50 years later: Fire at SIU's Old Main - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

50 years later: Fire at SIU's Old Main

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CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- Saturday marks 50 years since Old Main on the SIU Campus was purposely set on fire and destroyed. To this day, the case remains unsolved. 

Bruce Ashby was 17 years old on June 8,1969. He's now 67 and says the morning Old Main caught fire he rushed to campus.

"There were these big, black clouds of smoke in the sky," said Bruce Ashby. 

Bruce showed News 3 pictures of the iconic building as he sat in the same place he stood 50 years ago as the building went up in flames. He says the memories come rushing back when he sees the Paul and Virginia Statue.

"This is the only thing that you can see that's left, that's connected to Old Main," said Ashby. 

Jak Tichenor is a retired WSIU TV producer. He was 12 when the fire destroyed Old Main but says during his career at SIU, he's researched the fire extensively. He dug through old footage of the fire to show News 3, but says what stands out was how students jumped into action to form what he called a "book brigade." 

"The building was burning from the top to the bottom, so there were people in the lower stories carrying out books and precious documents, as well as exhibits from the university museum," said Tichenor. 

Despite how much attention the fire got, Tichenor says city leaders never knew for sure who set it. During his research, he talked with one of the first men in the building, former Fire Chief Charlie McCoin.  

"He said that he later heard, he could never prove this, but he later heard that an arsonist actually set the fire, and this person died in prison in Indiana," said Tichenor.

Tichenor says the building spoke to many in the community who wish it were still around.

"It meant so much to generations of Salukis over the years," said Tichenor. 

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