Debate 2012: Ten things you don't know about the University of Denver

On Wednesday, the University of Denver will host this election's first presidential debate -- and the first of its kind in Denver. DU has been getting ready for its close-up for months, and the stakes are high for both the school and the candidates. If the night is a success, no matter which candidate comes out on top, DU will look like a winner -- with an estimated 4,000 media outlets in town to tout the school. With that in mind, here are some lesser-known facts about the Rocky Mountain region's oldest private university that could help fill some empty air time.

10. DU was the setting for one of the biggest UFO hoaxes of the twentieth century In March 1950, a mysterious businessman named Silas Newton gave a lecture to a packed hall full of DU engineering students. He was a guest of the class's professor, who had invited Newton to speak about his personal experience with -- wait for it -- flying saucers and their midget occupants.

"Midget Pilot Killed in Crash of Flying Saucer," reads part of an Associated Press headline from 1950. Newton's name was not referenced in this or any other article at the time, and for good reason: According to declassified FBI files, Newton was a shady oil speculator who had previously been arrested for grand larceny. The agency claimed in official documents that Newton's claims were "hogwash." But, of course, that's what the feds would say in the case of a cover-up.

Debate 2012: Ten things you don't know about the University of Denver

Newton's DU lecture had legs, though. So much so that his story was prominently featured in an early bestselling book on UFOs, Frank Scully's

Behind the Flying Saucers

. Scully, incidentally, was the namesake of

The X Files

' Dana Scully. Never mind that there was no proof of said spacecraft or its diminutive pilots.

9. DU was once the home of an avowed Nazi In late 1940, Karl Scheuring was an eighteen-year-old student at the University of Denver. The fact that he was German was nothing abnormal; spend a day walking around campus, and you'll likely hear a variety of languages and dialects spoken. The fact that Herr Scheuring was, according to a New York Times article, an "avowed Nazi" who "has remained here as a student and has engaged in public speaking activities, presenting the Nazi point of view," was a problem, however. So the Department of Justice asked him to leave: "We do not know that young Scheuring is not engaged in subversive activities.... We do know that young Germans abroad, if they are good Nazis, do what they are told."

Interestingly, the same NYT piece highlights another, more notable German who was also being asked to leave: Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, a close friend of Hitler (!) who also happened to be Jewish spy (!!).

8. DU was involved in Vietnam-era protests In May 1970, National Guardsmen stormed the University of Denver campus, armed with (unloaded) rifles and hellbent on stifling a nascent uprising at what some called "Woodstock Nation West."

"A war protesters' shantytown was torn down for the second time since Monday," reads a contemporary newspaper account of the incident. This was no Occupy-like tent city, though; when law enforcement showed up, they hauled away ten tons of construction materials that had been amassed on the campus lawn. In a large display of force that equaled what today would be one-tenth of the entire student body, a thousand armed servicemen took control of the village and threatened to arrest anyone who tried to rebuild it. Afterward, students planted flowers in the fire pits that protesters had left when their shantytown was demolished.

Continue reading for more of our ten things you don't know about DU.   7. DU tries to personally interview every potential undergraduate Ammi Hyde was a DU professor whom students apparently loved dearly. The school named its unique interview program in honor of Dr. Hyde; it's one of the very few universities in the country that strives to meet would-be students prior to enrollment. Kids living out in the hinterlands are still given full consideration, even if they can't make it to the twenty cities DU visits in the fall and winter.

6. DU has one of the highest observatories in the world While most folks who are familiar with DU know of its lacrosse and hockey teams, or its business, international studies and law schools, the school also maintains what was, until 2000, the highest astronomical observatory in the world. (An observatory in India now holds the title.) Dubbed the Meyer-Womble Observatory, it sits near the peak of 14,000-plus foot Mt. Evans -- a peak named for DU's founder. You can visit the observatory by driving the highest paved road in North America, but good luck getting into the actual building -- gaining access to the observatory is tough if you're not a student or researcher, and even then, it's only open to visitors for two months in the summer.

5. DU has its share of power players Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be the biggest celebrity to come out of the University of Denver, but she's certainly not the only one. While most of the school's notable students and professors wind up in politics, its stars are a mixed bag of intellectuals and athletes. To wit: figure skating champion Michelle Kwan, who got her degree in international studies from DU; Josef Korbel, who founded the international school and was both the father of Secretary of State Madeline Albright and mentor to Secretary Rice; former Interior Secretary Gale Norton; the presidents/CEOs of VISA, Toyota, Best Buy, Coors Brewing and Hard Rock Cafe; comedian Sinbad; playwright Neil Simon; and finally, Candid Camera host Peter Funt.

Debate 2012: Ten things you don't know about the University of Denver

4. DU used to be downtown Downtown Denver was not always the Disneyfied, sanitized bucket of fun you experience on the 16th Street Mall. In the 1870s and 1880s, prostitution and corruption were so bad that the newly founded University of Denver (formerly known as the Colorado Seminary) had to be moved to a patch of farmland south of town owned by one Rufus "Potato" Clark. The Evans Chapel that formerly sat at the corner of 14th and Arapahoe Streets remained intact, and is now located on campus near the corner of Evans and University.

Continue reading for more fun facts.  

Magness Arena at the University of Denver, site of the debate.
Magness Arena at the University of Denver, site of the debate.

3. DU students travel A walk across DU's campus can feel like a visit to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, with a mishmash of cultures, languages and overheard travel stories bandied about constantly. Indeed, DU welcomes many foreign nationals to study there, but just as important, the school sends its own Pioneers abroad. "Where'd you go this summer?" is a frequently asked conversation-starter heard every fall. And the answers are typically enviable, with a full 70 percent of undergraduates leaving the country annually, as of 2010.

2. DU people invent stuff The next time you feel your nerves coursing with nerd-juice, take a gander at Google Patents. There you'll find all manner of odd creations, many of which have been made by University of Denver folks. What sort of inventions have come from the minds of Pioneers? For starters, there is a patent for electric-heated clothing for diabetics. Then there is a newfangled hockey net, for which a patent was assigned to DU. And lastly there is DU grad Charles Winter, who may or may not have invented the "boot" used to immobilize cars worldwide. (Note: DU's website conflicts with other sources, most of which say one Frank Marugg, a former Colorado Symphony Orchestra violinist, invented the boot.)

1. DU has a better nightlife scene than any other Colorado university What you gonna do about it, Boulder?

More from our Politics archive: "Michael Hancock has called and texted man planning to sue city, attorney says."

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