All photos courtesy of sources
Yale has Skull and Bones. Cornell has Quill and Dagger. Even “that school up north” has one. So, for being such a historic university, where’s Ohio State’s secret society?
“This question has come up before, and we have never been able to find anything on secret societies at OSU,” said Tamar Chute, interim university archivist. “That doesn’t mean they’ve never existed; it just means we have no evidence.”
The Lantern has unearthed proof that such a society does exist, and has been around for nearly 20 years.
Tucked away in the catering supply room of the Ohio Union basement lies a small space with blood-red walls, a skeleton in the corner, randomly-placed stones and a floor littered with votive candles.
From the outside, it’s Room 121A, one of the Union’s many storage closets.
Inside, a hand-painted crest on the wall indicates that this room belongs to the “Scarlet Order,” OSU’s first confirmed secret society.
‘I was sworn to an oath of secrecy’
According to the crest, the society was established in 1992, the same year university President E. Gordon Gee started his first term at OSU. However, he said he’s never heard of the Order.
“I was not aware that we had a secret society,” Gee told The Lantern.
That’s because members were told to keep things quiet.
“I was sworn to an oath of secrecy,” said Peter Osborne, a 1994 OSU graduate and former member of the Order, “but I’m probably breaking that right now.”
Osborne said he “can’t remember” what the group did. Ohio Union Director Tracy Stuck said she had an idea.
“They do nice things … They’re a do-good society,” Stuck said. “From what I understand, I think it started off that way.”
Stuck said that although the Order is not a “registered group,” the Union provides storage for it in the basement: Room 121A.
“They don’t receive any money,” Stuck said. “We help store things for a couple groups, and it’s one of the ones that has a storage space.”
Stuck said the Union also lends storage space to student governments, Buck-I-Serv, Ohio Union Activities Board and Ohio Staters, and stores supplies for the Medieval Renaissance Faire.
‘A special secret chamber’
The Order didn’t always meet in a supply closet.
Before the new Union was built, members gathered in a crawl space under the old Union. David Mucci, former director of the Ohio Union who now holds the same position at the University of Kansas, chose the space after then-fourth-year Tim DeHart approached him in 1992 about starting a group that would “transcend normal organizational lines.”
“DeHart … felt that there needed to be a group of students who took care of, or were champions of, critical student issues in need,” Mucci said. “But he wanted it also to have a special, mystical character to it … so he decided that he needed a special secret chamber.”
Mucci knew just the place.
He introduced DeHart to what he called a “secret cavern,” a damp crawl space underneath the old Union, dotted with stalactites and stalagmites.
Order members blanketed the limestone floors with votive candles and brought in a small table, complete with a scarlet tablecloth. The first members hand-painted a crest similar to the one found in the Union space and listed their names in red under a small, black-and-white heading labeled “Founders 1992.”
DeHart, who Mucci said now works and lives in Latin America, could not be reached for comment.
Although Mucci helped to establish the Order, he said he doesn’t know what went on during meetings.
“During the induction ceremony I know that there were hoods and candles and readings,” Mucci said. “But … I can’t speak to the particulars.”
‘Some things are just kind of a blur’
After the Order was established, subsequent members also added their names to the walls. A black-and-white heading indicated that these were the “Knights of the Scarlet Order” and they were listed in blocks of seven and eight names at a time.
Many of these names belonged to some of the most involved students at the time. A majority were members or officers in Undergraduate Student Government, Student Alumni Council and Ohio Staters, and several were on Homecoming Court and involved in Greek life.
After graduating, members went on to become leaders in their respective fields, including Ramona Reyes, vice president of Columbus City Schools, who said being a member of the Order made her feel “valued” at OSU.
“You realize … you were selected with a unique group of individuals, and it makes you feel important in a big pool of students,” Reyes said. “It definitely highlights that you made an impact.”
Reyes’ name was listed as a founder. She said she was given a letter about joining the group after she was nominated by “an administrative member.”
Besides being able to “go to the top of Orton Hall and ring the bell,” Reyes said she couldn’t remember what else the Order did.
“Some things are just kind of a blur,” Reyes said.
Once the old Union was demolished, the Order had to find a new space, which led it to the storage space in the basement. However, this time members didn’t list their names on the walls, but painted them on cloth banners. The only membership list The Lantern was able to see was the banner from 2008–09, which listed seven fourth-years. None of the listed members responded for comment.
The lack of information about new members might be because the Order doesn’t meet in the Union.
“I think they meet in a secret place,” Stuck said, “because if they met here, we’d know it.”
Something Stuck does know: The Order isn’t the only secret society on campus.
“There’s more than one group that exists,” Stuck said.