By Jill Girgulis, October 23, 2015 —
Have you ever heard about the kid who tried to climb up the side of the Social Sciences building?
“Totally. He stuck squash balls between the ridges on the wall but got stuck near the top where the texture runs out. Firefighters had to come bring him down.”
“No, I think he climbed up using tennis balls, and then he had to get rescued by a helicopter.”
“It was with rock-climbing gear, and the police were waiting at the top to arrest him.”
These are just three of the many variations I’ve heard of this University of Calgary legend. The overall premise remains the same, but the details change from story to story — and who’s to say which version is true, or if it ever happened at all?
In an attempt to either confirm the event or pull back the curtain on the whole affair, I contacted faculty, staff and past students to hear what they knew.
But this method of verifying a rumor produced more dead ends than clues. Initially, my only lead was the fact that the fabled climb took place about 30 years ago.
Officially, it appears the event never happened. Campus Security claim there is no record of such an event anywhere in their records, immediately casting doubt on the veracity of this myth.
But two former undergraduate students, Bill Lindsay and Calum MacDonald, were able to confirm that an attempt to scale Social Sciences had taken place. Both sources claimed to have witnessed the entire scene. They also suggested I narrow my search to the last day of classes before the summer of either 1982 or 1983. It’s likely that such a shenanigan was pulled on Bermuda Shorts Day.
Political science professor Barry Cooper and department of philosophy staff member Merlette Schnell both had recollections of a similar incident, and both have worked at the university since at least 1982. The former had some memory of the event being covered by news outlets, including the Calgary Herald. Unfortunately, combing through archives did not produce any documented proof to support this claim.
It should also be noted that a small black ball sits wedged in the wall just above the Social Sciences building sign, visible from the +15 that connects the tower to the administration building.
So did someone actually climb up that wall? There are multiple people who claimed to have witnessed the event, and the ridged texture of the building would make a feat possible — though still difficult — for an experienced rock climber. But a lack of any official documentation that this ever happened throws doubt on those claims.
I began researching this story in the hopes of finding out whether or not someone really did ever use a sack of squash balls to climb a building. But all I can state with certainty is that you can find a vending machine with Cadbury mini eggs in the Social Sciences tower.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if no one actually climbed that tower. It’s stories like this that give a campus its character. Every year, orientation leaders are provided with a handbook full of urban legends and fun facts about U of C. Regardless of the factuality of the stories, they help new students see the school as more than an institution that exchanges money for education. And this mythical tower climb fits the bill.
As for this myth, the best I can say for now is: PLAUSIBLE.
Jill Girgulis is a second-year neuroscience student who investigates campus urban legends in her monthly column U of C Mythbusters.