“Spiritualization of Matter”
Louis Sullivan considered architecture as the “spiritualization of matter.” I have always taken his statement to mean that good architecture is hallowing in that it creates an enduring atmosphere that is heart-raising, and living in the house enriched our lives. I could not agree more. I have always believed that matter and spirit are one. Yes, I do love Spinoza and panentheism. And, in the case of the graduate and undergraduate brothers in ’24-’25, that belief is well-founded. Their spiritual sweat equity was real; it permeates every inch of our grand home.That spirit was evident, literally and intuitively, in The Castle when it was completed in 1925, and it has remained so for 120 years now. The compositional union of the grounds and the house give a sense of well-being, and it continues to resonate that very quality now. It safe to say that assert that our Omega Mu brotherhood wanted to create the preeminent architectural fraternity house at the University of Maine, and it still is. The Castle created, and continues to create, a sense of connection and compassion that cuts deep into our collective fraternal heart, mind, soul, and memory to lasting effect that will never wither and fade.
The Castle has been a gift to each of us and our fraternal life since 1899, and we are thankful that we were all on the receiving end of such a gift. What could have been a lament in 1924 became a covenantal commitment of recovery to move forward and becoming even stronger because the wheel of time only goes forward and never back. The cross-generation chain of events that occurred was extraordinary. They did not exhibit the despairing outlook like Eliot’s “Hollow men” in spiritedly addressing what needed done and then doing to. None of them had clay feet. Maybe all of them had read and been inspired by this statement in the 1917 Prism:
With unequalled fraternal energy and devotion, they went from destruction to renewal. We can thank the humble yet daring leadership commitment of graduate brothers C.W. Mullen, Hosea B. Buck, Joseph F. Gould, George H. Hamlin, Charles E. Mullin, and all the undergraduate brothers, for guiding the transition to 79 College Avenue with their discriminative and discerning eyes set on our fraternal future. After the graduate brothers donated the land for upon which our Castle would be built, significant financial contributions were raised from the brotherhood, and then bold and meticulous architectural plans were drawn up the architectural firm of Crowell and Lancaster. They were superbly intelligent architects, and they knew they wanted to make a building that was beautifully proportioned in exhibiting the classic architectural cohesion of an English Tudor style home without excessive ornamentation, just clean sweeping vertical and horizontal lines that are visually pleasing to the eye.
Construction commenced with acute coordination and attention to detail to build our splendid fraternal home. As fraternal providence would have it, our esteemed brother, George Hamlin, surveyed the property upon which The Castle would be built, and then he supervised the construction of the Castle to its successful completion. The undergraduate brothers were consistently present from start to finish in participating in the process, and in doing so they established our Omega Mu paradigm of commitment: “Hundred Up.” The superior craftsmanship of The Castle shows that in the darker, thornier times of our fraternal history, when whirlwind changes occur, fluid fraternal lines and precise vision and transformative intentions have always moved us tirelessly forward by unyielding fraternal common consent, with guiding power and purpose. Our graduate and undergraduate brothers certainly succeeded, splendidly so. It was hard-won, but it was done collectively like an orchestra creating the most harmonically attractive, emotionally affecting, fraternity house on College Avenue, and it remains an affecting sight today. The effect of the finished architectural space of The Castle on all the brothers who have lived in The Castle since its completion is incalculable in terms of fraternal well-being, joy, contentment, and happiness, and that is the overriding triumph of any great building. From every generational point of view, the fraternal good of Omega Mu is no secret, and with our fine-tuned fraternal focus, the preservation of The Castle, and the perpetuation of our Omega Mu brotherhood into the future, is assured. We have always been a spirited, hopeful, industrious brotherhood, and that wealth is immeasurable. To use the spirit of Colonel Strong Vincent’s order to Colonel Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top on July 2nd, 1863, at Gettysburg, “Hazard all costs and hold this ground.” We will do the same for the future of our brotherhood and The Castle, and that is assured.
Our graduate and undergraduate brothers certainly succeeded, splendidly so. It was hard-won, but it was accomplished collectively like an orchestra creating the most harmonically attractive, emotionally affecting, fraternity house on College Avenue, and it remains an affecting sight to this day. Le Corbusier was right, architecture can help change the life of people, and in 1925 our brothers moved into the new house and did not look back. They were filled, no doubt, with estate joy to walk through the front door of our beautiful home. That were happily home! The life-threatening dashes into our flame-consumed house were a distant memory as they walked into the historic dignity of the new home in 1925 with the same down-to-earth fraternal good that had guided Omega Mu since 1899. Our graduate and undergraduate brothers clearly understood the truth of I. M. Pei's statement about historic memory: “I believe one owes it to one’s own existence to leave something behind that will last.” Our Castle has lasted in its service to our brotherhood for the last 120 years, an everlasting classic.
