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Discovery flashes light on shadowy architect

Architect, author and philosopher Michael Hare, was the designer of the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union Theater. Several architectural drawings of the project were discovered two weeks ago while the building was being remodeled. The drawings now are safely in procession of the Wisconsin Historical Society. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The mystery starts with a hand reaching into the seldom-used back room, fumbling along the wall for a light switch.

There’s something in the room, something that has been hidden for almost three quarters of a century. It’s a 5-foot-by-3-foot, nailed-shut wooden crate.

Someone pries it open.

Inside are documents and cardboard exhibits tracing every step, every conceptual design, of a 1937 construction project. There are photos of architects, internal approval memos, swatches of fabric for the furniture, watercolor drawings from interior designers and the architects’ sketches on onion skin.

At the bottom of some old drawings is a name: Michael M. Hare. There’s also a picture of him.

Hare was the project designer in 1937 for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union’s original theater, which is being rehabbed for about $53 million. The hand that found the light switch, the hands that did the prying and sifting, belong to university students and employees clearing out the place.

When the crate was nailed shut, Hare worked for the New York firm of Corbett and MacMurray.

Seeking someone who had heard of Hare, I sent an email last week to members of the Society of Architectural Historians. No response. Barry Lewis, a New York architectural historian, knows about Hare’s boss, Harvey Wiley Corbett, but of Hare, nothing.

The Internet, from which few can hide, doesn’t crack — in fact, barely dents — the Who-is-Hare mystery.

According to Connecticut Archives Online, he was an architect, philosopher and author whose papers “relate primarily to Hare’s interest in the philosophical, theological, and mystical implications of the creative process and to his attempts to reconcile the laws of physics and parapsychological phenomena.”

Fits the UW image, anyway.

The names of his published articles, listed by Yale University’s online library, add charming yet puzzling wisps: “Notes on the Limitations to Psychic Knowledge”; “A Quantitative Approach to a Law of Psychokinesis”; “How is E.S.P. Limited”; and, for flavor, “Preparation of Wild Duck for the Table.”

A 1936 story in The New Yorker said a prince in Uganda commissioned Hare to build a brick palace in that nation’s Mountains of the Moon. He was to be paid in cattle.

Lewis said such interests were typical of blue-collar bohemians of the 1920s caught up in the planet known as Greenwich Village.

The crate is with the Wisconsin Historical Society, which considers it a remarkable discovery. That’s OK. Scholars will pore over the documents and might discover something meaningful about the origins of a significant building.

But it would be more fitting to put the traces of Michael M. Hare back into the crate. Hammer it shut. Tell the rehab contractor to conceal it in a gap between some interior walls. And don’t forget to turn off the light.

Chris Thompson is editor of The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at chris.thompson@dailyreporter.com.

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