[When the great fire of 1879 destroyed the Main Building] Many in and around South Bend showed a good will that was immediate and practical. There had been no dinner that day, of course, and although the fire had not penetrated to the kitchens, the good Sisters were swamped with anxiety and work. Many of the South Bend residents brought food and the offer of shelter. For the most part, however, they were able to make only passable adjustment for the night. Luckily the weather was balmy and the students manifested great good will in supporting the inconveniences caused by the fire. What students remained on the grounds found shelter in Washington Hall. Bedding and pillows were spread out on the floor. The stage was occupied by the faculty. In the midst of disaster, a good-natured sense of humor expressed itself when the students, looking about at their unaccustomed plight, began singing, "The old home ain't what it used to be!".
on Commencement Day, 1882 . . . Perhaps it was the new system of illumination that held their rapt attention, for that night was the first time Washington Hall sparkled with "Edison's incandescent bulbs."
At the end of his freshman year in college, in 1903, [Charles O'Donnell] went to the Novitiate to put on the clerical garb of a seminarian. After a year's time, he returned to Holy Cross Seminary to complete his college course. The well-filled note-books he has left attest to his avidity and good-taste in literature. He delighted particularly in the visiting celebrities who lectured in Washington Hall, William Howard Taft, Cardinal Gasquet, Henry James, Douglas Hyde, Seumas MacManus.
[Circa 1916] movies were inaugurated on the campus. Hitherto, if the students wanted to see a movie, they had to go to South Bend. Of course the theatres in the vicinity were not very well pleased at the innovation. They saw themselves as suffering financial loss at the introduction of pictures in Washington Hall. Even to this day, they have some sort of agreement with the movie industry which prevents movies in Washington Hall unless they have been shown three times in South Bend. In the beginning the performances were punctuated by shrill cat-calls and much whistling. It was difficult for prefects to locate, in the dark, these sources of disturbance. Looking back on it, memory suggests that the most amusing and entertaining part of these pictures was not the picture itself, but the running commentary offered by the audience. On one occasion a particularly insipid picture was being shown, and one of the Fathers arose to make his exit. In the dark, a raucous voice called out, "Oh, yeah, yuh can't take it, huh?" No one who was there will forget, however, the occasion when "The Birth of a Nation" was shown. It was the most splendid movie that had yet been made, and the sound effects produced by the orchestra were a prelude to how effectively sound could augment vision.
Eamon De Valera, the first President of the Irish Republic, was one of Father Burns' most outstanding guests. When he arrived on the campus at Notre Dame, October 15, 1919, the students gave him an enthusiastic welcome. After laying a wreath before the statue of Father Corby, the Irish President went to another part of the campus to plant a tree in honor of his visit to Notre Dame. Next, the entire party moved to Washington Hall where twelve hundred students were packed to hear him talk of Ireland's cause. At the conclusion of his address, Notre Dame gave him one of the greatest ovations in the history of the University. "It was," said Mr. De Valera, "the happiest day since coming to America."
The Chesterton party arrived at Notre Dame on the evening of October 4th, 1930. The lectures began on the following Monday. . . . Students used to gather at the west door of Washington Hall before the lecture just to see Chesterton unloaded from Johnny Mangan's limousine. It was an operation that took no little time and effort. The door would open, and a great black mass of broadcloth cape would begin to wiggle and then back forth from the door of the car. There were long moments of silent suspense, after which one would not have been surprised to hear the kind of cheer that rises at the successful launching of a battleship.
The visit of Cardinal Pacelli was of a most extraordinary nature. He was Secretary of State to the aging Pius XI, and his departure from Rome was all the more unusual on this account. He came to the United States in the fall of 1936, and he traveled from one end of the country to the other by airplane. His arrival at Notre Dame was scheduled for Sunday, October 25th. Plans were made for a convocation in Washington Hall, at which an honorary degree would be conferred on the illustrious Cardinal.
Rumor had it that the Cardinal would arrive shortly after the noon hour. Since one o'clock, the students had been waiting near the entrance to the grounds. It was a cold, grey day, and it began to drizzle. Some of the students grew restive and sought the shelter of their rooms. This Eugenio Pacelli, the Cardinal Secretary of State to His Holiness, was late in coming. In spite of the airplane, someone murmured, Rome moves slowly. It was nearly three o'clock before the line of shiny black limousines appeared down the avenue. By that time, only two or three hundred students were stationed at the entrance. If those who had departed could only have seen what would happen to this Cardinal Pacelli, no rain or storm or sleet would have driven them from their post. Even as it was, when the automobile bearing the Cardinal slowed at the entrance to take the curb gently, a hearty roar of welcome and applause went up from the rain-soaked students.
The procession went on to the door of the church. In the organ-loft, awaiting the Cardinal's coming, was a priest who, in Rome, had often assisted at ceremonies in St. Peter's. And the music that came to his mind was none other than the Marcia Papale, the Papal March. The organ swelled in that melody, somehow, it seemed later, in the nature of a musical prophecy. The tall, spare figure of Cardinal Pacelli, straight as an arrow, his long tapering fingers firmly folded before his breast, walked to the sanctuary where, for a moment, he knelt in prayer in that very spot where Gregori, in 1875, had depicted Pius IX. Then, rising, he mounted the altar-steps, bent to kiss the altar, and turning, blessed the assembled faithful with the triple sign of the cross.
The procession formed again and started for Washington Hall. Every seat was taken, and every inch of standing room. As the Cardinal appeared on the stage, there was a splendid ovation with every man and woman standing there. When quiet was restored, Father Carrico, the Director of Studies, then read the citation, after which Father O'Hara handed to the Cardinal the diploma making him an alumnus of Notre Dame, honoris causa. The applause was deafening, and again, every-one was standing.
Cardinal Pacelli stepped to the edge of the stage and from a tiny paper read, in understandable English, but with a musical Italian accent, his words of appreciation for the honor bestowed upon him who was so soon to ascend the papal throne. Finally, he blessed the kneeling throng in the name of the Holy Father. Then, as the audience rose from its knees, he paused briefly. From his lips came words that proved him a sympathetic son of Notre Dame: "And now, if there is no objection on the part of your superiors, I grant you a holiday!" The applause reached new heights. The Cardinal turned suddenly to the audience, and everyone grew silent. Evidently there was something he had forgotten to say. He supplied it immediately: ". . . and to St. Mary's!"