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Kansas State University
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Nichols Hall story

Castle-like building plays important role in university's heritage

early Nichols HallA grand piano crashed through burning, crumbling floors and fell to the basement of Nichols Hall as a fire raged through the home of the music department Dec. 13, 1968.

The fire — believed to be set by an arsonist protesting the Vietnam War — destroyed radio station equipment, sheet music, instruments and recordings of famous speakers in the university’s Landon Lectures series.

Wabash Cannonball

One item survived.

The marching band director earlier that day had taken home the sheet music for "The Wabash Cannonball." The marching band first performed the song at the university on Dec. 16, 1968, at a basketball game. It was the only music they had.

Since then, the marching band has played the song at athletics events, pep rallies and anywhere K-Staters need a boost of school spirit. It has become a second, unofficial fight song. At home football games, fans can be seen clapping, bending and twisting to the anthem.

Constructing Nichols

Nichols hall now

Nichols Hall was built in 1911 as a gymnasium with a basketball court, swimming pools, and office space for the military science and physical education departments.

University enrollment swelled, and after students fought for a new facility, Ahearn Field House replaced Nichols as the university's main gymnasium in 1950. By that time, Nichols was home to the music department and radio stations KSAC and KSDB.

Saving Nichols

Nichols became a shell after the fire. University administrators recommended razing the charred, burnt building.

However, students protested the move in a campaign known as "The Castle Crusade." Students met with the governor to save Nichols, and the building was preserved.

In the early 1980s, a new Nichols Hall was constructed inside the shell to house the departments of computer science and speech communications, theatre and dance, as well as a theater. The building was dedicated in 1985, and the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance was created in 2012. The building and "The Wabash Cannonball" live on.

Sources: Kansas State University Libraries’ University Archives, College of Arts and Sciences, Kansas State University Marching Band