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Syracuse University’s Reunion Weekend will reunite former student journalists who worked in the ‘Hellbox’
Syracuse University’s Reunion Weekend will reunite former student journalists who worked in the ‘Hellbox’May 25, 2001Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
A lot has changed on campus since the Class of 1951 graduated 50 years ago. The Carrier Dome replaced Archbold Stadium, the Schine Student Center replaced the Winchell Hall dormitory for women, Holden Observatory moved a few yards west to make room for Eggers Hall, and the historic Yates Castle (home of the School of Journalism) was replaced by the Veterans Administration Medical Center. But the sun still burns orange as it sinks out of sight behind E.I. White and Winifred MacNaughton halls, bathing the campus and city in a warm orange hue. It’s the same picturesque view that student inhabitants of the Hellbox, located behind Yates Castle, grew to love 50 years ago as they worked late into the night writing stories for The Daily Orange and the Syracusan (a monthly humor magazine), and meeting production deadlines for the Onondagan yearbook. Alumni of the Hellbox will gather this weekend to reminisce about their lives as student journalists and catch up on the past 50 years during the Hellbox Reunion. A Hellbox table will be set up on the second floor of the Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center where former writers for The D.O., the Syracusan and the Onondagan can sign in and post messages for former colleagues. The group has also reserved tables for Saturday’s Class of 1951 Luncheon at the Schine Student Center’s Goldstein Auditorium, which will be followed by tours of the current student media offices. The idea for the reunion began about four years ago when Wilma Bertling ’51 of Sebastian, Fla., received a note in the mail from one of her Onondagan colleagues. “The note came out of the blue,” Bertling says. “We connected with each other and began reliving our lives in the Hellbox. We thought it would be nice to get our 1951 Onondagan staff together for our 50th class reunion.” In an effort to connect with other alumni, Bertling produced an annual newsletter, which she sent out to the folks with whom she had contact. The news gradually spread. “We located staff members all over the globe,” she says. “Most are retired and all had interesting careers. We’ve been sharing our experiences through the newsletter.” About a year ago, Bertling and her former Onondagan staff members decided to expand the reunion to include D.O. and Syracusan alumni, primarily because several of the former Onondagan alumni were married to alumni of the other two publications.
“We plan to take photos and put them up on the Internet for those who cannot make it to the reunion,” says Bertling, who is retired after spending 23 years as curator of education and chief administrator for the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. She also worked as director of publications for the University at Buffalo. “I may also do one more wrap-up newsletter,” she says. Bertling and others who had offices in the Hellbox say that it was a close-knit community of students who were dedicated to putting out high-quality publications. The Hellbox was one of the many metal, prefabricated, temporary buildings erected on campus during SU’s “G.I. Bulge,” when enrollment swelled from 3,000 to a record 19,698 students during a five-year period following World War II. The student media had been located in Yates Castle. But the School of Journalism, like all the other academic units on campus, needed the space for classrooms and faculty offices. The students were shunted into the Hellbox. “The Hellbox was heated by a potbelly stove. The drywall had more holes than wall. It was scruffy, noisy and architecturally challenged. But it was one hell of a place to learn your trade,” says Mel Elfin ’51 of Washington, D.C., who retired from U.S. News and World Report three years ago. Prior to his work at U.S. News, for which he started the magazine’s College Ranking Survey Program, Elfin was the Washington bureau chief for Newsweek during his 28-year career with that magazine. No one seems to know quite when the building was dubbed the Hellbox, but most are sure the name was coined to draw an analogy between the dumping of student media organizations into the prefab building and a printer’s “hellbox” where used, hot metal type was discarded during the days of Linotype printing and recycled for the next day’s use. Members of the D.O. staff worked with the professional printing staff at the Orange Publishing Co., located just down the street from the Hellbox, to produce the pages that became the mats from which the plates that went on the presses were produced. “We learned how to put the type onto the page,” Elfin says. “The next day, the lines of type were thrown into a hellbox where they were melted and reused. Just thinking about it, I can still smell that combination of ink and hot metal that permeated through the building.” Many of the students, like Laura Lichtenstein Mendley ’51, worked for more than one of the publications. Mendley wrote for both The Daily Orange and the Syracusan until her D.O. editor (who eventually became her husband) told her to choose one publication over the other. Mendley chose the Syracusan, which published fiction and cartoons. Among the Syracusan alumni is syndicated cartoonist Brad Anderson ’51, creator of “Marmaduke.” “The building wasn’t much, but we didn’t know any better,” Mendley says. “We spent an enormous amount of time in the Hellbox, took ourselves seriously, put out a lot of good publications, and had fun doing it.”