Law School Legends and Lore

The Gargoyle

Following the completion of our major construction project in the fall of 1997, a strange piece of Michigan sandstone appeared near the south entry to the Law School's atrium - the Wisconsin Law Alumni Association Student Lounge. Few current students had seen this piece because, from the beginning of construction in 1994, it had been in storage. Consequently few knew of its significance.

The Gargoyle was one of two that graced the roof of the original Law Building, built on Bascom Hill in 1893.  Until that building was torn down in 1962, these two sentinels watched the comings and goings of students, faculty and staff. When the wrecking ball hit the building, no one thought of saving them until then-Dean George Young, walking up Bascom Hill, noticed that one had survived its fall and lay intact on the grass. Dean Young immediately decided that it should be preserved. When the new building opened, Dean Young had it installed outside the main entrance.  Over the next thirty years, the Gargoyle once again watched over the School. 

Gargoyles originally appeared on French gothic cathedrals.  From the beginning they had at least two purposes: many were made with open mouths that served as drains to divert rain water away from the building's foundations. Whether they carried water or not, their second purpose was to scare away evil spirits. While gargoyles were often grotesque, stone carvers also honored friends and relatives by carving their faces on some gargoyles. Ours does not have a recognizable face (unless it is perhaps that awful professor who . . . ., but that's another story), nor was it ever used to divert rainwater, but it clearly worked to keep away evil spirits - hence the good fortune of our School and its graduates.

For many years the School of Engineering was located in what is now the School of Education building, directly across the Hill. A heated rivalry developed, resulting in various pranks to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  In the 1920's, engineering students and law students took turns disrupting the annual St. Pat's Parade on State Street. Both groups claim to have purchased boxcar loads of eggs, left unrefrigerated until well rotted. Hauled to a rooftop overlooking the parade route, they were thrown at the other side during the parade.

While we feared that the engineers might steal our Gargoyle, when the time came to remove it for safe-keeping during our recent construction, the Gargoyle proved its mettle: it took four men and a forklift two days to pry it from its roots!  Nevertheless, pranks and the weather did take a toll on the Gargoyle.   A close inspection reveals that repairs have been done to the Gargoyle's ears and nose. One particularly cold and snowy winter, they literally froze off.   When it was reinstalled in the Atrium, the Gargoyle also showed the effects of its most recent spray painting.

Concern for the Gargoyle's future led us to have a mold made with the help of the Art Department.  From the mold we have cast two concrete replicas which can make guest appearances if the "real" Gargoyle is otherwise occupied. One of these replicas was given to Cliff Thompson on his retirement as Dean in 1990.

In addition to painting the Gargoyle periodically, generations of law students took to decorating the Gargoyle with appropriate clothing and props. From time to time, it was even joined by celebrity guests. 

In the years since Dean Young rescued the original, the Gargoyle has become the symbol of the School: it lends its name to our alumni magazine, it graces the cover of the Wisconsin Law Review, and its image has been applied to ties, coffee cups, tee shirts and even wrist watches. While few would call it handsome, its strength, longevity and good fortune are appropriate to lend to one of the oldest and finest law schools in the country.

Let the other schools have their horses, gladiators or rodents. We have the good stone Gargoyle.

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