History reveals West Hall’s past as hospital with a morgue

Ben Lippert

Ben Lippert

Beneath the pleasant surface of SDSU’s campus lie some mysterious, undetermined secrets. No, it is not Halloween, but a tale of death and uncertainty lingers on.

At first glance, West Hall looks just like any other building. However, a deeper investigation uncovers a dark past. Rumor has it that West Hall once had a morgue in its basement. As outlandish as it sounds, the details behind this “urban legend” point toward the possibility that it could have existed.

Before West Hall became part of the SDSU campus, it served as the Brookings hospital. This bit of evidence, along with the strange noises and eerie atmosphere in the basement, point to the possibility of truth in this tale.

Jamie Neuroth, an English teacher’s assistant, has heard strange noises and smelled strange odors during her time in the basement.

“The pipes make a lot of noises,” Neuroth said. “Sometimes it smells down here, and our teachers tell us it’s the formaldehyde seeping out through the walls.”

Her uneasy laugh was followed by more chilling details about the basement.

She said that the first two weeks she was in the basement office she would have conversations with who she thought was her office mate next door. Later, when she mentioned their previous room-to-room conversations, her office mate had no idea what she was talking about.

Adding to the mystery of West Hall is the fact that no one is really sure of what actually went on in the basement so many years ago.

Shirley Wiese, Verna Sturdevant and Orpha Leibel are all Brookings residents who worked as nurses in the old Brookings hospital. None of them could recall a morgue in the basement. At the same time none of them could say it didn’t exist.

“I don’t really remember,” Leibel said. “There very well could’ve been (a morgue).”

English professor Kelly Smidt has very strong ties with West Hall. As a matter of fact, he was born there. Unlike other sources, he believes the rumors are true.

“There was indeed a morgue as West Hall used to be the city hospital,” Smidt said.

It seems like maybe some mysteries are better left unsolved. Most of the employees that once worked at the old hospital have since died along with the answers to this haunting legend.

West Hall is not the only hall that has changed over the years. Although they lack a ghostly tale, many other buildings on campus have changed since SDSU was established in 1881.

Richard Schardin has worked for the campus utilities department for 33 years. He knows the buildings inside and out. He explains that nearly all of the older buildings on campus have changed since he’s been here.

Scobey, Wenona and Wecota Halls were all originally residence halls. Harding Hall also housed students at one point, serving as a residence hall.

The NFA building used to be called the HEN (Home Economic and Nursing). Schardin said the name received a lot of criticism and jokes. The music department was adjacent to the Rotunda before it moved over to the Lincoln Music Hall.

Before Lincoln Music Hall housed the music department, it was the campus library. Schardin said the elevator still has buttons which will take you to the stacks where the books were once held.

Before The Union was built, Pugsley Hall was the student center. The University Police Department was once in the power plant. The Intramural Building was the HPER. The Agricultural Heritage Museum was once a meat processing and butchering house. To this day the sliding doors (for the coolers where the meat was stored) are still there.

SDSU’s campus has developed a lot over time and is constantly undergoing renovations. The real question is, how much different will campus be in another 100 years?