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Published in The Phi Gamma Delta
Volume 64, Number 2 , November 1941

Seventy Five Years at Columbia

Omega, Our Second Chapter East of Alleghenies, Is
Rounding Out Rich Three-Quarters of Century

By Reed Harris (Columbia 1932)
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The years just following the War Between the States were restless ones on college campuses. Men who had left academic life to fight on the battlefields of Bull Run and Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chickamauga were returning to classes for the first time in 1865 and 1866. Others had forgotten college to travel westward and join the gold rush to the Alaskan Klondike.

In that restless atmosphere, new ideas appeared on all sides and one of the signs of the times was the establishment of new fraternity chapters in many colleges. Phi Gamma Delta came East of the Blue Ridge for the first time in 1865, when Upsilon Chapter was founded at the College of the City of New York. Upsilon was only a few weeks old when its members began to talk of sponsoring new chapters at neighboring colleges.

Charles Henry Smith, an enthusiastic member of Upsilon, transferred to Columbia in the fall of 1865 to become a member of the law school class of 1867. His interest in Phi Gamma Delta prompted him to look about for outstanding Columbia men who might be interested in joining a new organization, rather than one of the three long-established and powerful fraternities then nearly monopolizing Columbia's old 49th Street campus.

PETITION QUICKLY GRANTED

In Isaac Baker Barrett, 1870; Edward Bayard Smith, 1869; Frank Nosworthy Sheppard, 1869, and John Valentine Hecker, 1870, Charles Henry Smith felt he had found the men he was searching for. In the fall of 1866, the five men submitted a petition to the Grand Chapter, asking for the establishment of a chapter at Columbia. The petition, supported by Upsilon Chapter, was quickly granted and on November 27, 1866, Omega came into being.

It was a brave venture, founding a new fraternity chapter at Columbia just then. Already, fraternities had come and gone, including chapters of Alpha Delta Phi, Chi Psi and Phi Kappa Sigma. The three older fraternities had things very much their own way and Omega's founders knew they would have to fight it out with the newer fraternities for the few eligibles who escaped the clutches of the big three - then Psi Upsilon, Delta Phi and Delta Psi.

But there was clearly something in the air that year that stimulated new ideas. It was in 1866 that the trustees of Columbia College first spread upon their minutes a proposal to move the 112-year old institution from 49th Street to some fine new campus further away from the center of town.

The founders of Omega did not feel ready to invite open conflict by making public announcement of their work that year. Also, fraternities preserved their secret character far more completely in those days than they do now. It was not until January 25, 1869, at the Peithologian Literary Society anniversary celebration, held in the old Academy of Music, that the existence of Omega was made known to the college as a whole. Omega had three speakers on the program and each proudly identified himself as a member of Phi Gamma Delta.

The secrecy of Omega's operations on the Columbia campus in 1866, 1867, 1868 and early 1869 did not prevent her members from enjoying fraternity life to the full. Social activities were carried on in cooperation with Upsilon Chapter, including a series of Christmas week festivities, known as "Kneips" and modeled on a traditional celebration held in the universities of old Germany.

The serious life of the chapter was not neglected. Chapter meetings were solemn and impressive affairs and the aims and ideals of the fraternity were preserved with deep respect.

EARLY IMPRESS ON NATIONAL

Omega early played an important part in the national affairs of the Fraternity, frequently sharing honors with its sister chapter of Upsilon.

At the Ninth General Convention of the Fraternity, held in Delaware, 0hio, in May, 1870, the constitution was amended to provide that the Grand Chapter be located in New York City. Membership was to be made up of six members each from Omega and Upsilon, with three members at large representing other chapters. At that convention, all three of Omega's representatives were men who had transferred from City College to Columbia and thus were members of both Upsilon and Omega. Founder C. H. Smith was one of these.

There were no funds to support a regular chapter-room in those first years and no one even thought of a chapter-house. By 1872, however, Omega was sharing a room with Upsilon on Union Square at 15th Street. Both chapters later moved to a room two blocks north.

Omega and Upsilon were hosts to brothers from all over the country, in the spring of 1873, when the 25th anniversary of the founding of Phi Gamma Delta was celebrated in a convention in New York. The records show that the visitors from 18 chapters were entertained at the expense of their hosts, though how the two young chapters were able to swing the cost of the great event no one can explain at this late date.

The major exercises of the anniversary celebration were conducted in the Academy of Music, the 1873 equivalent of today's Metropolitan 0pera House. A festive dinner at Sieghomers, one of the two or three finest restaurants in the city, followed. During the three-day celebration, delegates were taken in carriages on sightseeing trips around the city and through Central Park. Visits were also arranged to the big store of A. T. Stewart (now Wanamaker's) and Tiffany & Company, both showplaces of the day.

