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Benches as Monuments
by Emily Sheldon

Walking around the Florida State University campus, one may see many different types of monuments.  There are statues of people who have impacted life somehow to Florida State University, there are monuments to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, there are fountains and gates and even an obelisk or two.  These are readily seen as monuments.  What is not readily seen, however, are the stone benches scattered across the campus.  These benches are monuments too, dedicated to people who have made a difference to the Florida State community.

Take for example the bench dedicated to Michael Shaara.  In the mid-1950s, Michael moved his family to Tallahassee so he could begin teaching English at Florida State.  He wrote The Killer Angels, which in 1975 won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.(1)  Shaara died in 1988 after a period of declining health.  His son, Jeff Shaara wrote a prequel and a sequel to his father’s book.  The prequel, Gods and Generals would later become a major motion picture.(2)
Shaara's Bench
close up of shaara's bench

The twentieth governor of Florida, Albert Waller Gilchrist, has a bench and a building in his honor.  Gilchrist was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1893 until 1905 (in 1905 he was the Speaker of the House), and became governor in 1909.  During his term, Governor Gilchrist traveled to promote the state of Florida, one of the reasons the Florida State College for Women was able to grow as it did.(3)  In 1926, a new dormitory was named after him.  Governor Gilchrist also left $10,000 to the college “to provide scholarships for needy students”, though this had no play in why the dorm was name after him.(4) gilchrist

bernies bench
Bernie’s Bench, located on Landis Green, was presented to him by the Florida State University Government Association.  Bernie, also known as Bernard Sliger, President of Florida State University from 1976-1991, helped the university acquire such things as the Dirac Science Library, the College of Engineering, the Super Computer Research Institute, the School of Motion Picture, Television, and Recording Arts, and the Florida Los Alamos National Magnetic Lab(5).  During his presidency, the school also became part of the Atlantic Coast Conference.(6)

kissing bench
Then there is the “Kissing Bench”.  This bench is really more lore than anything else.  The story of the bench was started by a member of the Florida State University administration.  This person supposedly used to sit on this bench, located just across from the William Johnston Building on the edge of Landis Green, and “canoodle” or make out with his now wife.  The marker, made by the Master Craftsman Program, reads “If this bench could talk/ oh the stories it would tell/ of kisses young and old/ if you sit, beware the spell.”

With just a few exceptions, most of the benches on campus are made out of cement and are manufactured by the Master Craftsman Program here at Florida State.(7)  Head of the Master Craftsman Program is Robert “Bob” Bischoff.   According to Bischoff, the benches take about one to two weeks to complete once an order has been put in for one.  The cost for one of these benches is $2500.  This cost includes the cost of the mold for the bench, parts, labor, and the plaques which will adorn the benches.

The benches are made to comfortably seat two people at a time.  The earlier benches are in a gothic style and have the square plaques in them.  The next model is the benches most will recognize.  Now, Bischoff says, the benches are being designed for the person sitting on the bench to stretch out and put their feet up on the bench, as most at the university are want to do. benches around westcott

An interesting tidbit about the benches…there are only two one person benches located on the campus.  Both of these are on the Mina Jo Powell green.  Bischoff explains that this was done to try and get people to sit in an inviting, living room like atmosphere.  He wanted this done throughout the entire campus, but his idea never took off. min jo powell benches

The next wave of benches will have arms that are more comfortable to lean on.  The Master Craftsman Program is in the process of designing benches for the “modern” parts of campus as well as for the newer sections of campus.  For the modern parts of campus, the craftsmen hope to design a bench that is of a modern style.  For the newer section of campus, over by the medical buildings, the Master Craftsman Program is planning on using a style closely related to what is found near the older section of campus.

The hope of Bischoff is that the benches will be dedicated to people who had an impact on the community as a whole at Florida State, not just random people who have gone to the university.  He wants important people to have their names on these benches, people who will be remembered for years to come.  The benches are expected to last for over five hundred years so these people would be remembered for many, many years(8).   
Any questions about the Master Craftsman Program or the benches in general, should be directed to the program itself.  Please feel free to contact them at (850) 644-0139 or mastercraftsman@fsu.edu.(9)

photographs by Emily Sheldon

(1) Information from the Michael Shaara Biography webpage found at http://www.jeffshaara.com/michaelbio.html
(2) Information from the Jeff Shaara Biography webpage found at http://www.jeffshaara.com/jeffbio.html
(3) Sellers, Robin Jeanne. Femina Perfecta: the Genesis of Florida State University.  Tallahassee: The Florida State University Foundation, 1995.
(4) Sellers, 116.
(5) From inscription found on Bernie’s Bench.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Bernie’s Bench and the Kissing Bench are not from the Master Craftsman Program.
(8) Some may notice there are also wood and metal benches scattered throughout the campus as well.  These benches cost about $2600 to buy and last for only about 10 years, before they start to rust and rot away, (given the climate here in Florida).

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