PAW says that on the Princeton campus “only one major conflagration has occurred since , the destruction of Whig Hall on Nov. 9, 1969” (That Was Then, Nov. 8). Those who witnessed the Little Hall fire on Oct. 27, 1968, might beg to differ. Little’s footprint of destruction was of the same order of magnitude as Whig’s. Two of the dormitory’s entries were gutted. Two others received extensive water damage. Dozens of students were displaced and their belongings destroyed.
No doubt Whig was the more architecturally significant building. And the destruction of its interior was also complete. (But there was to be no restoration. Whig’s hollowed shell became a modernist playground.) Little was a dorm, whose outer walls were just another stone stretch of University Gothic and whose interior probably needed renovation anyway.
The Whig fire took place in the middle of the night, while most of the campus slept. Little’s provided hundreds with a couple of hours of fiery spectacle on an otherwise dull Sunday afternoon. (It soon became obvious that no one had been killed or injured, so there was no guilt about being entertained, as many were. Spectators were serenaded by a stereo blasting the Doors’ “Light My Fire” from an open window in Laughlin Hall.) That, along with its direct impact on the lives of many students, made it the more communal experience.
It certainly merits inclusion in any discussion of “major” fires in the small world that is Princeton.