It was so cold the beer turned to slush.

Forty-three degrees below zero recently and the red-eyed brothers of Theta Delta Chi were happily hooting and screaming as they smashed into each other on the homemade ice slide extending from the second-floor porch to the frozen ground.

They could barely feel the pain of the biting wind that swept through the rural Upper Valley here, from the peaks of Vermont's Green Mountains on one side to New Hampshire's White Mountains on the other.

Bedraggled and only semi-conscious, they returned to the warmth of the nearly decimated fraternity house from time to time only to defrost their beer -- and load up on some more.

At one of the nation's most prestigious universities -- Dartmouth College, alma mater of the late former vice president Rockefeller -- they could have wilted the ivy at the school that inspired the movie "Animal House."

Like the movie written by 1963 Dartmouth graduate Chris Miller -- in which a puritanical college president closes a dilapidated fraternity house because of its members' raucous behavior -- the college trustees who were scheduled to vote today on the elimination of fraternities, instead issued a warning to the school's 20 fraternities and two sororities to clean up their acts or get out.

In the movie, which Miller says was based on experiences at several campus fraternities, the Omega house is put on "double secret probation" by the college president who ultimately shuts down the house.

In this case it was the faculty. In a 67-to-13 vote last November, the faculty urged the closing of social clubs because they encourage "alcoholism, misbehavior and values antithetical to academia."

Opponents of the fraternites noted that nearly a dozen students were treated for alcoholic convulsions last spring during "sink night," the installation ceremony for new fraternity members and traditionally the year's wildest bash.

Professor James Epperson, who has spearheaded the antifraternity drive, told colleagues of some of the legendary campus atrocities attributed to fraternities, some of which involved what is delicately referred to as crimes against nature as well as man.

"It's as if these men have been blocks of granite, indeed, over which the education and the civilization we have tried to give them have spilled without effect," said Epperson.

But Charles Stinson, an associate professor of religion, said, "Not all the fraternities are rowdy and boorish. Not all the fraternities are anti-intellectual. Not all of them encourage excessive drinking or academic laziness."

Todd Young, a sophomore and member of Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity, said social clubs offer "a unique opportunity for camaraderie and fellowship; it gives us a chance to release some of the tensions that build up in a competitive school like Dartmouth."

And generally, many of the students said, fraternities have toned down their behavior a bit since Miller was a member of Alpha Delta, now one of the more sedate fraternities on campus.


Inside Theta Chi, dubbed the "boom boom lodge," two fraternity brothers a few weekends ago were balancing kegs of beer on their heads. A third was banging his head against a wall, he said, to sober up enough so he could "really get drunk."

Others were diving down the stairs on their bellies in a game know simply as "stair diving." And one, in an inexplicable game of his own design, would grab a woman, throw her over his shoulder, drag her upstairs and return about 30 seconds later looking for a new female victim

"The guys at boom boom lodge have a tendency to be wild and crazy-type guys," said Bill Mitchell of Bonesgate fraternity. Bonesgate is best known for its "fog cutter" parties in which everyone gets "all uni-ed up" -- Which means "you dress up in anything that makes you look really stupid, like one guy came as a keg."

"It's fun," he said. "You know, everybody just goes nuts."

"Last year, a partygoer at a "fog cutter" ripped the sprinkler system out of the ceiling at the fraternity house.

"This is a big weekend, so you can pretty much expect wild debauchery all over campus," one student told a visitor to Dartmouth. "But then again, it's random abuse around here just about every weekend."