June 19, 1897
Lightning struck the second chimney at the southwest corner of the building in the early morning of June 19. Approximately 25,000 of the 33,600 volumes and 15,000 pamphlets were destroyed, along with the shelf list and catalog cards. Also destroyed were the Tallant and German libraries, and part of the Talbot collection
In the 1899 Hawkeye yearbook, Ellen M. Rich, wife of Librarian Joseph Rich, wrote a dramatic account of the fire. “Book cases, with their precious freight, were precipitated to the floor and ignited. It was a wild scene of the fiery elements never to be forgotten.”
Besides books, also destroyed in the fire were: class memorials such as a visitor register and its “artistic stand,” from the class of 1893, and a mahogany clock presented by the class of 1894; portraits of presidents of the University and large photographs of several of the early professors of the UI; plaster busts of Homer, Shakespeare, Scott, Goethe, and Franklin; a silk flag given by the girls of the University to the boys who went out as hundred-day men during the war; a plaster cast of the Rosetta Stone; and the inter-class cup.
The salvaged books were taken to the basement of the Unitarian Church, and by October when repairs had been completed, the library moved back to North Hall.