in the loop
Article Image
Emily Li / Columbia Daily Spectator

There is no denying that the Columbia University has/operates a historically significant campus. Established in the 18th century as King’s College, it is the oldest university in New York. The University then moved to its current location over 100 years ago. Given this rich history, it makes sense that our campus would be littered with interesting spots and dotted with stories. How much do you know about the campus you walk through each day? Here’s six spooky sites.


Known as the perfect meeting spot on College Walk, the Columbia Sundial has been used as a central point on campus for years. When was the last time it was actually used as a sundial however? The answer is 1946. The structure was created by students in Columbia Class of 1885 and given to the university in 1914. Originally, the entire sculpture consisted of the base we see today with a large green granite sphere on top. This sphere was able to determine the date based on its shadow created at noon. This piece began to crack in 1944, and it was officially removed in the winter of 1946. While efforts have been made to return the sphere to campus, none have been successful … yet.

Buell Hall

Buell Hall is the oldest standing building on Columbia’s campus, having been here since 1885. It used to be part of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, where it was used to house wealthy male patients. The most interesting aspect of this building is underneath it: There is a system of tunnels that connects many buildings on campus. The tunnel that connects Buell and Kent Hall is especially dangerous due to steam pipes dripping hot water, lack of lighting, and reduced space. Although this tunnel is confirmed to exist by previous students who have made the expedition, it is not an official passage through campus and it is highly unrecommended to pass through.

Bellerophon Taming Pegasu

There is no denying the statue in front of the Law Library is impressive. Members of the Columbia community and tourists alike have stopped to gawk at the intimidating sculpture, attempting to bring reason to a chaos of stone. At first glance, the wings and horse can be apparent, but the more time one spends looking at the statue, the less they can understand its story. Bellerophon Taming Pegasu, as the work is named, depicts the Greek hero Bellerophon subduing a Pegasus with a golden bridle given to him by the goddess Athena. According to its artist, Jacques Lipchitz, the representation of man over nature was a commentary on how law is formed: by observing nature.

Three-Way Piece: Points

Installed in 1967, Three-Way Piece: Points is one of the bronze sculptures located on the bridge connecting Columbia’s campus and the Law School, overlooking Amsterdam Avenue. While many have noted its similarities to the structure of a tooth, it is actually an abstract work by artist Henry Moore meant to change one’s perspective by rotating its orientation. This explains the ability to turn the structure as seen by most Columbia students, especially on particularly interesting nights visiting East Campus.

Selections from Truisms

Barnard College’s first notable piece of artwork was established in 2011 between Barnard Hall and Lehman Lawn. It is a bench designed by the neo-conceptual feminist artist Jenny Holzer. While the structure itself is ordinary, the real provocation comes from its engraved statements: The piece holds short blurbs of writing such as “Enjoy yourself because you can’t change anything anyways,” and “Mothers shouldn’t make too many sacrifices.” These surprising statements were part of a larger series called “Truisms,” consisting of multiple public pieces with almost 300 total slogans spanning the works.

Alma Mater’s Owl

Everyone is familiar with the Alma Mater statue residing on Low Steps. As an iconic location of Columbia University, the statue has been in the background of many photos ranging from forgettable NSOP nights to professional headshots. What might be missed, however, is the owl hidden within the robes of the sculpture. When the University was all-male, there was a legend which said that whoever was the first to find the owl in each year would eventually become valedictorian and marry a Barnard women.

Like many Ivy institutions, Columbia University is rich with historical legends and mysteries. Being aware of these fun tidbits serves as a way to connect our community, both in the past and present.

Spectrum trainee Ariana Novo can be contacted at

mystery weird history campus facts
From Around the Web