A People's History of Middlebury College

a history of Middlebury College centered on marginalized voices, social/political mobilizations, and periods of struggle

A People's History of Middlebury College

Burning down Recitation Hall


 History becomes legend and legend becomes myth.

I was sitting in class once and we were talking about how politically apathetic Middlebury is today. One student exclaimed, “Look! Middlebury used to be radical! During the Vietnam War, students burned down the ROTC building in protest!”. I laughed in my head. Oh how stories change over time. The ROTC building was not burned down in protest to the Vietnam war. The building, known as Recitation Hall was burned down, and did hold some of the ROTC trainings, but was not part of any political effort to protest the war or the ROTC. Recitation Hall was an old one-story, wooden-frame college building. The building was set fire by one “emotionally disturbed mixed-up student” with no apparent political motive.(Karl Lindholm)
fightingfire“At 4:15 a.m. on May 7, someone had broken the glass entrance to Recitation Hall, poured gasoline on rags at the base of the walls and touched them off. Flames quickly leapt up the staircase and enveloped the attic of the small World War I-era wooden building. Fire engines from Middlebury and Vergennes screeched to the site 15 minutes later, but it was too late. By the time the flames were gone, they had gutted the building, and with it the main rooms of Middlebury’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) center. It turned out that it
was the third attempt to vandalize ROTC offices at Middlebury that week. Public Safety officers had foiled previous break-in attempts at the ROTC headquarters in Alumni House on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.” (http://middleburycampus.com/article/students-speak-out-a-look-at-middleburys-politically-active-past/)
“The majority of students felt that if something was going to be burned down, it might as well be Recitation Hall, because it was expendable,” Wentink said. (MC article. http://middleburycampus.com/article/students-speak-out-a-look-at-middleburys-politically-active-past/)

The towns response:

Due to the number of college’s around the country that were striking and protesting the Vietnam War, people in the town began to worry that Middlebury students were going to rebel in the same way. When the burning of Recitation hall happened on May 7th, the feeling of goodwill between the town and the college students was suddenly disrupted. “The relations were already tense and the local newspaper coverage of the strike from the Addison Independent headlines stated “In Suspension in Wake of Bitter Protests”. There were fears of government intervention if the strike got out of control, and President Armstrong called an emergency meeting, but the faculty council decided to have the strike anyway until May 11th.” Dean Denis O’brien added that even the fire department was weary of the “radical” college students. When they were putting out the fire, they were sure htey were going to be shot by the students. In response, students formed ‘The Community Involvement Group” thats goal was to repair the relationship between the town and the students. Students and faculty volunteers conducted night-time patrols to protect campus facilities, particularly the Alumni and Placement Building where ROTC offices were housed.



Other attempts to “trash” the ROTC building:

In an interview with alumni Steve Early, class of 1970, he described the night that he received a muffled phone call about the ROTC classroom (in which building?) tipping off editor of The Campus newspaper. He quickly rushed over there and found a trashed class on the second floor. Cops and even the FBI came to the scene, and Steve was interviewed although he explained he never ad anything to do with the action.


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