The Brownstein Incident Grover Cleveland – 1955

Before I write anything, let me state that I am not anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic or have any similar negative traits.  I was not going to write about the above, as it might be misconstrued as such.  The whole thing was just another sophomoric gag. As such I think it needs being  told. The time is the fall 1955 semester at Syracuse.

This takes place in Syracuse University, my first year in Grover Cleveland:

Grover Cleveland Apt.Syracuse University

Grover Cleveland Apt.Syracuse University

Underclass dorms were full of teenagers and very young single, men and as such reeked with testosterone.  So it makes sends to keep up some sort of decorum.  This fell to the Resident Advisors, usually grad or Law students.  Most were reasonable and even helpful at times.

However, Irving Brownstein was not one of those.  His joy in life seemed looking for very minor infringements to come down on. A little tin god as we used to call such people.

In 1955 WWII  was only  10 years old and war jokes were still considered funny.  An example is this:

Q: What do you call the top officer in the English Navy?

A: Admiral of the Ocean Blue:

Q: what do you call the top officer in the Italian Navy?

A: Chicken of the sea.

So, declasse now, but then part of undergraduate humor.  Somehow, a small group of us got to talking about Irving and how to rattle his cage.  A lot of us had WWII German souvenirs from our Dads, cousins, etc. who picked them up and shipped them home.  Perhaps six of us decided to hold a meeting in the apartment I was assigned to.

I did own souvenirs, but had none with me.  I did have a small 5 or 6 tube radio, and a turntable for 331/3 records.  One of my records contained national songs from countries around the world. There were two German songs, the current national anthem then and the Horst Wessel lied “Die Fahne hoch.” The song is an old folk tune with new words by Wessel.  Horst was an SA storm trooper who killed by communists in one of the many post WWI uprisings.  He was named a martyr by the Nazis and the song became a Nazi anthem, often repeated.  

Grover Cleveland had 6 stories and I happened to have an apartment above Irving’s.  It is grade school electronics to wire a speaker to a radio and I did that as my contribution. We 6 agreed on a time and date to meet in the main room of my apartment.  It amazed me what the other guys brought.  A large Nazi flag, armbands, medals, even a coal shuttle helmet which must have come from WWI. No weapons though.  I opened my window and lowered the speaker down over Irving’s and started the song.  It did the trick, and we heard him slam his door and come stomping up.  I quickly hauled my speaker in but left the window open.  It was Indian Summer type weather so I had a good reason for an open window.

Bang, Bang, Bang on our door.  One of us opens it and in storms a livid Irving.  Who is playing that terrible song? He almost shouted.  Then he sees the rest of us in our gear and almost goes berserk.  I calmly say that we are organizing a German-American cultural society.  I was playing an appropriate opening German song and since my window was open because it was warm, you must have heard it.  I am sorry and it won’t happen again.  We are all for friendship. 

If anything, Irving became more angry and agitated.  “I forbid this!!!” One of the other guys picked up the ball and asked if the dorm rules were above our US constitution and quoted something like: “Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right or ability to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue, and defend their ideas.”

WE had him!!! Irving spluttered some more, then almost ran out of the room, giving the door a loud slam.  Very unprofessional. 

I don’t remember any more about him.  When he cooled down he realized that he had been Had, but good. He would never live this down in Grover Cleveland and I think he got re-assigned to another dorm.  OK with us, we just wanted to get rid of him.

So, the gag was anti Irving, not anti-Semitic.  None of us were skinheads and we never met again.  One time was enough to spring the trap on Irving, which was all we were trying to to. Childish and sophomoric yes, but nothing more than that.




About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
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5 Responses to The Brownstein Incident Grover Cleveland – 1955

  1. ingridmg2014 says:

    I admit it does sound funny. You rascal, you! Possibly even a rapscallion! :0)

    • R.J.F. says:

      It was amusing to us. We meant no real ill with it, just wanted to stick it to him a bit and that part worked like a charm. I’m glad you like these little personal stories before I became more dignified.

  2. Scott says:

    Uncle Bob– You guys must have been a riot.

    • R.J.F. says:

      Well, we were trying to put our education to practical use. We meant no real ill will by it, just wanted to jerk his chain and it worked. Good to hear from you and greetings to your family from me.

  3. Allan T says:


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