PANIC HITS THE COLLEGES

Yet 1873 did not bring only celebrations to the Fraternity. Before the year was over, all college fraternities were to feel the effects of the Wall Street panic. Financial ruin fell upon thousands of people in New York City alone. Fewer men were able to attend college and only a tiny minority were able to pay fraternity dues.

Between 1873 and 1881, Omega reached probably the weakest point in her history - it was seriously discussed among the few faithful brothers as to whether or not the charter should be surrendered.

Nevertheless, the vicissitudes of Omega apparently did not seriously affect the work of the Grand Chapter during this period, in spite of the close association of the two. It was apparently thought wise to broaden the membership base of the Grand Chapter, however, and beginning about 1880 a much larger proportion of resident members from other chapters became members of this governing body. The roster of Grand Chapter officers shows that members of Upsilon and Omega continued to dominate the leadership of the fraternity well after 1880.

Omega's difficulties were not solved until 1882. It was a brother from a chapter west of the Alleghenies - Harwood R. Pool (Ohio State 1881) - who initiated the activity which brought Omega back to life and new strength.

Brother Pool was attending Columbia law school, in the class of 1883. He had met and become friendly with members of two student groups, one in the school of mines and one in the college, who had formed what amounted to small fraternities of their own, unaffiliated with any national organizations and without names or charters. Under Pool's enthusiastic leadership, both groups became interested in Phi Gamma Delta.

STRONG GROUP INITIATED

In 1882, Brother Pool initiated as fine a class of pledges as has ever entered a fraternity. Among the men who became Fijis during that memorable ceremony held at the New York Yacht Club on Madison Avenue were two who were to play a vital part in the growth not only of Omega but of Phi Gamma Delta nationally - William Livingston Hazen, 1883, and the late Abram S. Post, 1884.

The Editor of The Phi Gamma Delta Quarterly was able to report in January, 1883: "We are pleased to announce the resuscitation of Omega Chapter." But it was more than a resuscitation, it was a rebirth. The chapter leaped from feebleness to such strength as it had never dreamed of before. Many Columbia students, impressed by the fine group of men who had joined Omega en masse, tried to obtain the privilege of becoming members.

It was at this time, as Brother Hazen later reported, that "a committee was appointed to secure a meeting place. . . . The chapter finally decided to take the front parlor of a house on Lexington Avenue near 34th Street. The landlady and her pretty daughter took a deep - I might say, an abiding - interest in the chapter, including its individual members. . . . One recalls the coffee and rolls served by the landlady at the close of meetings - and the pretty daughter."

The front parlor was but one of several stopping places enjoyed by Omega in those days. From the parlor, the flourishing chapter moved to rooms on north side of 42nd Street near Sixth Avenue. In the autumn of 1885, it moved to the southeast corner of 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, where it stayed for two years. It then moved uptown again, to 41st Street, near Sixth Avenue.

DELTA CLUB GIVES IMPETUS

Now came another period of weakness. After the graduation of the class of 1888, Omega dwindled almost into nothingness. Unlike the situation in the earlier years, however, the chapter could count on a strong and loyal alumni group. Through the efforts of these men, an alumni association was formed, called the Delta Club, a house was rented at 68 East 49th Street (opposite the Columbia school of Mines) and the chapter was given a new lease on life.

The Delta Club immediately became a sort of headquarters for the fraternity in New York. Many visitors came from other chapters. It was common for delegations from neighboring colleges to attend Omega's meetings and the Columbia men became well acquainted with brothers from the Yale, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Lehigh and Lafayette Chapters, as well as the City College group. Many warm intercollegiate Fiji friendships made in the old Delta Club still exist today.

The Delta Club aided Omega to regain her high place on the campus. With the stimulus of a new meeting place and strong alumni support, the chapter grew strong. The delegation of pledges initiated from the class of 1892 was one of the best and strongest of Omega's history. The group included a man who was destined to be prominent in the national affairs of the fraternity, the late Horace I. Brightman, and his life-long companion, T. Ludlow Chrystie.

In 1890, the alumni gave up the house on 49th Street and Omega took one floor of an apartment house on 41st Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. The Grand Chapter took the floor beneath and Upsilon Chapter also had rooms in the building.

In 1891, Omega and Upsilon members decided to celebrate together the 25th anniversaries of their respective foundings. An anniversary dinner was held in the then new building of the Manhattan Athletic Club at Madison Avenue and 45th Street. More than 150 members of the fraternity attended. And as an Omega man, who prefers to remain anonymous, said the other day: "That was a dinner - seventeen courses I think it had, not counting the drinks. What ever happened to the appetites we had in those days - and the dinners?"

