A century-old mystery at Millersville University (MU) has been solved!
The Biemesderfer Executive Center has been a staple of Millersville University since 1894. From its inception to 1967, it served as the University’s library. The building, renamed in honor of Dr. D. Luke Biemesderfer, president of Millersville from 1943 to 1965, now houses executive offices of the University administration.
Yet dating back to the building’s opening, there has been a mystery. A well-known stained glass picture in the building featuring four men: Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Shakespeare, James Russell Lowell and an unknown individual. In a 1982 book about Biemesderfer Center titled “The Centerpiece of the Campus,” author Carole L. Slotter stated that even she wasn’t sure who the fourth unknown man was, and actually thought it was English-poet John Keats.
Thanks to curiosity and technology, all of that has now changed.
Assistant Director of Millersville Admissions and 2010 graduate of MU Joshua Belice always knew of the mysterious man in the picture, so one day he decided to go into Biemesderfer Center and take a picture of him. Belice reverse-image searched it online and discovered a magnificent surprise. According to the results, the picture identified the man as German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
When asked what prompted him to go look into this, Belice stated, “I knew the image was in discrepancy from ‘The Centerpiece of the Campus.” I went over and took my own picture then reverse-image searched it online. The color image of Goethe popped up as a match and I first shared my findings with Dr. Leroy Hopkins, retired professor of German.”
The revelation that the unidentified man was Goethe and not Keats made sense to both Belice and Hopkins. While Hawthorne and Lowell were American poets and Shakespeare was British, the addition of the German Goethe aligns with early teachings at Millersville.
“It’s not surprising given the importance of German writers and thought to American higher education,” Hopkins said. “German was taught almost from the beginning at Millersville.”
Library technician Janet Dotterer also confirmed the findings that Belice presented to her.
Former MU administrator and professor and current Council of Trustee member, Dr. Richard Frerichs elaborated more on the recent findings.
“As a person who takes faculty and student orientation leaders on a history tour of the University, this was quite a pleasant shock,” he said. “I am happy that we were able to set the record straight.”
This isn’t Belice’s first finding, as he also uncovered old faculty minutes from 1880 that talked about secret societies from earlier years at MU. He also found pictures of Old Main in all of its stages over the years dating from 1854 to 1964.
“It’s important to remember that as Millersville continues to look forward, we don’t forget our past,” he said.