Breaking down some of Iowa State’s legends and traditions


Jonathan Laczniak/Iowa State Daily

MU fountain and the campanile.

The Memorial Union is home to some of Iowa State’s biggest legends and traditions. Some are still popular among students while others are slowly becoming forgotten.

“I think the university finds them charming and unique,” Laura Helmus, Memorial Union manager, said. “They help create a story; they help add to our story and help make things interesting. I don’t think it’s negatively received by them.”

These legends and traditions will always be a large part of the university, Helmus said.

The Zodiac and the Fountain of the Four Seasons

Since 1929, students feared the infamous Zodiac curse of failing a test after walking over the floor design instead of stepping around it. If this mistake is made, many students throw coins into the Fountain of the Four Seasons to reverse their bad luck.

“I used to sit there and watch, and sometimes 98% of the people would actually walk around it,” Helmus said. “The coin reversal came years later. It wasn’t always that they said, ‘Oh, you can toss a coin in the fountain.’ It was students that started it.”

Over the years, students went from only throwing coins into the fountain to adding more unique items. Some of these items include dye, fish, detergent and silverware.

“Anything in the fountain damages the art,” Helmus said. “While it might seem fun and the thing to do, these can be very deep and damaging to the whole art and then the fountain itself. We do the best we can to clean up and without doing anymore damage.”

The Ghost of Gold Star Hall

Majority of students are aware of the Zodiac legend and follow the superstition, but the legend of the ghost of Gold Star Hall is far less popular throughout the university. Hortense Elizabeth Wind, a 1915 Iowa State graduate, supposedly walks the halls of the Memorial Union late at night.

“Some of our custodians, some of whom have maybe retired or passed away, swear up and down that they’ve seen her during the overnight shift,” Helmus said.

Gold Star Hall engraved the names of Iowa State alumni who died in battle, and Wind was added after her death in 1918 while working as the Chief Dietician at the U.S. Navy Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, during World War I. Wind is the only woman listed with over 500 men, and legend has it she is looking for other women to talk to.

One Straight Step

When walking the steps of the west entrance it is easy to miss that every step is a different shape — all but one are curved. Another thing students can look for here is the Green Man, whose face is hidden in the leaves of the ceiling.

These steps were built with the original building, and neither students nor staff know why they were designed this way.

Coke Date

For years, the common area of the Memorial Union was home to new love interests going on a first date to drink Coke together.

“There’s some photos on the website of some people sharing a coke,” Megan Moore, Memorial Union marketing specialist, said. “It really just highlights the fact that this was a place and still is a place to find a community of friends and romantic interests.”