Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ten Secret Societies With The Goofiest Names

Writing a For Dummies book requires a certain amount of discipline, and neither Alice nor I have any. So when we get told that our manuscript is supposed to be 348 pages long, we turn in 460 pages anyway. The result is that lots of good stuff gets cut.

Case in point was one of our favorite "Parts Of Ten" chapters.

So, here is what was at one time Chapter 19 of Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies:



Ten Secret Societies With The Goofiest Names

♦ Concocting convoluted monikers
♦ Discovering dubious dens of derisive doofuses

The mid-1800’s were a period of explosive growth for secret and fraternal societies in the United States, and another wave happened in the 1920’s. As new fraternal groups developed, it quickly became something of a challenge to find new, untapped sources of inspiration for names, rituals, costumes and traditions.

It’s so hard to just pick ten, when there are gems like Prudent Patricians of Pompeii of the United States of America, the Military Order of the Cootie, the Supreme Order of White Rabbits, the Solar Spiritual Progressive Fifth Order of Melchizedek and the Egyptian Sphinx, and the Royal and Exalted Order of Fleas that had to be left off of the list. Here are our ten favorites.


1. The Order of Bananas
No one could claim there was anything subtle about this organization. Originated at the New York Athletic Club in 1923, 110 members were initiated in one day into “Banana Bunch No. 1, New York Plantation.”
It should be noted that the Order of Bananas disappeared quickly, and is not associated with the International Banana Club or its Banana Museum in Altadena, California.

Just not appeeling to us.

2. The Ancient, Honorable and Fragrant Order of the Pink Goats
For well over 200 years, it has been something of a long running joke within fraternal groups and secret societies that new initiates would be required to be blindfolded and ride a goat. No one can really say where this concept came from for certain, but the legend has curiously wound its way through everything from social clubs and business associations to college fraternities and service groups.
First organized in 1918 at a convention of Rotary members in Buffalo, New York, the Ancient, Honorable and Fragrant Order of the Pink Goats was actually an order within the Rotary. While the majority of the group believed it was all in good fun, more than a few did not, and objected to the idea of a “secret” club within a club, as well as the association with the “evil” goat.

3. The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo
While this particular group has perhaps the drop-dead silliest name in this list, the organization itself has a serious mission. First formed in 1892 in Gurdon, Arkansas, the Order was created by five men in the lumber business who were stranded in a local hotel, waiting for a delayed train. Lumber company salesmen were constantly traveling the country, often attending trade shows and conventions. These men hit upon the notion of organizing one great “carnival” of lumber trade shows, held in one city, at one place and time, crossing all boundaries of corporate distrust and competition. Moreover, they sought to create a fraternal organization strictly for lumbermen, and make it unlike any other group in existence. There would be no fancy uniforms or regalia required and no permanent lodge buildings.

Then there was that name. At first, the suggested moniker was the Ancient Order of Camp Followers, but it just didn’t have the ring of uniqueness they were hunting. It was Bolling Arthur Johnson, a lumber trade newspaper journalist, who suggested The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, which was immediately accepted.

Concatenate is a fancy word for unite. The rest of the name, it turns out, was an industry in-joke. It seems that a Chicago lumberman named Charles McCarer had something of a peculiar hairstyle. While most of his head was bald, he had one odd tuft of hair in the middle of it, which he greased and twisted into a spike. Johnson had nicknamed the tonsorial horror a “hoo-hoo,” and the term quickly made the rounds in the lumber business. In no time flat, “hoo-hoo” had become a gag phrase used by lumbermen to describe anything unusual or out of the ordinary. Weird hats became “hoo-hoo” hats, loud suits became “hoo-hoo” suits, and so on.

In a sign that they were not just picking on McCarer and his greasy hair horn, he was elected (in absentia) as the first Grand Snark of the Universe, as an honor for his pointy-haired inspiration. The mascot of the Order was the black cat, and they patterned their ritual after a somewhat goofy version of Egyptian customs. In honor of the black cat’s nine lives, they made the number nine central to their organization: initiation would cost $9.99, and annual dues were 99¢; the annual convention would be held on the 9th day of the ninth month at nine minutes past nine. And all of this was concocted and decided that one afternoon while waiting for a train.

Amazingly, the Order still exists today. Now expanded into Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the more proper name these days is simply the International Order of Hoo-Hoo, and it remains the only fraternal organization for those employed in the forest products business.
Check out their website at: http://www.hoo-hoo.org

It should be noted they have nothing to do with the similar sounding group of Ham radio operators, the Royal Order of Wouff-Hong.

