Mock funeral procession honors fallen brother

Clare Lowther

At noon yesterday a funeral passed through campus.

At 12:30 p.m. an open casket was flanked by men in suits and women in dresses in the front yard of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.

As the hearse, a bag piper and the procession of mourners passed by, students going to and from class stopped and tried to figure out what was happening. Some pointed and whispered to their friends, others stared, some even saluted. No one, it seemed, knew what was going on.

For members of SAE, this mock funeral procession was a way to honor former member Paddy Murphy. Murphy was a member of SAE during prohibition and later an associate of mobster Al Capone. Murphy is honored because, during a gun battle, he stepped in and took a bullet for SAE brother Eliot Ness.

This is considered to be “the ultimate sign of brotherhood,” said SAE President Tommy Williams.

SAE honors Murphy’s actions by holding the procession with the man who has been in the fraternity the longest acting as Murphy. He is placed in the casket. This year that honor went to Williams, a senior from Smyrna, Tenn.

“(The experience) was neat,” Williams said. “It was a little uncomfortable. The coffin was open for the ceremony, but closed when they were transporting it. And that was a little scary then . Obviously, I’ve never experienced anything like that before in my life.”

In the past, the ceremony has ended after the procession through campus. But this year, SAE lengthened the ceremony by holding a funeral service on the front lawn of their house on College Street. Between 25 and 30 SAE members and their little sisters attended the funeral.

SAE little sister Shawnee White, a senior from Smyrna, Tenn., was one of the members of the procession.

“This is the first year I’ve gotten to see it,” she said. “It was interesting. I didn’t like seeing Tommy in the casket though..”

SAE got approval from local police to hold the ceremony beforehand, but didn’t tell anyone else about their plans.

“We purposely did it during class change so people would see it, and we wouldn’t disturb any classes,” Williams said.

The ceremony got plenty of looks from passers-by.

“Several cars slowed down and looked at us while we were out there,” said SAE Vice President Todd Duncan, a senior from Henderson. “I had a friend come over after we finished and say he was sorry and that he hadn’t heard about our loss.”

Students across campus who saw the procession, which traveled from the SAE house to DUC South Lawn and back to the fraternity house, were left equally confused.

Georgetown freshman Drew Sturgill was on his way from class at the fine arts center when he witnessed the spectacle.

“I didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “I thought maybe it was one of the frats doing something. I heard the bag pipes first, then saw the hearse. They were playing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ and carrying a plaque. Everybody was dressed in dark colors and suits.”

This ceremony is an annual event, held for each of the last 12 years, with the exception of last year when SAE was on suspension. Other chapters across the country hold similar ceremonies.