Norberg Plays Purdue

John Norberg portrays John Purdue at the statue in front of University Hall, along with John Sautter and April Holajter of the Purdue Alumni Association.

John Purdue, the founder of Purdue University, was born on Halloween, 217 years ago. Today, myths still surround the location of his body and his burial.

John Norberg, author of “Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University,” a book on the University’s history, shared information about the University and John Purdue via email.

On the first day of classes in the University’s third year, Sep. 12, 1876, Purdue was in town. Norberg said that Purdue asked his nephew to take him to campus, where he conversed with students and inspected the foundation of University Hall.

He later went to the Lahr House in Lafayette to rest and eat, but when people came to check on him, he had disappeared.

Purdue had asked his nephew to take him to the Lafayette spa, which Purdue had been visiting because he had not been feeling well. When spa attendants checked his room at 5 p.m., he had his hand extended towards the door, and soon afterwards, he died at the spa, Norberg said.

Purdue didn’t have any funeral requests or a will, but his friends and officials at the University believed he should be buried on campus.

“Most of the businesses in town were closed the day of his funeral and more than 100 carriages followed the horse-drawn hearse over the Wabash and to the campus where a service was held in front of University Hall,” Norberg said in the email.

The burial took place in front of University Hall, where there now sits a blank headstone and where his body has been for 143 years, Norberg said.

Though many myths are still told about Purdue’s body, David M. Hovde, a retired associate professor of library science at Purdue, said via email, it “has never been moved or disturbed. All the myths about him being dug up are pure fiction.”

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