Friday Feature: the Mystery of the Magic Square

Oh my, how I love a good mystery! Guest blogger Mike DiCianna has been working on this puzzler and needs the help of or blog-o-verse — so step up and put your thinking / researching caps on!

Magic Square in front of Hovland Hall

Outside the main entrance of Hovland Hall, at the base of the steps is a small bronze plaque of a “Magic Square.” Who or what group placed it there? When? What magical significance does the number 34 have to this building? Inquiring minds need to know.

We have received a couple of research requests about the magic square in the past week. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it had been covered by a trash can for some unknown period of time, but now this bronze plaque is exposed for passers-by to ponder its mystical meaning. The magic square adds up to 34, all directions, corner to corner and diagonally. At first, 1934 seemed to be a connection, but after a search of yearbooks, Barometer articles, and other assorted archive records came up blank. There does not appear to be any record of this installation anywhere — and historical researchers are never satisfied by a dead end like this!

Hovland Hall has gone through many incarnations since being built in 1919. Originally, the building was known as the “Horticultural Products Building,” and still has that name over the main door, but it was renamed for the first time in 1941/42 to “Food Technologies.” By 1950, this name changed again to “Food Industries” and again in 1952 to the “Farm Crops Building.” By the 1980s, Hovland hall was known as the “Computer Science Building.” It has also had parade of college departments tenants, acting as a home to students of Horticulture, Food Technologies, Computer Sciences, and Philosophy. Of these diverse disciplines, who would be the most likely to embrace the Magic Square?

One likely suspect is the Computer Science Department, given their love of numbers. Or perhaps this mystical, magical square is philosophical? Another clue may lay in the renovations of the building during the late 1960s when the steps were changed from their original style since the small bronze plaque does not appear to be close to a century old like its host building.

Hovland Hall, 1989. Computer Science Dept Photograph Collection, 1972-1998 (P 240)

Any information about the history and purpose of the Hovland Hall Magic Square would be greatly appreciated by SCARC. Hopefully there is someone with a memory of the event or dedication of this plaque. This little mystery begs to be solved — after all it is a “Magic” Square!

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