The idealism and optimism of the previous decade became a receding memory with each bank failure, mortgage foreclosure, and failed business. However, the full degrading articulation of the Great Depression would continue until the start of World War II. For most American citizens it was a strange, frightening time, full of human struggle and pain, and everything in American society was affected by the deepening instability. However, the impact upon the state of Maine, on the whole, was not that different from what most “Mainers” had experienced for some time: “Mainers who lived through the Depression often recalled that they were already so poor that they didn’t even notice it. In fact, many Maine industries were already suffering before the impact of the stock market crash began to reverberate through the rest of the economy.”
In the midst of this severe chronic depression, an uncertain future, a catchy, upbeat song, “The Maine Stein Song,” was recorded by a former University of Maine student and S.A.E. fraternity brother, Rudy Vallee and his band, The Connecticut Yankees. It was the number one song in the United States for ten weeks for good reason. It pushed back against the growing despair and hopelessness that was only increasing in the United States. Rhythmically and melodically, it gave cause for optimism, if nothing else. It evoked nostalgia of a better time, a time apart, in the United States, in a silly yet meaningful way, during a time that was always anxious and tense. It lifted the veil of despair with its emotional intensity cheeky lyrics, if just a little. This, in part, is one way that music has impacted people through history. The “Maine Stein Song” certainly fulfilled the spirit of Robert Frost’s statement about poetry in when he said it was a “momentary stay against confusion.”
Separate and distinct from that, historically speaking, it is the only time that a university song was the number one song in the United States. And, fraternally speaking, Rudy Vallee often sang Phi Gamma Delta songs over the radio to an appreciative American audience. In lyric and melody, discouraged Americans were lifted by songs about the University of Maine and Phi Gamma Delta. After an intramural basketball game against Beta in 1931, the brothers returned The Castle for a meal, and while they were eating “The Maine Stein Song” started playing on the radio, and the brothers stood and raised their glasses and started singing with impressive Omega Mu pride. As we all know, this is not an exaggerated instance: we still do this now. Raise the Steins
In the minds eye of many people, the incongruence nature of what was occurring, compared with the pulsating nature of the nineteen-twenties, was like drinking a cup of hemlock and dying painfully, spasmodically, over an extended period of time. Those were the harsh realities of the world for many in the nineteen thirties, and everyone was impacted in some way, and it was not a socratic, noble death for some higher cause, virtue, or salvation. It was an uninvited, long-suffering pain for twelve years that would begin to end only with the start of World War II. Dorris Kearns Goodwin encapsulated it best when she said it was “No Ordinary Time.” The good life that most had known was temporarily eclipsed, but the resurrecting presence, voice, and words of President Roosevelt, if not his economic policies, would determinatively lead America through the day-to-day economic brutality of the Great Depression after he was elected President of the United States in 1932.
Life could not have been wholly pleasant for our Omega Mu brothers during the Great depression, it would be a delusion to think otherwise. However, the privations they experienced were, certainly, far fewer than most, but they certainly existed. The noisy bustle in The Castle continued, and the brothers did whatever was necessary for The Castle. Like every previous generation of Omega Mu brothers, they knew that there was no on-off button of responsibility; they did not retreat from past successes; they only looked forward to doing it again in everything they did. The events of ’24-’25 were still fresh for them, and they knew that The Castle was a generationally rich gift and inheritance for them and all brothers in the future, and for that they were unabashedly proud to be living in The Castle with its dark woodwork and plush leather chairs and couches in the library and living room. The daily attire was a little more formal with shirt, tie, nice slacks, jacket, blazer, or sweater
“For past and present visions, for future dreams held high…”
Meals were served in the dinning room on the long wood tables, and the talk and limerick-readings, as usual, were lively and laughter-filled, and the irrepressible wit and rich embroidery of stories and sagas and anecdotes were smile-inducing. Whimsical fraternal pranks in the RAM were common, many of the brothers were involved with various musical groups on campus, and they would, at times, sing in the house with the accompaniment of our piano. The brothers had wonderful formal and informal dances in The Castle, on many occasions with an orchestra, and this would continue until the early Sixties.
In addition, their was an initiation banquet for the newly initiated brothers that was quite elegant in the early Thirties.
To say the least, their life in The Castle was very comfortable, as it was for each of us, an enduring moment in our life. The brothers continued to fare well with in all athletic, artistic, civic, and intellectual affairs. Winslow L. Jones and Harry Moyer were initiated into Tau Beta Pi, the national honorary engineering society. William Roche was a star on the varsity debating team. Neil Calderwood was initiated into Delta Pi Kappa, the honorary musical society. William Bratton was elected editor of The Prism, and he was inducted into the honorary journalistic society, Kappa Gamma Phi. Neil Calderwood was admitted into the musical society, Delta Phi Kappa. Frank Hagan was admitted into the education society, Kappa Phi Kappa. Bill Pond, Fred Roberts, and Silas Bates were initiated into the honorary engineering society, Tau Beta Pi. Norman O. Porter was elected editor-in-chief of the Campus, the position that Otto Swickert held two years earlier. William Roche was initiated into Phi Sigma, the honorary biological society. Stanley D. Henderson, house president, was nominated for consideration for consideration as a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship, and he was the star pitcher on the University of Maine baseball team.
