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Sigma Chi museum preserves history

In two small rooms above the former location of Bill's Art Store on High Street, an integral part of Miami history and Greek history lives on due to the work of Sigma Chi fraternity.

Rob Hornback, a Miami alumnus and member of the Sigma Chi class of 1992, is proud of the museum his fraternity has maintained.

"This is an amazing rendition of life in 1855 when Sigma Chi was founded in Oxford and a great reminder of the significance Miami has played in the creation of numerous Greek organizations," Hornback said.

Oxford, Ohio is home to numerous Alpha chapters of Greek organizations, mainly fraternities. An Alpha chapter refers to the founding fraternity or sorority chapter of a Greek organization.

This strong Greek tradition has led Miami to earn the moniker, "Mother of Fraternities," especially in reference to the so-called "Miami Triad:" Sigma Chi, Beta Theta Pi and Phi Delta Theta.

These Greek organizations, along with Phi Kappa Tau and sorority Delta Zeta, were founded here and later spread throughout North America.

The small museum holds numerous artifacts and forgotten stories that define Miami's and Sigma Chi's place in collegiate and Greek history.

The charter for the fraternity, a document that celebrated its 160th anniversary this summer, sits beneath protective glass. Nearby is a weathered commencement program from 1856.

Bits of Oxford's past are all around as well: an old map of Uptown and yellowed photographs of High Street over 100 years old.

One display case houses a letter from the university to Sigma Chi founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, expelling him for two months for engaging in a "personal contest" with a rival fraternity member.

Runkle lived in that very apartment with fellow founder James Parks Caldwell during his time at Miami. Their bedroom has since been restored to its previous appearance.

Although the museum is not open regularly to the public, the fraternity is working to make it more available. An opening will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 19.

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As of now, it primarily serves as a destination for other Sigma Chi chapter members to visit and learn about the fraternity's history. A sign-in book shows the names of brothers from universities across the nation.

"We get a lot of visits from other Sigma Chi chapters," Hornback said. "Kentucky, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh. They all come here."

The fraternity also has a larger museum at their national headquarters in Evanston, Illinois. That museum is more focused on the fraternity itself, rather than its founding and association with Oxford.

Sigma Chi is currently listed as an unrecognized organization by the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. The chapter was removed in 2012 for undisclosed reasons, although news reports at the time cited hazing, alcohol abuse and prior misconduct to be the cause of their demise.

The Alpha chapter of Sigma Chi will return to campus in spring 2016, according to Sigma Chi nationals and Interfraternity Council President Zach Scheid.

"Sigma Chi will be back on campus and recruiting next semester," Scheid said. "The four-year removal ensured that there were no actives remaining on campus. It's the best way to rebuild a culture."

Michael Church, executive director of Sigma Chi fraternity, is enthusiastic about the future of the Alpha chapter.

"We've been working closely with the Greek life office, and the university has been great," Church said. "We're excited to create a new standard for the Greek community."

While Sigma Chi works to return to their place in the Miami Greek population, its role in Miami's history remains enshrined in a museum on High Street.

Correction: Due to a reporter's error, an incorrect quote attributed to Miami alumnus Rob Hornback was published in a previous version of this article.