‘Dead Fred’ gets a prime spot at vice presidential debate

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

DANVILLE, Ky.—Fred's dead, baby, but he'll have the best seat in the house for the vice presidential debate.

Known as "Dead Fred," a painting of former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Centre College alum Frederick M. Vinson is a fixture at major events at the school hosting Thursday's debate. The real Vinson died in 1953, and the brothers in his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, have brought "him"—the painting—to every football game since. Twelve years ago he sat in a chair at the vice presidential debate between Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, and this year he'll watch Joe Biden and Paul Ryan duke it out from an alcove.

Whether it's a kegger, a mixer or a nationally televised debate that could play a role in dictating the direction of the most powerful nation for years to come, Dead Fred rarely misses a party.

"He's a bro," said Doug Spoelker, a senior and Phi Delta Theta fraternity brother. "He's a wingman."

The original painting of Dead Fred—the one that will watch the debate—lives in the alumni office at the school, while a smaller copy—the one at all the football games—adorns the meeting room at the Phi Delta Theta house on fraternity row. A third keeps watch over the residences of Vinson Hall dorm.

On Tuesday, about 25 fraternity brothers from Phi Delta Theta brought the original painting from the alumni office in what became a ceremonious procession across the campus. Dead Fred stopped by the fraternity house, then went to the athletic center housing, the media filing center and finally stopped at the debate hall, where he was given a chair in the front. Debate organizers worried, however, that it might look strange on television to have a painting sitting in the audience, so they moved him to the alcove closer to the stage, where he arguably has a better view.

The brothers at Phi Delta Theta, who are responsible for the care and protection of Dead Fred, said there's no telling whom he'll support. (Although the Supreme Court justice was a Democrat when he was alive.)

"He's probably neutral," Spoelker said. "He'd like to see a nice clean debate. No low blows. Just good representation of the leaders of the country."

Vinson did not return a request for comment about this story because he has been dead for 59 years and is also made of paint and paper.