The apartment house floor in 41st Street was not very convenient to the campus and in the fall of 1891 the chapter moved to a suite of rooms in a private home on 45th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. It was in these rooms in 1892 that Nu Epsilon Chapter at New York University was organized and installed.

ANNUAL DINNERS LODESTONES

During this period, the annual dinners of the chapter, like the Norris dinners today, were high points of the fraternity year. They were exceptionally well attended, not only by Omega men but by large delegations from a number of nearby colleges. Usually, the dinners were held at the Hotel Brunswick, Fifth Avenue and 27th Street. It was there, at the dinner of 1893, that plans were voted for a fundraising campaign which was to make possible ownership of Omega's first house.

In 1896, all Columbia men were looking forward to the time when the new campus on Morningside Heights would be ready for use. The Seth Low Library, focal point of all Columbia buildings, was then under construction. Omega men were doing well with their money-raising campaign.

On October 14, 1897, Columbia University opened its first session on 116th Street, with appropriate ceremonies.

One month after the new campus became the official home of Columbia, Omega's stalwart alumni formed the Omega Association, an organization which from that day to this has been the very backbone of the Columbia Chapter. All contributors to the house fund were members in that first year, including some undergraduates. Among the names on the first board of directors were those of Brothers Brightman, Hazen and Chrystie, already mentioned, and George E. Ruppert, 1899, who has been one of Omega's strongest supporters since the time of his initiation.

FIRST HOUSE IS PURCHASED

The first proud duty of the Omega Association was to take title to the first chapter-house owned by Omega; one of the first three or four chapter-houses to be purchased in the fraternity.

On December 16, 1897, the undergraduates occupied the new home, at 604 West 114th Street, a block from the campus and a half block from Riverside Drive. The new house was described in The Phi Gamma Delta as a "four-story house of yellow brick, fitted with all the modern improvements." The plumbing was mentioned as being "the latest thing" and comment was made that all the rooms were decorated with wallpaper.

By the standards set at colleges having country campuses, Omega's house then or now would not stand out. New York City realty values were and are such that no fraternity at Columbia has ever even considered the construction of a big, country-club type of chapter home.

But externals are not important. Within the walls of 604 West 114th Street there beat the warm heart of Omega. Loyalty and friendship and fun brought the brothers into a strong bond - perhaps stronger than it would have been if the house had been grander and the path of the chapter had been always an easier one.

A Columbia fraternity with a chapter-house was considered almost affluent at that time. Freshmen were duly impressed by Omega's display and sought to wear the star. Good pledge delegations became the rule again.

When the 40th anniversary rolled around in 1906, speakers were able to point with pride to the recent accomplishments of the chapter. Fijis remember that Hotel Manhattan banquet, celebrating the anniversary, not only for its food and fun, but because Founder Charles Henry Smith was able to attend.

By 1910, with the chapter holding high rank on the campus, both alumni and undergraduates felt it was time to consider the purchase of a larger house. The enthusiasts talked the idea to any Omega man who would listen and most of them were glad to. By 1912, a strong money-raising campaign was under way.

Perhaps the campaign was given a special push when, on January 16, 1913, fire damaged the house. The New York World reported next day that the brothers discovered the fire only when an excited neighbor rushed over to report that flames were leaping from a chimney and spreading to the roof. Action was immediate. A bucket brigade was formed on the roof, from stairwell to chimney, and by the time New York City's firemen arrived the fire was out.

It was the loyal alumni of the Omega Association who once again bore the brunt of the fund-raising campaign. The results were good.

MOVE INTO PRESENT HOME

In the fall of 1914, Omega men marched into the bigger and more comfortable house at 538 West 114th Street destined to serve the chapter until the present day. The brothers found that the house was so situated that there was an unrivalled view of South Field and the Seth Low Library. From Omega's upper windows, Fijis and their friends could watch everything from football games (then staged on South Field) to the impressive academic ceremonies held in South Court, the plaza before the Library. Construction of South Hall since has changed the view considerably.

The new house was one of the finest on the campus. Occupied as it was by a strong and active undergraduate chapter, it made rushing especially successful. When the time came to celebrate Omega's 50th anniversary, the chapter was in the first rank of the fraternities on the Columbia campus.

The semi-centennial celebration, Omega's most important commemorative gathering up to this year, centered around the dinner held at the old Phi Gamma Delta Club, 34 West 44th Street, on April 1, 1916. Loyal Omega Fijis from 35 states attended.

