Empty Fraternities So Dirty It’s Scary

Jen Wieczner

By Jen WiecznerThe Daily Northwestern

Among North Campus’ ivy-covered fraternity houses are those whose doors don’t open, whose windows don’t show.

They are overgrown, a patchwork of broken glass and wooden boards. Fire escapes don’t reach the ground; roof antennas lie askew.

Over the peeling paint of the door of 566 Lincoln St., the old Pi Kappa Alpha house, a sign reads “No admittance.”

Looking beyond the reflection in the basement windows of 2335 Sheridan Road, below the letters Sigma Nu, there are no people. The floor is covered in half an inch of dust. In the mailbox, there is a mixture of soggy leaves and envelopes that never reached their destination. Another chapter’s Greek letters are spray-painted on the wall, but the lights in the house are always on.

“Nobody’s lived there for several years,” warned McCormick senior Bobby Timberlake. “Supposedly, there’s a bunch of graffiti inside. Supposedly, if you pull down the fire escape you can enter an open door on the second floor.”

Why these houses remain empty and why their residents left in the first place are mysteries shrouded in rumors.

Even Erin Huffman, the assistant director of fraternity and sorority life, could not say when the houses were abandoned, except that the Pike house has been empty longer, although the chapter remains active at Northwestern.

The university owns the houses, but chapters lease them and make maintenance decisions, so she could not comment on the future status of the houses.

“All of that is kind of confidential,” Huffman said.

Some members of active campus fraternities have entered the Sigma Nu house at night, looting it for mementos.

“A lot of stuff was just abandoned,” said McCormick sophomore Misha Schoolov, who has a lamp from the house. “They just left food in the kitchen.”

But besides a strong stench and the general disrepair, he said the interior’s lofted rooms and many windows were impressive.

Schoolov said he heard a group of brothers had tried to break in Saturday night, only to find their usual entry window boarded up.

Outside the house, the ground is covered in glass shards and squashed screens. One window has been replaced by a white panel, streaked by what could only be dirty fingers.

A decomposing screen swings ajar in the wind, opening to a basement room so dark nothing can be seen inside.

Those intrigued by the house are not intimidated by the possibility of encountering squatters or unsavory inhabitants.

“I suppose it’s possible, but it’s kind of an inconvenient place to live, creepy,” Weinberg sophomore Jack Pelzer said.

But NU Sigma Nu alum Joe Moore, McCormick ’01, said he and other alumni are working to renovate the house and re-colonize it.

Contrary to rumors of scandals and drug busts that have dogged the empty building’s former occupants, the house’s charter was not revoked, he said. It was placed on hold by the alumni group because there simply were not enough people in the chapter after a series of small pledge classes.

“They got to the point where there were only eight people living in the house,” Moore said. “It becomes difficult to make things work (financially). It’s just a bunch of guys hanging out without a greater purpose.”

So Sigma Nu nationals took the chapter off campus with the intention of re-colonizing it later, he said.

“That seemed like the best option in the long run,” Moore said, adding that the house had been re-colonized 20 to 30 years ago.

Moore said the process of recruiting a new chapter could begin as early as January, or possibly the following year.

“Hopefully it’ll be a thriving house in a year or two,” he said.

Reach Jen Wieczner at [email protected]