Fifty-two years ago tonight, 23 young men accepted bids like this one to become pledges of Zeta Omicron Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity.
ATO was the newest and most vital fraternity on the Indiana State College (later Indiana State University) campus and I was proud to be invited to be part of it.
I don’t remember much about that night, but I do recall that we signed cards declaring ourselves to be white Christians. (ATO was founded at Virginia Military Institute where Stonewall Jackson taught and the three founders fought on the Confederate side in the Battle of New Market.) The white Christian clause is long gone today.
We were each presented with a pledge pin that featured design elements from the central panel of the badge worn by active members: a gold crescent moon over three gold stars on a disc of white enamel.
It was to be worn on the upper left chest of any shirt with a collar whenever we were out in public for the duration of our pledgeship, which lasted until late March.
The occasion was called “preference night” when each of the six or seven fraternities on campus accepted their pledges and as was the custom, each fraternity paraded its new pledge class through the Grill, a casual cafeteria in the Tirey Memorial Union Building. Then we went upstairs to one of the lounges where we were photographed for the rotogravure section of the Terre Haute newspaper.
That’s me in the chair on the left of the front row. Three guys dropped out during the pledgeship period and their faces are blacked out in the photo, their names lost to history.
Afterward, we were driven to a union hall along U.S. 40 east of Terre Haute in the little town of Seeleyville where the actives got us all very very drunk. My most vivid memory of that part of the evening was watching Alan Freeman, the fourth guy to my left in the front row, chug beer, sucking it out of the can faster than it could be poured. A local boy, Al clearly had some drinking experience. (He now lives in his ancestral home of Lithuania.)
We surrendered our pledge pins when were initiated into active membership. I have one now only because I found it a few years ago on Ebay. Maybe I’ll pin it to my shirt at 7 o’clock this evening.
And, yes, it was all very much like Animal House.