It was a miserably hot day in mid-September and I was melting on the way to my Spanish class when I glanced up to look at McGuffey Hall. What I saw left me speechless.
In the area where there was usually a bike rack and a seldom-used bench, there was a nonstop cloud of white fog rising from a grate in the ground.
My first assumption was that the building was on fire and that my class was going to be cancelled, but as I got a closer look I could see students walking in it — as if nothing was going awry, as if this was an everyday occurrence.
I took note of the situation and proceeded to my Spanish class.
By the time I left that day, it was dark outside. I began my trek back to my dorm and, to my surprise, the fog was still billowing from the grates. It had a weird odor, similar to when the urinals in my dorm bathroom overflowed all over the floor. This was not a good sign.
I stopped to ponder what was actually going on, and wondered why no one had been called. No one else was alarmed by the fact that it seemed as if a dragon lived underneath the building.
I started to mentally take notes every time I approached Old Faithful, looking for further developments in the situation that only I seemed to care about. Eventually, orange cones and caution tape were put around the area, but this only confused me more. Why is no one talking about this? Usually when there is caution tape put up, there’s a reason. A reason good enough to keep people safe. A reason worthy enough to say, “Hey, stay away from there.” But I heard nothing.
When I got the assignment to explore something at Miami University that I didn’t understand, I knew immediately what had to be done. I had to go full “Encyclopedia Brown,” minus the trench coat and sunglasses, and get to work.
This fog had been going on for months now, and it was time to get to the bottom of this situation. I wasn’t sure what I would find. I knew what I wanted to find, though; I wanted to uncover some deep dark secret that involved toxic gas and a coverup by the university.
I took to the streets and began to ask students and professors about the mysterious smog. I stuck to general questions: Have you noticed it? Why are there cones and caution tape? Do you have any idea what’s causing it? How do you feel about it?
I received a variety of answers.
“What cones?” asked a professor in reply, completely unaware that we were standing five feet away from them.
No student seemed to have a concrete answer, or any semblance of an answer at all. Every time I asked a student if they knew what was going on, their immediate response was to ask me the same. A girl told me she wasn’t surprised that no one knew what was going on, as that was what she was used to getting from the school: no answers as an answer.
A lot of students just shrugged and moved on. I asked my friends in my dorm and all of them could not come up with anything. They also questioned why I had grown so obsessed with the fog.
At one point, I gave up on the story completely. I was going to succumb to the masses and accept that there was a permanent smoke machine outside of McGuffey Hall, until one night when I was walking home from class and saw a fog cloud was now forming outside of Bishop Hall.
I literally screamed out loud.
I had to know the reason behind the fog. It was killing me.
At this point, it had most certainly become my problem. I was going to walk straight up to the front desk of the Physical Facilities department and demand an answer.
I got in touch with Mark Laurence, the utility systems manager, and we had a meeting.
He told me that the steam pipes underneath McGuffey were built with a drain to let out any water that got in there. However, the line with the drain collapsed, and now if any rain water gets in, there’s no escape. This causes the fog to rise out of the grates.
I asked him why there was no documentation anywhere on their website about the construction. He said that it’s simply a repair and that it isn’t important enough to make a post about.
The cones and caution tape were merely there to keep students away from the area.
The department received two options on how to fix the line from a contractor. They could repair the line itself which would involve an excavation of the steam pipes, or they could replace the permanent pumping system to keep the water out of it. Both options are difficult to implement, though, because they have to deal with external factors like student traffic around McGuffey.
He theorizes that the construction will be completed within the next few months, but the “biblical” rain that Oxford was receiving hindered the necessary work.
I figured the answer wasn’t going to be anything scandalous. But now every time I walk past the collapsed line, I smile at the other students because I know something they don’t, even though they probably couldn’t care less.