See his writings and speeches, ed. by H. M. Christman (1960, repr. 1970); biography by H. Barnard (1938); study by R. Ginger (1958, repr. 1965).
(born Dec. 30, 1847, Niederselters, Prussia—died March 12, 1902, Joliet, Ill., U.S.) German-born U.S. politician, governor of Illinois (1893–97). He emigrated from Germany as a child. In the 1870s he moved to Chicago, where he accumulated a small fortune in real estate and became active in Democratic Party politics. In 1892 he won the governorship as a reformist candidate. In 1893, at the urging of Clarence Darrow and labour leaders, he granted clemency to three men convicted of complicity in the Haymarket Riot. The controversial pardon provoked an outcry from conservatives and contributed to his defeat for reelection in 1896, though Altgeld's decision later gained wide approval in judicial circles.
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During his term as governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld expressed certain opinions on how buildings should be erected in the state of Illinois. In his second biennial message to the state legislature, he discussed how buildings were being constructed without consideration for their outward appearance. He stated that it was time for buildings to become more aesthetically pleasing in addition to being functional, and he suggested the Tudor-Gothic style as the most inexpensive way to do this. Consequently, several of the state universities in Illinois erected buildings which resembled castles in his honor. Supposedly these buildings have aligned corridors and rooms so that they can all be “put together” to create one large building, but there is no evidence to support this rumor.
When Altgeld Hall first opened, it housed the entire university. It was classroom, boardroom, library, gymnasium, administrative office building, and lecture hall. It housed chemical and physical laboratories, executive offices, a 1,200 seat auditorium , biology labs, a study hall, a museum, classrooms, a manual training shop, an independent water system, and finally a "dynamo" for light and power.
The building also housed NIU’s original library . With NIU’s second library almost complete in Swen Parson Hall in 1952, ideas were being passed around among the administrators on how to move all of the books because there was no money left in the budget to pay to have them moved. President Leslie A. Holmes, the President's Panel, the Student Affairs Committee, and the Administrative Council made the final decision to have "Library Move Day" be a campus event. Holmes sent a memo out to faculty indicating they were to take roll in their classes and then lead the class over to old library in Altgeld and devote all class period to moving books to the new library in Swen Parson. The members of the Dames’ Club (now the University Women's Club) served refreshments for the book movers.
Altgeld Hall underwent a $24 million renovation project which began in 1999 and ended with the rededication on October 7, 2004. The Altgeld restoration was undertaken to rescue the university’s landmark structure, which was badly deteriorated. The interior of the building was remodeled several times over the years, but major structural problems went largely unaddressed. By the 1980s, the building suffered from water seepage, cracked plaster and badly outdated electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. The newly restored building is a point of pride on campus, both for its beauty and the sense of history it affords, according to NIU President John Peters. “The restoration of Altgeld Hall was an important step for NIU. It is a physical connection with our very roots as a university and we are proud to see the project recognized by the construction industry.” said Peters. “Altgeld Hall is not a museum, but a living, working public space where the roots of American higher education are still very much in view.”
Currently, Altgeld Hall houses the Office of the President, Academic and Student Affairs, Finance and Facilities, University Advancement & NIU Foundation, University Legal Services, University Council, Community and External Affairs, the NIU Art Museum, the Instructional Technology Teaching Laboratory, conference rooms, and an auditorium with seating capacity for 500.
A time capsule was buried under the front arches on NIU's 75th Anniversary in 1974. It will be opened on the 150th anniversary in 2049.
In the design for the building, it was made to be fireproof, which is why the University decided to move the library into it. The building was also originally used as a gymnasium and it was stocked with all the newest exercise equipment. It had rope ladders, rings, slippery poles, parallel bars, and weights. There were also plans to add a bowling alley and swimming pool, but these plans were eventually abandoned.
After being a gymnasium for so long, the building eventually came to also house the University radio station, WGLT. More recently, though, Cook Hall has been remodeled to become the School of Music building. The building holds practice rooms, rehearsal halls, and many classrooms. Cook Hall is the only building on the Illinois State University campus that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Like the building on Illinois State University’s campus, the Governor wished it to be built in a Tudor-Gothic style, but due to outside pressure it was given a more Richardsonian Romanesque style. The Board of Trustees initially adopted the classical design by prominent Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. Altgeld's opposition to the classical design ultimately caused Burnham's withdrawal from the project.
Since its construction, Altgeld’s building has undergone many names and purposes. Governor Altgeld has a huge interest in education and believed that the campus should have a library, so the building was originally used for this purpose. At the time of its construction the building became know as simply the University Library. In 1927, though, the Law Department decided it needed a new place on campus and it moved into University Library, renaming the building “Law Building.” In 1940, the Law Building was renamed in honor if its creator, and was hereafter called Altgeld Hall. Eventually the Law Building was yet again converted into a new purpose, housing the Mathematics Department while the Law Department received a new building. Though the Mathematics Department and the Mathematics Library reside in this building, one can still see the title “Law Building” engraved on the North entrance.