NOTE: This is a story that had to be held "secret" for many years; certainly until most of the people involved in the activity described were old enough to not care or gone from this world. It took place in Midwinter, 1952. To this day I prefer not to name the people involved. Among them were some who went on to become well-respected professionals. I am not recounting this story as something to be emulated nor am I condemning that it happened. It happened in a much more innocent time than 2013.
Not all “bad boys” look or act like “bad boys” all the time. As is said, “Looks can deceive.” The Phi Mu Alpha Music fraternity bred one fine example of such deception. The Municipal University of Wichita’s “School of Music” was housed in “Fiske Hall,” an old 3-story structure; the oldest building on the campus. She was a genteel old lady of a building that, like many old ladies, had creaky floors, squeaky doors and memories galore and had been ravished for many uses in her time. At the westerly end of the second floor “Miss Carol Holman,” an instructor of elementary music methods” had a small office. Miss Holman, known as “Sterile Carol” behind her back was probably a passably good teacher but she had become iconic in her predilection for having her students construct homemade “musical instruments” suitable for grade school kids to use. One of her favorite assignments was for students to make a tom-tom. This was done by opening both ends of a tin can (size optional), stretching a discarded piece of a rubber inner tube over the opened ends, stretching them tight and contriving some way to keep them tightly stretched. One-time during the winter doldrums the conversation turned to Miss Holman’s Tom-Tom fixation. Someone among “the boys” of Phi Mu Alpha –including one or two of the more illustrious “up and comers” in the School of Music – mentioned in passing that it would be fun to make a gigantic Tom-Tom using a 55 gallon barrel. The idea took flight. With every passing moment the possibilities seemed increasingly attractive. The question of what to do with such a colossal drum arose and from somewhere in the circle of “the brothers” came the suggestion that we place it squarely in the doorway of Miss Holman’s office. Then, like an alcoholic’s mind after a couple of drinks the offense took on a life of its own and a plan was hatched. We would plant a 55 gallon barrel “Tom-Tom” in front of her office door all right, but better than that - using lag bolts we would drill through the bottom and attach it solidly to the old wooden floor. Then we completely surrendered to heinousness. After screwing the lag bolts in we would pour a couple of inches of concrete on top of them.
More often than not such grandiose “Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn” type plans for mischief die by the next morning. This time it didn’t. Sometime within the next week or so a group of upstanding members of a prestigious, honorary music fraternity crept into old Fiske Hall in the small hours of the morning carrying a large, unwieldy barrel, a half-filled bag of “Sackrete,” three lag bolts, a drill, a bucket (to carry water for the concrete) and the appropriate tools. Within half an hour the deed was done and we quietly left the premises. The following morning the mood in Fiske Hall was divided. Among the teachers and the few honestly mature students there was a grim faced condemnation of the terrible deed while among the other students it was regarded as a masterpiece of a practical joke. Midway through the morning the Dean of the School visited the Phi Mu Alpha lounge. Several of we “brothers” were there loafing and talking. The Dean asked for our attention and then told us that someone had done a terrible thing, referring to the Tom-Tom antic, and that it would be best for all concerned if the matter was handled in-house rather than involving Campus Security, etc. He asked if we, as an honorary music fraternity dedicated to service and brotherhood would be so kind as to remove that terrible symbol of debased thinking. The Dean was no fool and we weren’t fooled. He knew in his heart that the project had been hatched in the very room in which he was standing; but he also didn’t want to make the misdeed notorious on the campus and perhaps even be publicized in the Wichita newspaper.
So it was that we, the same group who had crept furtively into the old building the previous night gathered up hammers, chisels and wrenches appropriate to break open the concrete, unscrew the lag bolts and remove the terrible Tom-Tom. Fiske Hall was still standing the last time I visited the campus but it no longer housed music students. I don’t know what purpose it now served but I wistfully wondered if, had I visited the second floors westernmost office, would I be able to see evidence that at one time three holes had been drilled into the floor.
This was one vivid memory that you have been carrying around for a long time, Don. Were you Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer?
Oh, as a boy/young man I, like "Huck," was more a wastrel than a civilized, clever "Tom." A diamond in the rough for sure. (Probably still uncut, but no longer "in the rough" I claim.)
Don, again you carry me to your world with such visual prowess and prose. I found myself chuckling out loud at you descriptions like: "a group of upstanding members of a prestigious, honorary music fraternity crept into old Fiske Hall in the small hours of the morning carrying a large, unwieldy barrel, a half-filled bag of “Sackrete,”
Just too funny!
I take great pleasure in reminiscing in such a way that some of you "younger folk" can get a glimpse into a world long gone and enjoy it rather than consider it the mumblings of an old man. It wasn't ALL better than the present one but it would sure give it a run for its money.