"Thank you, Sir! May I have another?" This line, immortalized in 1978's quintessential fraternity/hazing movie Animal House, essentially summarizes how young male college students - pledges - respond to extreme obstacles in order to join a fraternity. Men desperate for the status of an elite brotherhood go to such great lengths to show loyalty that many have ended up sick, injured, terribly hungover, or even worse: dead.
Why do fraternities haze? What is fraternity hazing?
At its best, fraternity hazing builds camaraderie, creating a common experience shared by a select group of young men. It passes along tradition and get a few chuckles, too. It's a way of acknowledging hierarchy, blending in, and proving one's worth to a brotherhood. At its worst, fraternity hazing usually involves alcohol, physical or sexual violence, and bad decisions. Sometimes, hazing stories even end with a completely unnecessary and sobering death. To this end, many college campuses and even states have officially banned hazing, but secret societies and pure testosterone will often make sure some of the fraternal traditions are still carried out on the sly.
Mortimer M. Leggett was the son of a famous Civil War general and one of the first known hazing deaths in the US. He pledged Kappa Alpha during his first semester at Cornell University in New York in 1873. One night, as part of the initiation ceremony, he was blindfolded and taken out into the woods.
He was supposed to make his way back to the chapter house in Ithaca. While he was out there, per the custom, he met other members of the fraternity who were removed his blindfold. The three of them started down a slope looking for the nearest road.
According to the Cornell Daily Sun,
"What they did not realize was that at the bottom of the slope was not a road, but a 37 foot cliff. There was not warning as they plunged over. Mort died on the hard-packed rock-like clay at the foot of the cliff. The other two boys were badly hurt."
In 1892, Wilkins Ruskins pledged Delta Kappa Epsilon at Yale. As part of the initiation, Ruskins was blindfolded and told to run toward a local cafe. Along the way, he ran into a sharp pole, injuring his abdomen.
The injury wasn't thought to be serious but five days later, Ruskins died of peritonitis, an inflammation of the tissue that holds in your abdominal organs.
At Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, Stuart Pierson pledged Delta Kappa Epsilon in 1905. One night, Pierson laid down on the train tracks as part of the fraternity initiation. According to his friends, he got tired and fell asleep on the tracks.
The coroner, however, found that Pierson's wrist and ankle were almost completely dislocated, indicating that he had been tied to the tracks. When a train that wasn't on the schedule started toward Pierson, he tried, unsuccessfully, to escape its path.
A freshman football player at University of Texas-Austin, Nolte McElroy decided to join Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. As part of initiation in 1928, pledges had to crawl over a set of bedsprings that had been wired with street line lines.
He was wearing wet pajamas at the time and was electrocuted. He fainted and died a short-time later.