The untold stories of St. Kate’s

With Halloween on the way, now is the perfect time to discuss the spooky untold stories of St. Kate’s. Some may have heard rumors about the ghost on the third floor of St. Mary Hall, but there are factual stories of mysterious events that took place at St. Kate’s many years ago. This includes the disappearance of the Tiffany & Co. chandeliers in the Our Lady of Victory Chapel and a hidden stash of candy in the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.

In the Our Lady of Victory Chapel, one can see the current small chandeliers in the cloister entry and at the rear entry. However, years ago, there used to be large chandeliers made by Tiffany & Co. that matched the current, smaller chandeliers. Jennifer Adam, Visual Resources Curator and Adjunct Instructor of the Department of Art and Art History and Department of Apparel, Merchandise and Design, explains that these large chandeliers were originally installed in the nave of the Our Lady of Victory Chapel.

“Apparently, oral history at St. Kate’s had it that these chandeliers were removed from the nave sometime in the 1960s or 70s due to a concern that they might fall from the ceiling. Why the decision was made to remove them instead of reinforcing the chandeliers is not known,” Adam said.

Although the exact date as to when the chandeliers were installed and removed is unknown, it can be confirmed that the large Tiffany & Co. chandeliers were in fact in the Our Lady of Victory Chapel in the year 1937 due to a photograph of the chapel that was found in the St. Kate’s Digital Collections.

“As of today, no one knows what happened to the chandeliers,” Adam said. “To me finding them would be an aesthetic, monetary, and historical boon. Perhaps they are sitting in dark, forgotten closet somewhere on campus, gathering cobwebs and hoping to be found once again.”

In addition to the story about the mysterious disappearance of the Tiffany chandeliers in the Our Lady of Victory Chapel, St. Kate’s has another untold story about the Fallout Shelter established on campus somewhere between the years of 1955-1961.

Mother Antonine O’Brien, president of St. Kate’s (The College of St. Catherine) at the time, was contacted in 1953 by American Red Cross Saint Paul Chapter for permission to use the campus facilities as Red Cross shelters in the event of a disaster or emergency.

In a letter written to Mother Antonine, the American Red Cross Saint Paul Chapter asked:

“At this time, the Shelter Committee is endeavoring to establish a comprehensive ready plan designed to care for as many people as possible. If we succeed in this effort we feel that we will be able to meet the needs presented by any natural disaster. It is my hope that we may again count upon your facilities in the event that a need for them arises.”

One of American Red Cross Saint Paul Chapter’s goals in using St. Kate’s as a Fallout Shelter was to make certain that people who are left homeless as a result of disaster were provided with emergency shelter until more permanent arrangements can be made for them.

“To the people of that time, nuclear bombings were a very real threat. The U.S. dropped an atomic bomb against the Japanese at the end of WWII and people feared that since that kind of technology was used once, someone like the Soviet Union might use it again since the U.S. and Soviet Union were in a cold war at the time,” said Deborah Kloiber, St. Kate’s Archivist and Head of Special Collections.

Some of the items that were stored in the shelter at the time included candy, water, carbohydrates, sanitation kits, medical kits and radiological kits.

“People felt it necessary to make these preparations and being prepared helped to make them feel better. St. Kate’s was one of those places that people could be brought to in case there was a nuclear bombing,” said Kloiber.

In terms of where the Fallout Shelters were located, they were actually dispersed around campus. These locations included the basements of Derham Hall, Whitby Hall, St. Mary Hall, Caecilian Hall, Our Lady of Victory Chapel, the Power House, ground floor of St. Joseph’s Hall (now Coeur de Catherine), Mendel Hall, and the swimming pool area, which, at the time, was located in Fontbonne Hall.

When these shelters were first created somewhere in the mid-50’s, the O’Shaughnessy, Frey Theater, Music Building and Art Building did not yet exist. But once they were created, they then sketched out a plan in 1970 for the fallout shelters to also be implemented in those areas.

Although these fallout shelters were never used, they represent an important part of history–a time during which people feared the nuclear war, and St. Kate’s opened its doors to the public and created a safety net.

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