When walking around the Northern Illinois University campus
people can see some figures atop Altgeld Hall, also known as
The Castle, but probably dont know much about them. Actually
there are both gargoyles and grotesques up there, terrifying
creatures in mythology but one serves a purpose.
The gargoyles are on the ends of the roof with open mouths
that in some cases served as spouts to carry water off the roof
away from the building. The grotesques are just an ornamental
touch, according to Glen Gildemeister in his book Castle
on a Hill. He writes that originally there were 11 grotesques
on the battlements, but some were lost over the years, leaving
eight. They were struck by lightning more than once, one of them
falling to the ground some time in the 1960s. The hideous-looking
figure was then placed in the garden area between Altgeld and
At some point, vandals knocked the head off, but it was
repaired and re-attached. On holidays, art students have been
known to adorn the statue with colorful costuming. The Northern
Star held a fun contest in 1996 to give it a name. Olivegoyle
was the winner, even though it is not a gargoyle but a grotesque.
Somewhere in all this history I read there is mention of a gryphon
as well, another mythical creature.
Now here is the local legend, dating back to the World
War II era. According to lore, if a virgin walks under the archway,
the gargoyles will break into a grin. I didnt research
the validity of that one.
On the left is a gargoyle hanging off the edge of
The Castle. At right is the grotesque in the garden area nearby.
(Photos courtesy of the NIU Regional History Center and Archives)Classic Pictures From LIFE Magazine’s Archives