Students may get chills while walking to their classes in the basement of Sewall Hall. But, despite popular campus legend, the building was never used as a funeral home. (CU Independent/Aly Daughtry)
Editor’s note: This October, the CU Independent will celebrate Halloween by featuring the more exciting parts of CU’s history. This article is the third in a series of stories about some of CU’s most interesting and obscure facts.
Students currently live in Sewall Hall, but some people say 90 years ago it might have been occupied by dead people.
The myth of Sewall Hall once existing and operating as a funeral home is not too far from the truth.
Brandon Feder, 18, a freshman psychology major and Sewall Hall resident, said he’s heard of several rumors surrounding the past of Sewall.
“I heard there used to be furnaces to cremate people, in place of the freezers,” Feder said. “I don’t buy it but you can’t help but think ‘What if some of this is actually true?’”
Several Sewall Hall staff members said they’ve also heard of the urban legend.
Chris Lewis, the Sewall academic program senior instructor, said there is no evidence of the building ever being a funeral home, but he said during WWII it housed army and air force personnel attending CU.
Nicole Jobin, Sewall academic program instructor, admits to hearing the rumor and not believing it.
“I’ve heard students talking about that rumor before,” Jobin said. “I have no idea how anyone could see this as a funeral home as the structure was obviously built all at once, it’s too big, there are way too many rooms and none of them are big enough.”
Jeanie Lusby, Sewall Hall administrative assistant, explains why there might be a misconception with Sewall’s history. She said that while the building was built in 1934, the events many people think of happened more than 10 years before that, in the building next door.
“During the flu epidemic in 1918-1919, the Clare Small building was used to house people who had died,” Lusby said. “Sewall was used to house troops at one time but it was never a funeral home.”
Not everyone on campus is misled by the myth. Ellen Aiken, Sewall academic program instructor, said she’s heard of more dead bodies being associated with the Clare Small building than Sewall.
“Sewall was not a funeral home,” Aiken said. “But I believe I heard that Clare Small, next door to Sewall, was the campus hospital during the teens and that bodies of people who died during the 1918 flu epidemic may have been kept there awaiting burial.”
According to a 1939 CU bulletin, much has changed since the first few years of Sewall: Room and board for a 13-week semester was $110 and the entire building was female only.
Compared to present-day settings, the building has not changed much in an architectural sense—no mythic furnaces replaced by giant freezers. Its intact Italian Renaissance style shows no history of a past life as a funeral home.
The bulletin describes Sewall in 1939 and those descriptions match current appearances:
“The cheerful red tile floor at the entrance and in the small reception rooms acts as a protection to the beautifully detailed floors in walnut and maple of both dining rooms and parlors that are so well suited to the social functions that take place there.”
Adam Huckaby, 20, a junior chemical engineering major, said he has also heard of the rumor but never knew of confirmation or evidence showing its validity.
“As a freshman I thought it really could have been true,” Huckaby said. “But after looking back on my original thoughts I can’t see how any of that would make sense, unless they really revamped the whole place. I’ve seen a funeral home and it looked nothing like Sewall—there’s no way that rumor is true.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Adrian Kun at Adrian.Kun@colorado.edu.
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