Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sonny Maton: BKE

     Did you hear stories about the Black Knights when you were at EIU?
     I recently reviewed a book by an alumni who was a member of BKE in the Fifties (Later returned there to attend grad school in the Sixties; occasionally ate at the Ko-Op). My brief review for Library Thing follows:

The Black Knights Of The Embarrass by Sonny Maton

     This is a story that has regional interest for persons connected to Charleston, Illinois and Eastern Illinois University. Set in the post-Korean War era, this novel is mainly a biographical tale centered on the early history of a unique student veteran's organization, "The Black Knights of the Embarrass." Having attended and graduated from EIU in the late 60s and having lived another twenty years in the community, I'm familiar with the legendary stories about the BKE and the locations for the novel's events. I first heard tales of the Black Knights from Walt Warmoth (owner of Little Walt's campus hangout). I also had a college roommate who joined the BKE in 1967 and gathered some impressions of his experiences too.
     Sonny Maton was an early member of the Black Knights in the Fifties; therefore his novel should be accurate, however it seems lacking in the full disclosure in places. Identities are sometimes thinly disguised yet several people are identified in the photo section. Most evident is the 'chaste' demeanor portrayed for members of the group made up primarily of Korean War veterans. BKE was noted for their anti-establishment stance, their defiance of attempted controls by university administration, and infamous drinking and 'Cornfield Relays' parties held at the Airtight Bridge area. I recognize that participants are now senior citizens and grandparents today, but also they were real people - - not that different from veterans of other wars and non-traditional college students of other times. The book is a little too squeaky-clean for me in places. I mean the author is the person who got in the face of President Quincy Doudna. Doudna who threatened to eradicate the BKE, and who directed Dean Anfinson to seek to identify members and discipline them.
Black Knights' at Bay: University Wars on Mysterious Frat (May 17, 1958). The Miami News.
    Despite the weaknesses, Maton's book is a recommended read for EIU alumni 
(Photo of Sonny Maton below).

Related Information: The Airtight Bridge area (located east of Fairgrange community north of Charleston) came into the news later (Revised content below, Dec. 2011):

     On a Sunday morning, October 19, 1980, two men from rural Urbana driving by the Airtight Bridge spotted a gruesome scene, a dismembered corpse missing its head, hands and feet. The female torso was located about 50 feet downstream from the bridge. The discovery caused a stir in the local media. Police investigated for years, but were unable to determine the identity of the victim until 1992, when DNA testing produced a match to a missing person.
     A Hörspiele (Experimental radio documentary) titled Airtight Bridge was written and produced by Jonathon Kirk and Brent Wetters. The primary component is an interview conducted by Jonathon Kirk with two police officers who investigated the crime. (Program length: 20:58 minutes)

Article in the Dally Eastern News by Jeff Madsen (Jan. 26, 1989). Click on the image below for a larger view.

I'm guessing when the writer mentioned "a cake throw," the BKA member was talking about a keg throw into the river.