A souvenir booklet, prepared for the celebration by the Omega Association, gave every man who attended a pleasant reminder of his college days. Historical reminiscences by alumni recalled the ups and downs of all the years of Omega's development. The short preface, anonymously written, might serve with little change as the dedication of this article:

The dictionary says that History is a systematic record of past events. This is not a history. It is a potpourri of Omega and her 50 years from swaddling-clothes to now. And in this year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and sixteen, full of world events in the Great War of Nations, Omega pauses for a moment's retrospection. May she live long and prosper! May she ever be steadfast in the high ideals of our founders and true to the eternal principles upon which our fraternity rests!

By the fall of 1916, many college men were growing concerned about the War. Some of them felt deeply that America should aid the Allied cause and by the time college opened that year, small groups of students were leaving Columbia and other campuses for France, England and Canada to join the Allied forces.

When America entered the war in 1917, campuses suddenly were half depopulated. Perhaps a few colleges, isolated from the excitement of the seaboard and the cities, felt the war less than Columbia - but on Morningside Heights hundreds of students joined the army or navy and others drilled daily in the Student Army Training Corps.

Fraternity life was all but forgotten by many people during the war years. There was a large turnover in membership, for college careers were apt to be abbreviated at that time. From 1917 to 1919, Omega was kept alive by a few loyal brothers, strongly supported by the ever-present Omega Association..

FOUR MAKE SUPREME SACRIFICE

The Columbia Chapter roll did not go through the war unchanged. Four Omega men gave their lives for the nation: Arthur Douglas Alexander, 1909; Lester Potter Harris, 1918; John Paul Henry, 1914, and Carlos Domaso Siegert Wuppermann, 1907. [The Army ruled his death a suicide, although his family claimed it was murder. His brother, Ralph Morgan (Columbia 1904) became the first president of the Screen Actors' Guild.]

When Columbia's representatives in the armed services returned to the campus after the armistice, fraternities were suddenly swamped with members. Omega found itself with both a good undergraduate chapter and an active graduate chapter meeting regularly at 538 West 114th Street.

During the '20s, Omega prospered. Every class contributed large delegations to the chapter. The chapter became famous for its crew men - it often had more than a dozen men rowing or coxing on Columbia's several crews. So many tall crew men joined the chapter that it became a standard joke to propose in chapter meetings that all doors and ceilings in the house be raised two feet to accommodate them.

Several houses east and west of 538 West 114th Street were occupied by fraternities during this period. In junior week each spring, "Fraternity Row" was ablaze with flags - and the purple banner of Phi Gamma Delta proudly held the center point.

Omega's successful junior week dances of those days will be well remembered by the men who enjoyed them.

The chapter over the years has been well represented in extra-curricular activities. In addition to its famed crew men, it has had members of all varsity and freshman teams - football, basketball, baseball, track, tennis, golf, swimming and the rest. Omega men have edited the Columbia Daily Spectator, the Columbian (college annual) and other publications; have served on student boards; have acted in varsity shows; have sung with the glee club. No field has been untouched.

In 1927, the house almost bulged with members. There was no question of keeping the living quarters filled and meals were served on a shift basis. At luncheon there were sometimes four sittings at the two long tables in the dining room.

HELL WEEKS OF YESTERYEAR

A feature of the period was the vigorous character of the informal initiations during "Hell Week" (now largely a thing of the past) [and in the late 20th and 21st century, a violation of Fraternity law]. Many Hell Weeks of the '20s included, as one mild ceremony sandwiched between paddlings, fantastic meals and long hikes; the funeral of a mythical secret official of the fraternity - "The King." Upperclassmen vied for the honor of being the corpse. Variety marked the funeral "ritual" - digging the grave beneath the house, crawling through what seemed miles of mysterious passages to the accompaniment of clanking chains, feeling the "mystic grip" of a metallic, volt-charged hand, kissing the foot of the corpse. Buzzers, blowers, horns and blue lights were rigged up to add to one year's "funeral."

The same vigor that entered into preparations for Hell Week, carried over in some degree to the serious business of improving academic standards. Seniors served as capable tutors to help freshmen, and an occasional sophomore or junior, over the academic bumps.

From 1920 until the present, Omega has been known on the campus as the "singing chapter." Fiji and Columbia songs, mixed with popular tunes of the minute and old glee club standbys, have been sung regularly at meal time and at fraternity functions. The chapter has won awards in college song competitions. Even "Hell Week" included singing at times - pledges were urged to sing solos of well-known tunes, using as words a page of names from the telephone directory.

It was in 1927 that undergraduates and members of the Omega Association began to talk about expansion. The proposal was made that an adjacent house be purchased and the two made into one or that a story be added on top of the existing house or that a wing be constructed at the back of 538 West 114th Street.

