of bed so he wouldn’t choke. We had a blast doing all kinds of crazy things with friends made in the same hallway. I believe that was the year Sandy Koufax and the Dodges swept the World Series and I remember watching him pitch while downstairs in the main TV room on a very small black and white TV. I was happy to move out of that madhouse into the “upper” class dorm right next to it where a fellow pledge brother and I lived as sophs. I would not want live in Hess again but it was fun as an 18 year old.

  6. I lived on the 4th floor in the fall of 71 thru spring of 72. Met a lot of great people and will always cherish my time As Simon and Garfunkle would say “At the Zoo”.

  7. I lived in Hess for the ’74 and ’75 school years, first in the virgin vault, then on the 6th floor. We had some great friendships, including the CFC’s. I’m still in touch with a couple of them. I remember the guys setting speakers in the windows and blasting “Free Bird” into the courtyard. Also, we had some great keg parties on the fourth floor every Friday. I had a great time but I’m not sure I’d want my son to do it!