STARKVILLE — In the early hours of Jan. 23, 1959, a fire erupted at one of Mississippi State University’s most iconic locations, the Old Main Dormitory.
Students ran through hallways and down staircases to escape the flames engulfing the building.
Old Main now is remembered on MSU’s campus through the current Old Main Academic Center, which is designed to resemble parts of the original dormitory, and the Chapel of Memories, which contains salvaged bricks from Old Main.
“One of our most iconic traditions at Mississippi State was the Old Main Dormitory, what we would now call a residence hall,” MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said. “At the time, Old Main was believed to be the largest residence hall in the United States.”
To commemorate this significant event in MSU’s history, the University Television Center has created an 11-minute short film, “Old Main,” telling the stories of those who lived through that experience nearly 63 years ago.
The UTC handles nearly all of the university’s broadcast, television and production needs, aside from athletics and some agriculture production. MSU Films, an initiative of the UTC, is a way to tell stories of MSU and those that are a part of it, Director of the University Television Center David Garraway said.
“MSU Films started as a platform for us to develop and test new productions and improve our storytelling methodology,” Garraway said. “We’re trying to get better at what we do. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get a message to an audience, and a lot of that comes through storytelling, so this was an opportunity for us to visualize and tell stories that we have not before.”
Old Main will premier at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 on the university’s Facebook page, as well as MSTV for local cable subscribers.
Garraway said he and the production team created the film by telling it through words of alumni who experienced the fiery night and used footage from that night and the days following, as well as recreating scenes, such as filling a building with smoke and having actors run down stairs and hallways in bare feet.
“Using that footage, as opposed to putting out a reel of film, we were able to use that footage in a creative way that provides visual context to the story that has been told through the years, to create what I consider to be, especially if you’re an alum or a friend of the university, a pretty powerful piece,” Garraway said.
Garraway said the UTC had help from several departments across campus, making the film a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort. With the upcoming anniversary of the fire, Salter said he believes several members of the MSU community will connect with this film.
We think our alums, particularly those of a certain age, will really enjoy revisiting that topic,” Salter said. “It will showcase what we can do moving forward with the work product of MSU Films.”
MSU Films is in the process of creating several other films, telling stories of MSU and its people.
Those include a half-hour piece “13” about two alumni who were instrumental in bringing the Apollo 13 capsule home safely from space. “The Hungriest State,” a four-part mini series about food insecurity in Mississippi, premiered its first episode in 2021 and won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for news documentaries in the small market. Its other three episodes will premiere in the coming months, Garraway said.
Garraway said he looks forward to viewers tuning into Old Main’s premier and hopes to continue telling stories of his beloved university.
“I don’t think there is any shortage of meaningful, impactful stories at Mississippi State, of our people, of the things we do, of the impact that our research and our agricultural and our technology and our graduates and staff do every day around here,” Garraway said. “If we can have a hand in increasing awareness of the many, many important things that have happened because of Mississippi State through the years, I think we’re doing our job right.”