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Fact Or Fiction: The Penn State Admissions Tour

Think back to the first time you went on a tour of Penn State. For some, that may have been a long time ago. For others, you may remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday. Or last year, at least.

No matter how long ago you toured campus, there are surely some stories tour guides relayed that have stuck with you all of these years. Some of the incredulous stories seem almost too good to be true, and as it turns out, they just might be.

As much as we like to fantasize about wacky Penn State stories, like what’s actually under Old Main’s scaffolding, we do need to brace the reality that some of the stories we’ve told ourselves are simply urban legends.

We decided to go on an admissions tour and break down what is and isn’t true so that when your friends come to visit, you know you’ll be giving them the lowdown. Unfortunately, even the current President of the United States believes one of the wildest Penn State myths of all time.

Fiction: The Origins of University Park And Its Zip Code

How did University Park actually become University Park? According to Penn State legend, it was because of some cookies.

As legend has it, Penn State President Milton Eisenhower and his brother, United States President Dwight Eisenhower, typically received cookie care packages from their mother on a regular basis. But because of Dwight’s central location in D.C. and Milton’s location in rural Pennsylvania, the U.S. President always got them much faster.

Milton Eisenhower had had enough of that, so he decided to create a new town and zip code for Penn State. The hope was that in doing so, he would receive his cookies at the same time as his brother.

While the Eisenhower brothers’ story is funny, Penn State all but debunked it in an article a few years back.

The real story is that Milton Eisenhower wanted a new zip code to distinguish Penn State from State College, as he felt the town “was at odds with the school’s new university identity and created confusion throughout the state and the nation.”

Originally, he wanted State College to change its name. After Borough Council debated the change, however, locals voted on whether to have their home go by either State College or Mount Nittany moving forward, and the former won.

Around the same time, (possibly thanks to help from Eisenhower’s brother, the President of the United States), a post office was established on campus, and the university was free to choose its own name. After some debate, University Park won out over Atherton, Centre Hills, Keystone, Mount Nittany, University Centre, and University Heights.

The cookie myth is believed to be the creation of university icon Mike the Mailman, who was known to have a love for cookie care packages.

Fact: Bill Clinton Took A Trip To The Creamery. Twice.

Courtesy of Penn State Libraries

We’ve all heard of the infamous Clinton-ice-cream debacle. As the story goes, President Bill Clinton stopped by Penn State’s Berkey Creamery and did the unthinkable — mix flavors.

While in town in 1996 for a commencement address, Clinton stopped by the Creamery for cone.

It’s said that although he wanted Peachy Paterno, he couldn’t stop himself from ogling the Cherry Quist vat. After Clinton made an offhand remark about Cherry Quist, the scooper decided to give him his wish and combine the two flavors. To this day, he’s believed to be the only person to mix flavors, breaking one of the most sacred rules held at this university.

According to the Daily Collegian archives, when he returned to campus in 2000, Clinton ordered only Peachy Paterno, so he appeared to have learned his lesson.

Clinton’s mistake here at Penn State — and arguably the biggest mistake made during his presidency — is an undeniable part of campus history. It deserves to be shared with future freshmen to serve as a cautionary tale of what not to do when stepping up to the register at the Creamery.

Fiction: Hammond Building, The Sideways Skyscraper

We hate to burst architecture majors’ bubbles, but there was never going to be a vertical skyscraper on campus. According to legend, the Hammond Building was originally slated to be a vertical skyscraper. However, school officials didn’t want a building taller than Old Main to exist on campus so architects laid Hammond on its side as a horizontal building.

Though we’re not quite sure why this myth exists in the first place, the fact of the matter is that it’s untrue. In the book Piled Higher and Deeper: The Folklore of Campus Life by professor Simon Bronner, it was revealed that Hammond was always intended to be a horizontal building and take up half of downtown.

Next time you’re in Hammond, remember, the hallways you’re walking in were never meant to be elevator shafts. They were always meant to be hallways. (Editor’s note: Do it while you can.)

Fiction: The Lion Shrine Is The Second-Most Photographed Landmark In Pennsylvania

Unfortunately, Penn State didn’t even crack the top five on this one.

According to a USA Today article, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the most photographed spot in Pennsylvania. Also, on the list are several sports venues: Lincoln Financial Field, PNC Park, and Citizens Bank Park.

It makes sense that the two baseball stadiums are on the list because of the length of the sport’s season. Plus, we all know how crazy Eagles fans can get, which no doubt explains why they are number two on the list.

The real shocker on the list, however, is that Temple comes in at number five, not Penn State. Not only is the Lion Shrine not No. 2, but it also couldn’t even crack the top five.

But with that said, all of the locations on the list are located in cities and Penn State is in the middle nowhere.

Fact: Penn State Is Just A Rectangle

With 40,000 students and thousands of professors, operations people, and other Penn State employees, it’s easy to feel like campus is one huge blob with no end in sight. In reality, though, campus is just a big, albeit diagonal, rectangle. From walking around, it certainly doesn’t feel like it, but it’s true.

Tour guides know that telling prospective students this fact helps put them at ease about the school’s sheer size. After all, campus seems way less overwhelming when you look at a map. And over time it does get better, but the sooner that future freshmen realize there is nothing to be intimidated about, the sooner they can get to having the best four years of their lives.

Fiction: CAPS Is Just Part Of The UHS Building

College is a stressful time, and it’s important for current and future students to know all of the resources available to them. Despite the value CAPS offers, the tour we went on did a subpar job of describing its full uses and benefits.

CAPS is one of the most important resources on campus. It’s not just the place that sends out dogs right before finals, but it’s an essential resource that allows students to help cope with the pressures of life.

On the tour we hopped on, the guides brushed over CAPS, explaining that it’s just a part of the UHS building. Instead, they spent a lot of the time talking about being an EMT driver along with other quirky dog-related stories.

We enjoy these crazy stories as much as the next person, but there comes a point in time where we need to be serious with the next generation of students. CAPS has valuable benefits for students, and these should be promoted more.

College is not just cookie care packages and Creamery ice cream. It’s full of stress and a lot of work. Personally, I think the tour needs to take a closer look at making sure they balance what’s being told so that the University can show off how great it is instead of just the fun, pop culture parts.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey is a freshmen majoring in Secondary Education. He is from Annapolis, Maryland and is a proud supporter of the great Baltimore Ravens and less than great Baltimore Orioles. He is a big Survivor fan and he watches way too much TV for his own good. Feel free to send memes and hot takes to [email protected] or @theowenabbey on Twitter.

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