“Mama, I’m scared,” I said, as I squeezed my mother’s hand, quivering.
We were visiting Miami University, my father’s alma mater, that day. Every year, my family would make the hour-long trip to pick up school supplies and to let my father reminisce and recount the years he had spent in the red brick buildings.
That particular visit was a hot one, even for August. And, after walking for what seemed like miles to my little feet, I needed a break. So, my mother and I set off on a journey around the campus, searching for open buildings or even the tiniest sign of a cracked door.
Eventually, we reached Upham, one of the grandest buildings on the property. Entering through the doors facing Academic Quad, we made our way up the stairs to the third floor, searching for a place to freshen up.
Named after Alfred H. Upham, who served as president of the university for 17 years, Upham Hall stands at the hub of campus, framing Bishop Woods and facing the seal.
It was built on the site of former poet-in-residence Percy MacKaye’s shack, who resided there during the 1920s. It is currently the home of the College of Arts and Sciences – as well as many monsters.
As we walked through the dark hallways with nothing but a phone flashlight to guide us, we spotted a rectangular patch of light on the ground. Rushing towards it, we reached the illuminated section, and I gasped in horror.
Before us stood a mule deer, its mouth gaping open, devouring dead leaves off a tree. Its antlers jutted out on each side of its head, their sharp appearance threatening to break the glass that enclosed the deer.
But the scariest part of this unsightly exhibition to my terrified young mind was its eyes; dull, expressionless orbs looking back at me, illuminating a body devoid of life and soul.
I cried out, running down the dark hallway, dragging my mother with me as I went. When I exited the building, my five-year-old self vowed I would never go back.
This was not Upham Hall; it was Monster Hall.
Now, I am grown, an 18-year-old woman on my own at the same university I visited every year. I no longer harbor such childish fears of stuffed deer and dark hallways.
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Yet, as I was scheduling my classes in June, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sentimentality as I discovered I had a class in Upham Hall. I had long forgotten the location of the exhibition, and no longer cared. It was just a far-off memory.
But, four days into the fall semester, the memory came creeping back into my mind as I made my way up the stairs to the third floor of Upham. A violent storm had hit Oxford that day during my International Studies course, and my hopes of going to the library had been dashed.
So, as I entered the doors to the third-floor sociology wing, searching for a place to study, I saw it – the very monster that had given the hall its nickname was before me once again.
Nothing had changed. The dusty orange and mahogany tiles were barely distinguishable as I walked to the patch of light, sitting down on a bench parallel to it. The overhead lights were off, despite the early time, and the sound of eerie silence resonated throughout the hallway. I looked down both sides of the wing, the aroma of old books enveloping me.
As I sat there, staring into the deer’s dull black eyes, I could faintly hear the squelch of shoes on the tiles, rainwater finding its way into the building. A door opened in the distance, its hinges creaking with the pressure. Someone coughed in a classroom, the harsh note echoing off the walls.
This was the song of Monster Hall.
Getting up, I walked over to observe the constructed habitat, as I had never given it a close look.
The deer stood at the forefront of the exhibit, its brown fur matted to its back. Its legs stretched upwards, giving it the balance necessary to retrieve the dead leaves it craved. A red fox slunk towards the deer, its mischievous eyes peeking over the top of the glass. Even a gray squirrel stood hidden in a tree, a muskrat and a groundhog peeking out of a hole in the rocky recreation.
A beautiful backdrop framed these animals, a stark contrast to their creepy appearance. A blue sky over a babbling brook and grassy land presented a picturesque example of the beauties of nature. Oh, how the real animals let it down.
“Oh my god, what is this?” someone cried behind me, breaking me out of my trance. A woman had climbed up the stairs, just as I had many years ago, and discovered the monster. Her voice showed bewilderment as her eyes scrunched up in confusion.
I knew the feeling.
So, as I watched her walk off, bemused by her similar reaction. I knew that, despite its impressive exterior architecture and decoration, the building would always be – to me, and to everyone else – Monster Hall.