The emerging social, cultural, and political harmonies and rhythms of the nineteen-twenties were charming and liberating, as well as forbiddingly scary and apocalyptically destructive, and the impact of each would be felt by our Omega Mu brothers who moved into The Castle in 1925. Because they had each participated in the construction process, it must have deeply rewarding to walk in and sit loose and casual in the leather chairs and couches in the living room and library, light a briar pipe, and sigh with satisfaction at their collective accomplishment that they had persevered and not been weak-willed in creating their-our-graceful, attractive home. “Whew!” they must thought. Just another testimony of our enduring fraternal chain of visionary response.
Like the historically rich, interwoven variables that shaped, moved, rocked, and changed and challenged the nineteen-sixties, the twenties were a decade of equal visceral excitement, and penetrating and sweeping evolutionary growth and change, and deep joy and pain. As our brothers sat in The Castle, they probably listened to the new technological marvel that entered the world in 1920, the radio. They would have heard the election returns of the 1924 election when Calvin Coolidge beat Robert LaFollette and John Davis for the presidency,
and they very well might have listened to each and every radio broadcast of the Scopes Monkey Trial that was occurring in Dayton, Tennessee, in the summer of 1925, and Dayton was called “The Buckle of the Bible-Belt.” Although they probably did not know it, a Rutger’s Fiji, Dr. J. G. Lipman, was called by Clarence Darrow for the defense to give pertinent evidence on the evident truth of evolution, but Judge John Raulston from Fiery Gizzard, Tennessee, prohibited all such witnesses for the defense.
Just as Willett Barrett liked to sing songs in the house before serving our country in World War I, most assuredly the brothers in the twenties and thirties sang the new songs by Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, and Irving Berlin. Porter’s “I Get a Kick out of You” would have been one of those lyrically easy songs to be sung with particular intensity, just as it is today with all of us:
“I get no kick from champagne.
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all.
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you.”
Unforgettable books were written the 20’s: The Great Gatsby, Babbitt, Farewell to Arms, and The Sound and the Fury. Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in “The Spirit of St. Louis” and landed outside of Paris in 1927. Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen” played their last game together in the 1925 Rose Bowl. The 1927 Yankees had a stellar 110-44 season, and Babe Ruth had a record setting home-run season. The Harlem Globetrotters were formed by Abe Saperstein in 1927. The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1929. Alphonse “Scarface” Capone reigned supreme in Chicago and “Lucky” Luciano was top boss in New York. The Klan politically controlled seven states, but the creative spark of the Harlem Renaissance would start the counter-narrative that would lead to social, artistic, and political equality in the following decades. Jazz music spread from New Orleans to Chicago, Washington, and New York. Jazz influenced clothing styles, broke racial barriers in clubs like the Cotton Club and the Apollo where patrons sat together to hear Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Duke Ellington, and it influenced the new dance styles like the "Charleston," the "Foxtrot," and the "Lindy Hop.”
World leadership changed ominously in the 20’s: Joseph Stalin defeated Trotsky and became the new leader of Russia; Benito Mussolini established totalitarian control over Italy in 1925; and Adolph Hitler became head of the Nazis party in 1921. And, then, on October 29th, 1929, “Black Thursday” hit Wall Street, and the decade ended unquietly with a long-running economic shadow that would sweep across the nation and around the world and saturate the lives of people with souless despair. On this shattering historic note, the nineteen-twenties came to a close. Through it all, our Omega Mu brothers lived, grew, and enjoyed the benefits of brotherhood in the new Castle by persisting and persevering in giving their all for the house, each other, and the University of Maine. Certainly, the Ancient Glittering Eyes” of our Q.T.V. brothers’ were smiling in pride because of their continuing efforts. That is the spirit of fraternal union that generates fraternal good will and uncommon loyalty.
Devotional and steadfast are just two words that come to my mind when I think about Omega Mu. Brother-to-brother, generation-to-generation, decade-to-decade, century-to-century-to-century, these words have always defined us a brotherhood in movement toward our future with no shifting affection in essence, form, and historic meaning. This home of ours is filled with all of our memories, remembrances, and conversations since 1925. We are one unmatched brotherhood and fraternal home, in spirit and material fact, literally, at 79 College Avenue. But it’s more, much more, when we are all there together.
Chip Chapman, ’82
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