Unlocking the Hidden Spaces of JMU


JMU’s history, like the Chicago Cubs’ now-broken curse, stretches back 108 years. It’s no wonder that in 2016, there’s still so much students don’t know about campus. From the tunnels on the Quad to the greenhouses on East Campus, hidden features continue to become the stuff of university legend. Here are a few features students might not be familiar with …

Science on a Sphere

Memorial Hall might seem like a different planet to students who’ve never set foot in the building. But for those interested in our own planet, there’s Science on a Sphere, a 5-foot-8-inch white scale model of Earth that works as a giant 3D projector.

According to JMU’s website, Science on a Sphere was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. JMU’s model is the same one used in museums and science centers; the university is one of only 62 national and 51 other international institutions to have this technology.

Science on a Sphere’s operator uses several calibrated projectors around a huge room to display simulations of Earth’s tides, heat patterns and other Earth system models on the giant globe. The projections can be manipulated to show past Earth systems patterns, or to predict future ones based on a variety of scenarios. The operator can also zoom in on certain locations, focusing on specific parts of the world on land or at sea.

Science on a Sphere is currently used in a number of courses, many of which are part of the geology or integrated science and technology programs. The university also uses it as part of outreach programs for local middle schools.

The Lock Shop


Enter the red brick University Services building behind the Warsaw parking deck, go down a flight of stairs and walk across a well-lit hallway, and students will find the JMU Lock Shop.

A repository for nearly every key on campus, the Lock Shop is where students or faculty can go for access to or maintenance for doors in most campus buildings.

It’s no small task; before the new College of Health and Behavioral Studies, Facilities Management employees estimate there were around 50,000 individual locks on campus. The Lock Shop doesn’t even handle dorm room keys; those are the responsibility of the Office of Residence Life.


The Lock Shop repairs doors and hinges, orders new locks to department specifications and makes copies of all keys on campus, which are hung inches-thick in stacks on pegboard walls surrounding tools and machines.

And never fear: damaged doors, keys that won’t work and all other lock-related scrap metal is collected by FM and recycled to make — you guessed it — more keys. They even “cannibalize” old buildings as they’re torn down, looking for any part that can be reused to help save money and the environment.

The Wilson Hall Cupola


The Wilson Hall cupola, more commonly known as the bell tower, is the subject of many rumors. A common legend around Halloween is that the ghost of a former student can be seen haunting the tower. Some insist there are real bells programmed to ring on the hour. Many students make it their goal to find their way inside before they graduate.

In reality, the Wilson Hall cupola has a changeable audio recording that plays the bell chimes and customizable songs; the Alma Mater currently plays at noon, and the JMU Fight Song plays at 5 p.m. The clock on the front of the tower is connected to the recording software, ensuring a smooth change during daylight saving time, and the chimes are turned off during commencement.

The cupola changes with the seasons, too; professional stage lights are used to light the tower purple throughout the year, and during the holidays, the bulbs are changed to red and green. An outside company is hired to project snowflakes on Wilson Hall during the Unity Tree lighting ceremony.

Accessing the cupola is no small — or safe — task. After entering a locked door on the third floor of Wilson Hall, FM employees climb up a narrow metal ladder, across a wooden catwalk and up another, taller ladder with no support on either side, all while ducking under and clambering over beams and wooden posts.

A handful of graffiti’d messages on the beams indicate some students have successfully made their way over the years, but FM doesn’t recommend breaking in. Not only is it trespassing, but the unfinished surfaces and dark room make it dangerous to enter, even for experienced workers.

Photos by Maddy Williams