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Hall's chisel left towering mark on UT

A lumbering steam shovel crawled onto the campus Wednesday morning, and without delay or ceremony, began taking huge bites of clay from the terrace on which the Old Main Building stood for fifty years and dumped them into waiting trucks. The ground for the University’s Administration-Library unit was broken.

There was no pomp of silken hats to formalize the scene, nor were there dignitaries to add their blessings to the first shovel of earth which officially began the University’s greatest building. The master of ceremonies was the operator of the steam shovel; a few directions to work men, the services; and a handful of truck drivers, job hunters and curious students, the witnesses.–Ray Holbrook, The Daily Texan, Jan. 20, 1935.

Image of Hall

Hall carved the words, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth sall set you free," on the Main Building.

The Main Building’s groundbreaking lacked ceremony, as many people’s live do. Most go through life, leaving little behind as a permanent reminder. No one’s life is truly set in stone–except for Wood Hall.

Hall, 84, carefully chiseled the finishing touches on one of the University’s greatest structures more than half a century ago.

"I did something worthy of HIS grace. That’s what I think I was put on this earth for," he said sitting comfortably in his Austin home.

Hall carved the words "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," on the Main Building in 1935. The 27-story Tower is a permanent fixture in the minds of all who have attended or worked at the University. And the words above the building’s doors seen daily by UT students from the first days of their freshman year, to their last steps across campus at graduation.

While suspended several stories in the air on a scaffolding, Hall said, he did not realize the importance of the words he carved. He said it was just another part of doing his job as a stone carver. It was only later in life that he realized that the words were so meaningful.

"I was up there cussing up a blue streak. I cussed Jesus out. But later in life, I read those words and shuddered all over.

"It’s my guess that the Board of Regents wanted to use those words to let people know that this was a free University."

To carve the lettering on the Main Building, Hall spent nearly three weeks on the scaffolding. There was no other way to carve the two-feet high letters.

"It must have taken me about two or three weeks to cut those letters," Hall said, his large hands resting on the kitchen table.

When up on the scaffolding, Hall said, "I used to turn around and look down Congress Avenue from up there." He said when he would start the chisel, the resistance from the stone would force his swing backwards away from the building. Since there wasn’t much to secure him, he would swing out over the rocks from the unfinished terrace below. Hall’s wife Millie would come out to the Tower to watch, but would leave because it scared her to see him swing so high in the air.

"I went out there to watch him one day, and he’d put that air hammer up there and his feet would go out. He wasn’t anchored and it scared me, so I had to go home. It just scared the fool out of me," she said.

Hall said he and the other carvers had to chisel the stone work for the top of the 270-foot Tower on the ground. The pieces, some weighting close to a ton, had to be hoisted into place near the clock and edges of the Tower when the detailed work was finished.

"The student body voted that it was too dangerous to cut the stone up on the building. It was just too high and dangerous," he said.

Hall got the job in 1935 when he heard an Austin quarry got a contract to do the stone work on the Main Building.

"The foreman and five Italians and me and a boy from Bedford. It took about five months to do the job," he said.

At the time Hall etched the famous words he said "I was making more than the professors–I made $75 a week."

Hall’s daughter Nancy Carlson went to the University in 1958. Now at age 53, she said the carvings didn’t mean that much to her when she was at the University.

"It was just something I had known forever. We didn’t give it much thought. But for him, it was a very important landmark in life.

"It’s a craft that’s gone, and the family had done it for years. As things go past you, this is something permanent," Carlson added.

Hall was born with a hammer and chisel in his hands in Bloomington, Ind. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a stone carver as a teen-ager.

"I didn’t make it out of high school, and I loafed around until my daddy said, ‘I’m going to make a stone carver out of you.’"

Daily Texan. December 2, 1993.
Article by: Rebecca Stewart

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3 May 1999
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