Sunday, May 04, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Albion, Sigma Chi and fraternity shenanigans

Albion shows its billboard, not its town.
Albion, Michigan might be a lovely place. I've not had the pleasure of visiting yet.

But it’s generally a bad sign when the postcard telling the world about your town is a photo of the billboard telling the world about your town, rather than actual scenes from the town.

The back reads: “Albion was first settled about 1825. It is located in the center of the State at the heart of Southern Michigan’s industrial belt. Albion is a residential, educational, retail, agricultural and industrial community. It is the home of Albion College which is recognized as one of the outstanding small, four-year, Christian liberal arts colleges in the nation.”

Albion is between Jackson and Battle Creek along the I-94 corridor. The billboard itself is perplexing. We see “Oil fields, industry, home of Albion College.” But wafting in the clouds is “’The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Sweetheart of Sigma Chi’ composed here.’”

OK, now I’m hooked. This might get me in trouble, but churches and fraternities don’t always go hand in hand and this town inspired songs about both.

Let’s investigate.

The often-accurate Wikipedia tells us that technically, only the first verse of “The Old Rugged Cross” was written in Albion. Add an asterisk to the billboard, please, or add “Part of…” before the song title.

Wikipedia tells us that Methodist evangelist George Bennard wrote the first verse of "The Old Rugged Cross" in Albion in the fall of 1912 “as a response to ridicule which he received at a revival meeting.”

So the scoreboard shows Bennard 1, Hecklers 0, since the completed song went on to be a standard that is still sung by choirs today. He wins!

“Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” is more complicated.

Again, Wikipedia tells us that the tune is one of the most beloved and popular college fraternity songs. Written in 1911 by students Byron D. Stokes and F. Dudleigh Vernor, the tune became a favorite of ballroom orchestras and was used in two movie musicals.

Hold on, because here’s where things get hinky.

When asked about the song's inspiration, Stokes replied, ‘The “Sweetheart” is the symbol for the spiritual ingredient in brotherhood. It was the Sigma Chi Fraternity itself that inspired the song. I wrote the words not long after my initiation, and the magic of our Ritual with its poetic overtones and undertones was, I suppose, the source of my inspiration’.”

So, if I’m reading this correctly, the sweetheart is not a girl, but a bunch of guys and he was inspired the magic of their rituals.

I went to the University of Missouri in the 1980s, not Albion in the 1910s. But the frat rituals I saw seemed to involve beer, paddles, beer, public humiliation, beer and wearing sweatpants with Greek letters sewn across the butt. 

Yes, I proudly lived in the dorms where our rituals involved playing “Purple Rain” and finding any excuse to visit the girls’ floors above us. I did introduce many Midwesterners to Twisted Sister. There may have been public humiliation associated with all of that, too, but we didn't sing about it.

I know you’re curious, so here are the lyrics:

When the world goes wrong, as it's bound to do
And you've broken Dan Cupid's bow
And you long for the girl you used to love
the maid of the long ago

Wait. Dan Cupid? Who the heck is that? Cupid has a first name? Does his business card say “Daniel Cupid, archer/matchmaker?” But I digress.

Why light your pipe, bid sorrow avaunt,
Blow the smoke from your alter of dreams
And wreathe the face of your dream-girl there
The love that is just what it seems.

Not that I ever indulged in this but, the pipe-smoking in college frats of the 1980's was probably different, though dreams were no doubt altered.

The girl of my dreams is the sweetest girl
Of all the girls I know
Each sweet co-ed, like a rainbow trail
Fades in the after glow

“Each sweet co-ed like a rainbow trail?” I went to a frat party once. There was a lot of drinking. I didn't see any rainbow trails, but I did see Technicolor yawns.

The blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair
Are a blend of the western sky

Albion is west of Detroit, but I'm not sure I'd ever refer to it as being in the west.

And the moonlight beams
On the girl of my dreams
She's the Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

The girl of my dreams is the sweetest girl
Of all the girls I know
Our sweet romance
Like a timeless dance
Dwells in my heart and soul

The love in her eyes and the warmth of her smile
Endure as the years go by
And the moon still beams
On the girl of my dreams
Like a bright shining star in the sky
My sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

Well, um, OK. Keep in mind, this is all about rituals and brotherhood. I still like Purple Rain better.

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