Funeral procession part of fraternity tradition

Christian Marnon

Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has a storied tradition dedicated to an infamous Irish gangster, Prohibition-era-bootlegger and long-lost fraternity brother.

His name was Paddy Murphy.

Since the foundation of WKU’s SAE in 1965, the fraternity has celebrated “Paddy Murphy Week”, a five-day series of events that are part Greek bonding, part philanthropy, and part homage to Murphy, whose mythos is an important element in the SAE legacy.

Paddy Week launched yesterday with a painting design contest of SAE’s lion statue.

Several WKU sororities will compete throughout the week, earning “Paddy points” in numerous SAE-hosted events and fundraisers. All proceeds will be donated to the Kelly Autism Program.

Upcoming festivities include today’s canned food drive and Thursday’s Paddy Murphy Pageant. Friday will feature three separate events, spanning a sorority-decorated cooler auction, Paddy Murphy funeral procession, and a 1920s-themed dance at Vino’s as Paddy Week’s capstone.

SAE Chapter President Taylor Richard said the fraternity also intends to raise money for autism through the sale of highly-discounted “Happy Feet” house slippers, which will be available for purchase at most of Paddy Week’s events.

“About 1,500 pairs of Happy Feet were donated to us by an active brother’s dad,” he said. “We’re selling them for $5 to 10 a piece, but the price is negotiable. The slippers we have are WKU-themed.”

Paddy Murphy’s legacy is known to SAE’s across the country. Richard said Specific events and philanthropies may vary per chapter, but the story remains consistent.

“Paddy Murphy was an SAE in the 1920’s back with Al Capone and he was a gangster,” he said. “Al Capone told Paddy Murphy to shoot a police officer, but Paddy noticed the police officer was wearing an SAE badge, so he didn’t shoot. Al Capone then shot Paddy.”

Upon being shot, Murphy grabbed Capone’s hand with a signature handshake that only an SAE brother could know, said SAE member and WKU senior Bryce Steele.

“It was basically our grip,” Steele said. “When he reached up, Al Capone realized they were fraternity brothers. The recognition after he shot him showed that brotherhood stands through even the toughest of times,” Steele said.

Legend has it that after Capone realized what he had done, he demanded an honorary burial for his fallen fraternity brother. This detail has prompted SAE’s across the nation to enact a Paddy Murphy funeral procession.

Richard said their own faux procession will occur on Friday. Approximately 80 SAE’s will walk on campus, a select few of them carrying a customized version of the gangster’s casket.

“We’ll walk through campus with a bagpipe player,” he said. “We’re going to start at the SAE house, walk to the south lawn by DUC and from there we will stop and walk back to the house. The bagpipe player will be in front and six of us will hold the casket while everyone else follows.”

The Paddy Murphy Pageant this Thursday also implements Paddy Murphy tradition. Held at 7 p.m. in the DUC auditorium, teams of sororities will contend in a formal, semi-formal and swimwear category.

The formal category requires contestants to perform a skit that reflects their imagining of the gangster’s story, which will be graded on originality, creativity, and overall theme.

Steele said there many memorable skits each year.

“I wish I could name just one,” he said. “Sororities look forward to this every year and put a lot of time into it.

Prohibitionist-era costumes define the Paddy Murphy Dance on Friday, which Steele said is one of SAE’s most anticipated events.

“The dance is almost our event of the year behind homecoming,” he said. “Guys will dress up in black suits with suspenders and top hats like Al Capone and Paddy Murphy would. Girls come in their flapper dresses and headbands.”

When the smoke clears and Paddy Week comes to its end, SAE will donate to the Kelly Autism Program, which Richard said has a special tie to the fraternity.

“Michael Kelly was an SAE here at WKU a few years ago,” he said. “His parents were the ones who started the Kelly Autism Program.”

Marty Boman, director of the Kelly Autism Program, said money donated to the program will help autistic individuals aged seven through adulthood better acclimate to the world.

“We work with the whole individual, not just the academic part. We work on their social, emotional, and communication skills,” she said. “A big part of that is the transition piece as they become adults. Services decrease at that time, so we offer them that whole realm for families so they can work for the betterment of their child.”

Philanthropies like SAE’s Paddy Murphy Week are what make the program possible because it is not funded by the university, Boman said.

“We always see knew people stepping up and helping us,” she said. “That’s the beauty of this university and this community.”