Answered By: Gabe Gossett
Last Updated: Nov 21, 2023     Views: 798

That's what they say! Now, we don't really have an authoritative source for this (if you do, please share), but that is the legend. Take a close look at the leather on the doors-- it doesn't exactly look like other leather you may have seen. Also, the old portion of the library was constructed at a time (1928) when it would have been more likely that whale skins would have been available. However you take it, as icky or cool, it is part of the story that makes our library unique.

Pictures showing the Wilson Library Reading Room doors

Entering the Reading Room, there are double doors covered in leather held in place with brass rivets and punctured with a small porthole window.

Double doors to Reading Room in Wilson Library with one open and one closed. Shows brown leather held with brass rivets.

A close up shows the pattern of the animal the leather was made from.

Close up of the texture of the Wilson Library Reading Room doors showing slight creases in the leather and the metal rivets.

Almost a hundred years of many visitor's hands opening the doors have left textured wear patterns in some parts of the doors.

Shows how the leather on the doors has a wear patters from almost a century of hands pushing on the door.

Viewed from an angle, a pattern with the brass rivets is more evident.

Show the Reading Room doors from an angle, highlighting a sort of star pattern with the brass rivets fastening the brown leather to the door.

The side doors to the Reading Room have been more gently used and may give a more accurate impression of what they originally looked like.

One of the side doors, also covered in brown leather held on with brass rivets.

Comments (3)

  1. Not really a source, but an interesting addition, I think. There's an interview with Mary E. bond, who was a Campus school student while the library was being built and on page six, she mentions that the students were particularly fascinated by the "leather doors..."
    by Heidi T on Feb 11, 2017
  2. Additionally, in a 1933 edition of the Northwest Viking,a student paper at the time, an article describing the library specifically mentions "The doors resemble the carved metal doors of the Roman­esque churches. Those leading into the reading room are made of whale skin with metal joints." That's only 5 years after the library was built!
    by Heidi T on Feb 11, 2017
  3. I was fortunate enough to have had two employee "tours of duty" at Wilson Library: 2 years in a work-study position within the Periodicals Department in the mid-70's; and 3 years as a Library Technician for Circulation and the Reserve Room in the late-1990's. At some point along the line, I was told that the impressive doors to the towering Reading Room were covered in whale skin. I don't remember, now, who it was who told me this, though it was another library employee. Ever since learning this, I took an extra-interest in the doors, with their curious portholes. Of course, Wilson Library has undergone numerous renovations and expansions over the years, yet the old Reading Room -- with its arched windows, wooden bookcases, elaborately-painted ceiling beams, and those skin-covered doors -- remains, in my mind, the single-most beautiful feature of the library. WWU is blessed, indeed, to retain such an architectural treasure.
    by Patrick L. on Nov 21, 2023