Unseen Wesleyan: Penthousing

The labyrinth of tunnels beneath the carefully manicured landscape of Wesleyan has inspired the imagination and indulgence of many generations of students. There is always something about the Forbidden that beckons.


One of the pieces you pick up; profound life quote from a concerned well-meaning trespasser, perhaps after one too many Bloody Marys. Photo courtesy of Andy Tan ’21.

Yet there is one secret that our campus holds to which many may not be privy to. Above Level 6 of Exley Science Centre lies a Penthouse, where lies a large swathe of treasures, and other glamorous junk. Professor Ellen Thomas affectionately coined the term “penthousing”, meaning the activity of purging the space of decade-old decaying items, in search of the next star exhibit.

A significant portion of the former Wesleyan Museum’s collections were flung into the Penthouse of Exley upon its completion in 1970, while others continued to collect dust in the Foss Hill tunnels since the museum’s resolution in 1957. In the summer of 2017, students working on the inventory of museum objects first started to look around that penthouse, and found the first evidence for the existence of our now famous Glyptodon – its tail.


Lost meandering down the hallways of reminiscences. How many chapters of Wesleyan history do these halls keep? Photo courtesy of Andy Tan ’21.

The interesting thing about unseen spaces is that people who have access to them often put very little effort into making them presentable. In the penthouse lies a ludicrous number of expensive old scientific equipment in what some of the museum Inner Circle calls “Scientific Purgatory” – atoning for the sins of being outdated in hope of exodus some day in future. These include a sonar imaging device, x-ray tubes, and distillation contraptions – any brewers out there?

Even so, the Penthouse is chock full of other little treats, and some not-so-little ones. We found by a bit of an accident, a beautiful skull that belonged to some kind of elephant relative. The identity of the animal that had it is still a mystery to us. Some are whispering about how it looks suspiciously similar to the skull of a baby Mastodon, especially in view of its teeth – we’ll keep you posted. Stay tuned.


The Penthouse of Exley is one of the many hidden storage spaces of treasures at Wesleyan. Recently, a gorgeous elephant skull came out of storage in Shanklin. Note the flat-topped teeth used for grinding. Photo courtesy of Andy Tan ’21.


Cover photo: Cage lock and stray crates in the Penthouse of Exley. Andy Tan ’21.