Twelve Days of Buckeyes: Why “Carmen, Ohio” is our alma mater

Fred Cornell, 1915

It’s hard to imagine a home football game not being followed by the team and fans singing OSU’s alma mater, “Carmen, Ohio.” It took years, however, for this ritual to become a steadfast tradition.

Fred Cornell, a member of the Men’s Glee Club in the early 1900s, definitely wrote the lyrics, but it’s unclear how he was inspired to do so. One story has Fred writing the song in the fall of 1902, on the train taking him and the football team from Ann Arbor, after a loss of 86 to 0. Cornell felt that the team and fans needed an inspirational song to lift their spirits.

A more likely account, supported by a 1910 article in the Alumni Monthly, has Fred himself saying that he wrote the piece in the fall of 1903, because the Glee Club was looking for an alma mater. There were several entries submitted by women, and Cornell was urged by several other men to write something.

What’s not in doubt was that it was first performed in 1903 on New Year’s Eve at an off-campus event. The first on-campus presentation was at the Wednesday Convocation, when students returned to campus. It was then sung at football games, but did not have any great popularity at first. The tune also seems to have been undecided for some time, with several different pieces of music used until the Spanish March was finally chosen.

By 1918 “Carmen, Ohio” was played on the chimes at Orton Hall everyday at 4:30, following taps. A phonograph record was produced of the song in 1921.

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