Spirit Walk

Photographer Rufus Holsinger (1866-1930) captured this now iconic image of the burning of the University of Virginia Rotunda, October 27, 1895. On that Sunday morning, thousands of people came running from their homes and church services to watch the fire. No one was killed in the blaze (the result of faulty electrical wiring, which had only recently been installed). The Rotunda and its 1853 North Annex were completed destroyed. Faculty, students and townspeople risked their lives, rushing in and out of the burning building, trying to save furniture, school supplies, and the thousands of books in the University Library. Eye-witness reports say the dome crashed in about noon. Famed architect Stanford White led an effort to rebuild Jefferson’s Rotunda, which included some of his own design ideas for much of the interior. White designed three new classroom buildings as well, which were erected opposite the Rotunda at the foot of the Lawn— despite the fact that Jefferson had wished that view to remain open. “The open view to the south,” he’d once written,”will be symbolic of the limitless freedom of the human mind.” (photo courtesy Special Collections at the University of Virginia)