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From the Issue: The Whisper Gallery

The May issue of The Blue & White serves up a doubleheader of Butler-themed Bluenotes. You can read below about the Soviet imagery of the lobby’s mural, in the companion feature from the magazine’s curious field notes. Here, staff writer Chris Brennan tackles an aural and architectural phenomenon.

Oh, and it makes your words corporeal, too ... just bee-tee-dubs.

Illustration by Liz Lee

The residents of Butler can be a quiet, ant-like bunch as they silently scurry around the library’s corridors carrying over-sized bundles of schoolwork. Though Butler’s occupants aren’t always quiet—in the entrance lobby, Butler can get as loud as any other building on campus when conversations ricochet off the walls and domed ceiling to bounce around as disembodied voices thanks to the whispering gallery effect of the lobby’s design.

The phenomenon occurs mostly in structures with vaulted domed ceilings, such as Grand Central Station near the Oyster Bar restaurant and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Unlike St. Paul’s, where a person standing at a point diametrically opposed to another can hear the other side’s whisper, sounds in the Butler lobby reflect off the curved marble ceiling and can be heard distinctly and loudly between the bench in front of the Athena mural and the area right behind the security guard desk.

Perhaps the gallery is most entertaining for Butler’s security guards, who, if they position their chairs correctly, hear oscillations between daytime conversations—“all educational, nothing too bad,” according to one guard—to nighttime conversations of young women gossiping about love lives and surreptitiously admitting they do not even study in “Club Butler.” While most guards agreed that library voyeurism was not top on their agenda, one commented, “Two ladies will sit back there and not realize that everything they’re saying is going through the loudspeaker in my brain.”

This flourish in Butler’s architecture was probably not purposefully included to enhance the whispered communications of lovers separated by an insurmountable 50 feet, however. James Gamble Rogers, the architect of Butler, was known primarily as a pragmatist, and earned fame more for his Gothic work at Yale than Neo-Classically-styled buildings like Butler.

While Rogers may not have envisioned the whispering gallery when designing the library, the lobby regulars have learned to avoid discussing bosses or potential eavesdroppers. The next time you scurry into or out of Butler, it would be wise not to say anything you would not want your grandmother to hear, because you may have an audience.


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  • Anon says:

    @Anon “whispering gallery effect of the lobby’s design”
    omg YES!

  • gotta know says:

    @gotta know Liz Lee, why are your illustrations always so GOOD?

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