EPSILON NU OF SIGMA NU ALUMNI

 

Chartered in 1927, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

 
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The Fire  - December 1, 1978


The Fire of 1978 remains one of the most memorable and impactful events for anyone who was an Active Sigma Nu during that era.  Fortunately no one was hurt, but the destruction to the House was pretty intense.  Some guys were in bed at the time while others were out studying or, more than likely, partaking in the usual Thursday night bowling and beers at The Hitching Post in Darrtown.  The fire started at approximately 12:30 am on Friday, December 1.  The smoke alarms were set off in the attic and smoke was seen coming from behind the insulation in the southeast corner of the space.  Futile attempts were made to keep the fire contained with fire extinguishers, but the flames spread too quickly.  Although cement today, the original attic floor consisted simply of plywood.  The fire quickly began to make its way through the attic floor down to living quarters on Second Deck.  Those in their racks were woken up and evacuated along with House Mom, Elizabeth Reaves. The Brothers, along with over 1,000 other onlookers watched from the street for the next several hours as the fire spread from the attic down through the rooms second floor.  We watched as it slowly moved from room to room, destroying all in its path.  Ultimately, it took several hours to put out the flames. 



Campus support rallied quickly.  In fact, several members of other fraternities convened for a meeting at 4:00 that morning to determine which houses might have some extra space to temporarily house some of our guys.  William "Bang" Meier, a local semi-sleazy beer seller, maneuvered his truck between the firefighting equipment and tried to sell us beer.  This was not out of line for Bang; it was part of his character.  We refused to pay him and he ultimately gave in and "donated" many cases of Top Hat beer to us as we watched the flames eat away at our home.  Most of us remained awake throughout the morning.  Some of us found our way to the ∑AE living room with a bottle of Wild Turkey and some Top Hat beer from Bang's.  Others headed to the Delt house where we had many friends and always maintained a good relationship.  The fire was finally put out by around 6:00 am.  It was pretty devastating.  The attic and second floor were complete losses.  The first floor and the Pit suffered too much smoke smoke and water damage to be salvageable.  



Clockwise:  The Fire "mid-blaze", one of the charred rack room matresses on second deck, the House attic (sans roof), a view of the back of the House.


It was clear that most of us lost everything we had in the House.  Our clothes, books, record albums, stereos, etc., all destroyed.  The morning after the fire, The Red Cross arrived to present all Sigma Nus with vouchers for $125.00.  This was to cover the cost of replacing some of our basics; clothes, toiletries, etc.  We received a voucher whether we needed it or not.  For the next few days, the guys were spread out staying in different places.  Many stayed with buddies in other fraternity houses or in apartments around campus.  Many of us attended semi-formals on the next two nights following the fire.  Dressed in our Red Cross funded clothes, mostly purchased from Roy Young's College Shop (Roy had offered all fire victims a 30% discount on clothing and opened up accounts for us that would be billed to our parents when our insurance monies came in), we attended the Theta semi-formal on Friday night and the Tri-Delt semi-formal on Saturday.  We were all exhausted.  The news of the fire made the network news at CBS with Dan Rather giving the story a bit of air time.  Other accounts were covered locally.  Below are a number of newspaper accounts. 





After a few days, the University set up temporary housing for us in the basements of two dormitories; Dennison Hall in East Quad and Hepburn Hall in North Quad.  A few of our stragglers took up residence at Hooterville, located just south of the Delt House, the unofficial Sigma Nu annex that had housed many of our 5th year seniors.  Each dorm housed about 30 guys in a barracks style arrangement and we ate our meals in the dorm dining halls.  

The fire took place just a few short weeks before first semester finals.  Most of us had lost our books and class notes in the fire.  Some professors were sympathetic, while others were not so forgiving.  Many of us spent those weeks before Christmas partying and bowling at The Post.  At the time, Dennison was a freshmen men's dorm and Miami had curfew rules.  No girls in the dorms after midnight and beer in freshmen dorms was frowned upon.  We broke all the rules, but nobody seemed to mind.  There was also a place called East End in East Quad.  It was like a bar and within a short walk of Dennison Hall.  Those staying in Dennison spent a lot of time at East End. 

Many have the distinct memory of sororities providing us with home baked chocolate chip cookies.  At one point there was a 55 gallon garbage can in the basement of Dennison filled with cookies.  We would just sit around the dorm and gorge ourselves.

Sigma Nu had never been split up like this before, so our House leadership made certain we had many A-club meetings in Laws Hall and other venues, just to ensure our unity stayed intact and to keep us apprised of the fast moving developments related to House clean-up and reconstruction and what we would be doing in terms of accommodations when we returned to campus after winter break.  The House was going to take several months to repair.  Where were we going to live in the second semester?  How would we conduct Rush which was always held in the first few weeks of second semester? We had just been voted by other fraternities and sororities as the "Best Fraternity" on Miami's Campus and we did not want to lose our momentum.

Over the Christmas holiday break, several of the guys volunteered to return to Oxford early to help with House clean-up, while others worked tirelessly to arrange for our second semester accommodations.  We all believed it critical that we find a place that could house the entire Chapter so we weren't spread out around campus for the semester.  Our era was a time in EN history when all Actives WANTED to live in the House.  The House was always at full capacity of approximately 70 guys.  Only those serving as residence hall advisers or some of the 5th year seniors who had moved into the aforementioned Hooterville Annex lived outside of 300 N. Tallawanda.  Even the Hooterville guys ate their meals at the House.  

Through the efforts of our House leadership, arrangements were made to rent apartments at Fox & Hounds, a complex located on the west side of town near where McDonald's is located today.  All of us, including Mom Reaves, took up residence at Fox & Hounds for the second semester.  The guys even arranged to have rental furniture brought in to all of the 3-man apartments.  The Evans Scholars, who did not participate in traditional fraternity rush, were gracious enough to allow us the use of their house for all of our rush "meet & greets" and parties.  This was quite an imposition on the Scholars given the fact that we were such a big House and the PR from the fire brought a ton of rushees to the doorstep.  We owe the Scholars a lot for that.  Our cut sessions were held at Laws Hall.   Ultimately, we picked up a great pledge class and certainly out-rushed the Betas, Fijis and TKEs, our main rivals.

The time in the apartments was a lot of fun.  We continued to keep our social calendar solid and held events at Isaac Walton Lodge and other venues off campus.  Activation of the pledge class was conducted in our "under reconstruction" House adding to the uniquness of the event.

Reconstruction of the House was complete over the summer of 1979 and we moved back in for the fall semester.  The fire martial forced us to make plans to build the addition on the back of the House to serve as barracks style rack rooms, but that construction would not be complete for another year or so.  We continued to sleep in small rack rooms.  Hard to believe we could cram 12 guys (four sets of triple bunk beds) into a standard size room on Second Deck or in the Pit, Ghetto, or into a 6 man rack room in God's Little Acre.

Side Note:  On December 1, 1979, we threw a party to commemorate the first anniversary of the Fire.  We were packed into the party area of the House when about 30 of our Delt neighbors decided to crash the party.  Brandishing lit, Bic lighters, the Delts marched ceremoniously down the stairs into party room to pay homage to the event.  We all got a kick out of it and the Delts stuck around to join us for a few beers and to share in our memories of that fateful night the previous year.  

Everyone has memories and photos of the fire.  I'm sure more will be added here.