Graduate brothers regularly visited the undergraduate brothers in The Castle and provided them with encouraging words for success were Dean Paul Cloke, Dean James N. Hart, Alpheus C. Lyon, Frank Fellows, Raymond Fellows, and Theodore S. Curtis. Ted Curtis played a significant advisory role in the building of Memorial Gym in 1933, and in the following year he became Omega Mu’s Purple Legionnaire, and he coached the ski team. The Mount Vernon House, the last Q.T.V. chapter house, burned down in 1933.
The undergraduate brothers were in good hands with the presence of these graduate brothers as they helped them assume responsibility for the continued well-being of the chapter because they confronted challenges and carried things through to achieve success. They were each unique, remarkable men, and they had a single-minded commitment to health and well-being of the undergraduates brothers and The Castle. Their feelings were strong for all things Omega Mu, and that spirit never slackened, and their generosity of time and money was renown, in clear continuity with our past. Their presence showed that our Omega Mu fraternal bond, in historical range and richness, is lasting and deep of heart: an imperishable gift. It revealed that the manner of life in our brotherhood was a generational community of brothers who continue to care about each other and The Castle, and as such, underscoring the proud vigorous spirit of “Not for college days alone.” Everything these graduate brothers did faithfully reflected what Newton D. Baker wrote about the nature of fraternity.
Harry E. Sutton, ’09, was the first University of Maine alumni to receive the Pine Tree Fiji for outstanding service to The University of Maine General Alumni Association. James M. Eaton, ’10, was a prominent leader in the aviation industry, and in the Thirties he made aviation history when he established the Ludington Line that provided airline service between New York to Washington, D.C.
The Department of Interior named a crater in honor of brother George P. Merrill, 1879, in 1933.
During their spare moments, the brothers listened their combination radio-phonograph and were aware of everything that was occurring in American culture. The musicians that the brothers listened to were remarkable: Count Basie, Artie Shaw, George and Ira Gershwin, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Cole Porter, and many others.
The songs that they heard over the radios or on the jukeboxes that were in every bar or pizza joint were “Mood Indigo,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Let’s fall in Love,” “Stormy Weather,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “They Can’t Take that from Me.” They would also have heard the promising voice of a singer by the name of Francis Albert Sinatra in 1939 who was making a name for himself, and who would influence the singing careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore, and Doris Day.
“When a Skinny Singer Crooned to Knock Your Bobby Socks Off”
In the world of sports they would have read or heard how West Virginia beat Cedarville College 127-0 in football in 1932; that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson were the first five baseball players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936; that War Admiral won the Triple Crown in horse racing in 1937 and then lost to a charging Seabiscuit in the 1938; that the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1939, and that Lou Gehrig played his last game on April 30th, 1939. Certainly they would have gone to see the smash hit movie in 1939, The Wizard of Oz, and while they were out they may have purchased the first copies of Superman and Batman comic books, or John Steinbeck’s powerful novel of the Dust Bowl, The Grapes of Wrath, or As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
“The Romans read places like faces, as outward revelations of living inner spirit. Each place had its own Genius.”
Together, in The Castle during the turbulent, anxious decade of the Thirties, our Omega Mu brothers flourished. Smiling and laughing, good-natured and full of fun, our Omega Mu brothers had an unparalleled fraternal life within the most charming architectural shape, form, and space of our beloved Castle during the Thirties. They lived and grew in self-confidence, personally, fraternally, civically, athletically, and they established friendships that endured for life. Their fraternal life was replete with joy and gladness, happiness and good cheer, which is as it should be. The hardships they endured were real, and no doubt they flinched a little at the privations they experienced due to the depression, but it certainly was not a hardscrabble life. They maintained a fraternal attitude that was comic, committed, reminiscent, ribald, ritually reverent, and connective. Line by line, word by word, ritual by ritual, enthusiasm to enthusiasm, smile by smile, it was bracing and honest: a lifetime treasure. That is the seedbed of Genius of Omega Mu, our rich Omega Mu heritage, that we can all agree upon. The Castle, then as well as now, is a warm and well-loved presence in all of our lives regardless what the nature of the world was in each decade. For the brothers living in The Castle during the Thirties, the world order they knew would change, once again, at the beginning of the next decade, and it would be an equally nerve-raking, complicated decade as the economic jumble of the Great Depression. Our chin-up and chin-forward attitude would continue as we entered the Forties.
Globally speaking, in the face of both evils of Germany and Japan, America had maintained an isolationist approach toward the complicated and diabolical events that had occurred in Asia and Europe, but on December 7th, 1941, at 7:49 AM, that primal energy would be unleashed on the United States by the Japanese when Lieutenant Commander Mitsuo Fucida ordered his pilots to bomb Pearl Harbor, shouting to them, “Tora, Tora, Tora.”
In his memoirs Fucida wrote:
“One hour and forty minutes after leaving the carriers I knew that we should be nearing our goal. Small openings in the thick cloud cover afforded occasional glimpses of the ocean. . . . Suddenly a long white line of breaking surf appeared directly beneath my plane. It was the northern shore of Oahu. Veering right toward the west coast of the island, we could see that the sky over Pearl Harbor was clear. Presently the harbor itself became visible across the central Oahu plain, a film of morning mist hovering over it. I peered intently through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to be seen. It was 0749 when I ordered the attack. [The radioman] immediately began tapping out the pre-arranged code signal: “TO, TO, TO . . .
The next day America’s isolationism ended when President Roosevelt declared war against Japan and Germany, and with fraternal commitment and enthusiasm, many of our brothers would soon be in uniform fighting in the European and Asian theaters of war with fortitude and resolution, proudly so.
Chip Chapman, ’82