In 1928, the big building fund drive was launched, with a $100,000 goal. Prosperity was everywhere and it was possible to obtain several $1,000 pledges and a few of $5,000 (usually made contingent upon the raising of $50,000 or more from other sources).

WALL STREET CRASH ENDS PLANS

The drive was doing pretty well by the fall of 1929-but then the Wall Street crash sent everyone scurrying for financial cover. Fund raising quickly became an all but impossible task. The Omega Association revised its plans and decided that the wise thing would be to renovate the existing house and to supply better furniture. So, during 1930 and 1931, the house was renovated. Much of the interior was reconstructed.

From 1930 onward, the Columbia College authorities were revising fraternity pledging methods, as well as rules for students obtaining university part-time jobs, loans or scholarships.

Fraternities began to discover that it was impossible to depend upon filling houses with resident brothers. Freshmen, as well as all persons benefiting from university jobs, loans or scholarships were required to live in the dormitories. Thus, in addition to the age-old Columbia fraternity problem of commuting students, there were added new and serious complications.

In the depression years, more than half of the fraternities represented at Columbia lost their chapters there and many chapters remaining there found it impossible to continue to carry their chapter houses. No Columbia fraternity escaped the financial doldrums.

Like the others, Omega has had a difficult struggle to maintain itself financially. Its greatest problem has been the carrying charges of the house - mortgage payments, interest, taxes and repair costs. By 1940, there was fear that the house would have to be given up.

REFINANCING ASSURES SUCCESS

But with the arrival of this 75th anniversary year, the tribulations of the difficult recent years have been offset by a happening which will bring pleasure to the hearts of all Omega men.

As a result of the efforts of the Omega Association, aided by a fortuitous combination of circumstances, a junior mortgage debt of $8,500 on the house has been wiped off the books through a payment of $1,000. Thus a net saving of $7,500 has been made - $100 for every year of Omega's existence!

Major credit for this accomplishment belongs to four members of the Omega Association - Robert S. Curtiss, 1927; John S. Sickels, 1911; Philip Schlosser, 1902, and Louis W. H. Heynen, 1924. And the step would have been impossible without the $1,000 bequest made to the Association by the late Abram S. Post, 1884. There could hardly be a finer memorial to "Skid."

This crowning achievement is another reminder that the Omega Association and its predecessors have been chiefly responsible for Omega's record of continuous life, maintained often in the face of great odds. This record would not have been possible were it not for one man - William Livingston Hazen, 1883. "Billy" Hazen - "Pop" to undergraduates - has given more to the chapter than any other man. Others have given some time, some efforts - but Brother Hazen's record of service is a continuous one from his undergraduate days up to today. The warmth of his spirit has permeated chapter life. Truly, he is the Grand Old Man of Omega.

Many loyal Fijis have contributed to the progress of Omega Chapter through the years. It would be impossible to list them all in such an article as this, and no attempt has been made to do so. But in addition to those men just mentioned, one at all familiar with the history of the chapter instinctively thinks of the late Horace I. Brightman, 1892; T. Ludlow Chrystie, 1892; Charles E. Heydt, 1900; Benjamin F. Romaine, 1871; Major Frank Keck, 1875; Edward F. Cole, 1886, and Hugo J. Walther, 1883, long others.

Brothers Brightman, Cole, Hazen, Romaine, Keck and Walther were Presidents of the fraternity and Brothers Cole and Hazen also each served terms as Editor of The Phi Gamma Delta Quarterly.

TWO ALUMNI TRUSTEES

Recent pig dinners of the chapter, held at the Phi Gamma Delta Club, have been dedicated to men who have contributed to its progress. In 1939, the chapter honored Brothers Hazen and Post; in 1940, Brightman and Chrystie; and in 1941, Heydt and Ruppert.

Omega has the rare honor of having had two members elected to the Board of Trustees of the fraternity, Brother Post and Brother Sickels. Brother Post was a member of the first board; Brother Sickels is serving today. [The 1994 Ekklesia brought an end to the Board of Trustees; their responsibility for fiscal oversight was transferred to the Archons.]

Omega men by the hundred have reached prominence in their chosen fields of endeavor. Yet to list them would be beyond the scope of this article. Let it suffice to say that the list would include every profession in the dictionary - actors, artists, authors, businessmen, chemists, editors, engineers, government men, lawyers, professors, zoologists and a hundred others.

With its improved financial position, with a lively, well-rounded undergraduate membership and with firm support from the loyal Omega Association, the Columbia Chapter faces the future with confidence and with a firm determination to make the next 25 years of history as creditable as that of the first 75 has been.

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