Debunking Hillman’s dirtiest secret

Kate Koenig | Visual Editor

Playboy Magazine once ranked Hillman Library’s first floor as one of the best places in the country to meet women.

Fact or fiction?

Urban legends already hold a special place in our culture — Bigfoot, Goatman, Johnny Appleseed — but how does something that is published become an urban legend? Like a hare to the fox, the answer is quite elusive.

The legend tying Hillman Library to Playboy comes in a few forms, from the first floor being the best, or one of the top places, to meet women, or more vaguely, the best place to “interact with the opposite sex.” The fact that the legend itself is hard to define foreshadows its uncertainty.

Now, with insight from both Hillman’s archives and Playboy itself, we can close the book on the legend  — sort of.

Playboy has, in fact, previously ranked college libraries as top places in the country to meet women. University of Wisconsin’s College Library made the list in 1994 and Florida State University’s Strozier Library in 1990. So the real question is, did Hillman Library ever really make the list?

The earliest published online mention of Pitt’s sexiest legend is, ironically, on The Pitt News’ website from a 2002 “Best of …” edition, in which the library was named “Best Place to Study.” Hillman’s supposed Playboy connection is tacked onto the beginning of the blurb before going into the building’s studying merits.

The Google search’s next hit  brings up, rather inexplicably, in a forum for the Dodge Charger car model. The legend is mentioned under Charger Chat Lounge, in the “Blasts from the past!” archive, where a member with the username Gladiator quoted the “Best of …” piece verbatim on May 8, 2011.

Perhaps the most recent clue comes from a Pitt-focused article titled “The Best Study Spots on Pitt’s Campus that Aren’t in Hillman Library” on Pitt’s Her Campus website, published Oct. 17, 2012. The author quotes the legend in a paragraph about her and her friends’ studying being interrupted by men in Hillman, but there’s a slight twist.

The line reads, “There is an urban legend that at one point Playboy ranked Hillman as one of the top places in the country to meet and interact with the opposite sex,” which changes the legend from meeting women, specifically.

This detail also appears on Niche, a school-review website headquartered in Pittsburgh, where it is listed on Pitt’s page under “Urban Legends” as “meet someone of the opposite sex.” The same line can be found in the College Prowler series of guidebooks — the company that would later become Niche — published July 1, 2012.

It’s likely that Her Campus got the change from here or word of mouth and published months later. The writer, Alex Riccardi, couldn’t offer much of an explanation either, saying she found it “online somewhere.”

Niche also lists the first floor of Hillman as one of the University’s “Popular Places To Chill.” But in a poll lower on the page asking, “What is the most interesting urban legend about campus,” none of 18 responses mentioned Playboy.

As for a paper trail, the results are just as dry. A search at Hillman Library’s help desk found no results connecting Hillman Library — or Pitt for that matter — and Playboy. Even an inquiry to the library’s archives was null.

Zachary Brodt, a University archivist, only raised more questions.

“I was unaware of this claim, but the few references I did find categorized it as an urban legend,” Brodt said in an email. “I could find no mention of this in any digitized Pitt publications, but if anyone would have covered this it would have been The Pitt News. Unfortunately, while it has been scanned, we have no way of searching the content at this time.”

For a campus legend involving one of America’s most notorious publications, Hillman’s brush with Playboy doesn’t seem very popular, at least within Hillman itself.

So what did Playboy have to say about it?

“Unfortunately our library search did not come up with anything to confirm this,” Christie Hartmann, the senior photo archivist for Playboy Enterprises Inc., said in an email. “Although that doesn’t mean it didn’t run at some point.”

University spokesperson John Fedele also came up empty.

“I have not heard of it,” Fedele said in an email. “And we don’t have any facts or figures to back that claim up.”

“Club Hillman” describes Hillman’s descent from academic environment to social setting, usually during finals week, with The Pitt News even headlining a story with it. Perhaps this idea of the library as social hangout betrays a connection between the legend and the phrase? Unfortunately, no, a search at the library found no link between the legend and the moniker.

Kristen Tideman, the official Club Hillman Facebook group administrator, said the Playboy legend did not inspire the Facebook group.

“We were just a group of [first years] who went to Hillman all the time, and I wanted an easier way for us to tell one another where we were,” Tideman said. “But I would probably agree that most students on the first floor aren’t there to study seriously, so I guess the legend doesn’t surprise me.”

Other students would beg to differ. Courtney Oliver, a junior biology major on a pre-med track, said she hasn’t had a guy ask her for her number in Hillman — and couldn’t imagine such an interaction.

“I feel like in Hillman there’s a lot of different people with different interests,” she said, “and as a result of that, it’s difficult to meet someone with mutual interests.”

With neither Pitt nor Playboy able to confirm or deny the legend, the story lives on, but just as that — a story.

For now, until any concrete evidence surfaces, the legend connecting our Hillman Library to Playboy-approved sex appeal should be reclassified as a myth. Or possibly a bad joke.

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