One of the brothers from our early history who has a fascinating story is Albert Metcalf Harper (Lambda 1866). He was the subject of the first letter in 2002 as well as referenced once or twice since. His story could have been written in Hollywood. I keep returning to him because I keep finding new material. And now I am in communication with the Pittsburgh Regional History Center to gain access to Albert Harper’s personal letters and archival material, so this is not the end. But for now, here is a brief recap and a new twist:
Albert Metcalf Harper came to RPI in 1860, four years before Lambda Chapter was established. But not too long after Fort Sumter was fired upon, he left school to return to Pittsburgh and enlist in the Union Army. He had a distinguished career during the Civil War but was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. After the war, when he returned to the Institute in September of 1865, he was held in high esteem by students and faculty alike.
Now, this is where the twist comes in. Rensselaer’s records, including the 1885 Transit, state that the position of Grand Marshall was created to honor Brother Harper. But, in reading through Lambda’s own account of the time, the real origin is somewhat different from what Rensselaer has believed all this time. Not that the final outcome was different – Brother Albert Metcalf Harper was in fact Rensselaer’s first Grand Marshall. However, this is how it all came about, taken from an excerpt of our own historic account for the 1865 – 1866 school year:
It behooves us here to speak somewhat of our standing in the Institute at this time. Mr. Childs (Omega Delta Chi ’66) had been elected President of his class six consecutive terms but at this stage of proceeding, considerable opposition began to be evinced toward him holding the position again. On the strength of this, Brother Addison was brought forward and elected to the office by one majority.
The friends of Mr. Childs, to soothe his wounded vanity, proposed to make an elective chief officer of the Institute to be known as the Grand Marshall and to confer the position on him.
Our society readily concurred in the propriety of having such an office and called a preliminary caucus of our upholders and partisans at Mrs. Brearter’s boarding house. After free and full discussions, a neutral at our instigation informally nominated Major Harper of ’67 – who had just returned to the Institute after having fought three years in the service of his country, having previously left the class of ’62 for that purpose – he had received an election into our chapter while he was in the service, but had not yet fully made up his mind to accept.
Well, it became a settled thing that he was to run for the position and a grand caucus was called by our side at Harmony Hall. At this caucus Brother Addison presided and Mr. Harper was unanimously nominated and every man in the room pledged to vote for him. A majority of the Institute being present.
In a few days the Childs men issued a call for a general caucus and our party attended the meeting in mass – so much so that we outnumbered the other party – Addison was again made chairman. And a man named Ogden (Kappa Sigma Epsilon) a weak and unpopular fellow was nominated to run against Harper – Childs refusing to run when he saw how affairs were going.
At the election which issued soon after Harper received 100 votes and his opponent 30 – thus securing us a signal victory. Brother Hearne was elected Pres. of his class – unanimously.[/quote]
The first “Transit” was published this term – Brother Hearne writing the editorial.
This excerpt shows the political maneuvering behind the creation of the Grand Marshall position rather than the official understanding held by Rensselaer – our records certainly tell a more intriguing story. And I wanted to include the last two sentences of the passage, as Brother Frank James Hearne succeeded Albert Harper as Grand Marshall. (Frank Hearne, who later found great success in the railroad and steel industries, had been the historic focus of the July 2005 letter.)
I hope you enjoy these little segments of Lambda history. We certainly have enough material for years’ worth of future letters, and we can all be proud of the rich heritage we share in Delta Phi.