4. The Horrible Conspiration Club
Mystic Masonic Lodge in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has a long and proud history. There are few operating lodges of Freemasonry in the U.S. that can trace back 200 years of continuous operation. But Mystic Lodge had a curious club, and inner group of members, that called themselves the Horrible Conspiration Club. Started in 1913, its origin, history and purpose are veiled in either secrecy or bad record keeping.

5. The Ancient and Noble Order of the Gormogons
Sometimes a secret society appears on the scene for the simple purpose of making fun of another ones. This seems to be the case with the Ancient and Noble Order of the Gormogons. A notice first appeared in a London paper in 1724 announcing a meeting of this “Ancient Noble Order” at the Castle Tavern in Fleet Street.

According to the lore of the short-lived group, the Gormogons were originated by Chin-Quaw Ky-Po, the first Emperor of China, thousands of years before Adam, and the ritual was brought to England “by a Mandarin.”. It was clearly from the start designed to have a good laugh at the expense of the Freemasons, promising that there would “be no drawn sword at the Door, nor Ladder in a dark Room, nor will any Mason be reciev'd as a member till he has renounced his Novel Order and been properly degraded.” In addition, it seems to have been a pro-Roman Catholic group – unusual in Britain at the time – and specifically designed to ridicule the Freemasons.

As a result of some defections from London lodges of Masons who went over to the Gormogons, the group published an exposé of Masonic ritual, called "The Grand Mystery of Free-Masonry Discovered." Some Masons believed the Order was a nefarious plot by Jesuit priests to break up London’s Masonic lodges, but no one could ever say conclusively. It seems to have died out in 1738.

6. The Know Nothings
If you were going to start a new political party, you couldn’t have picked a name that was worse for public relations, yet best described the political profession as a whole. Like so many secret societies, the Know Nothings grew out of a nativist movement, a fear that the U.S. was being overrun with “dang foreigners” – most important, “dang” Catholic foreigners. Appearing in the 1840’s as a part of the American Republican Party, and went through several name changes, settling on the American Party in 1855.
Where the funny name came in was from the semi-secret nature of the membership. If asked about the party, members were supposed to answer, “I know nothing,” like some pre-Civil War Sergeant Shultz.

The fear was that hoards of Irish and Italian immigrants owed Catholic allegiance to the pope in Rome, and not to their newly adopted country, so they were, therefore, not to be trusted. Pope Pius IX was contending with rebellion in the Papal States (vast parts of Italy governed by the Pope until Italy’s unification in 1870, when the Papal territory was reduced to the tiny sliver that is today’s Vatican City). The belief of the Know Nothings and other White Anglo-Saxon Protestant groups was that the pope just might be trying to invade the United States. This wouldn’t be the first time such idiocy was believed, and it wouldn’t be the last.

In the 1850’s, the Know Nothings began to win enough elections to upset the political establishment. Because the Democratic Party had a large share of Irish Catholics, the Know Nothing’s message made them easy winners, especially in New England. Republican and Whig candidates kept their Know Nothing membership a secret, but they followed the group’s nativist platform. By 1854, they seemed to be sweeping elections and headed west, with victories in the California governor’s race, as well as electing the Mayor of San Francisco. When they came out of the closet and announced their formation officially as the American Party, they had well over 1,000,000 members.

The Know Nothings died out after the start of the Civil War. They were a popular party in the South, running on a pro-Union platform, but divided internally over the slavery question. By 1860, they had almost completely disappeared.

One of the strangest episodes in Washington D.C. involved the Know Nothings and the building of the Egyptian obelisk-shaped Washington Monument. By 1855, the stone structure had risen 155 feet and had cost $300,000. The Monument Society was broke.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX donated a block of marble from the Temple of Concord in Rome to be placed inside of the Monument, along with commemorative stones that had been donated by the states and many other countries. He was increasingly seen as a tyrant by Protestants all across the U.S. over his actions in the Papal States, as well as some decisions he had made on Canon Law. Pope Pius had defined the startling concepts of Immaculate Conception and the infallibility of the Holy Father when speaking on matters of faith. As a result, Protestants all over the world reacted violently to both pronouncements as heresy. The arrival of the Pope’s stone at the Washington Memorial jobsite was very lousy timing.

One night, ten Know Nothings broke into the Monument’s construction yard and stole the Pope’s marble stone. Rumors were that they dumped it into the Potomac or a power company jobsite, or even that it was ground into powder and used as part of the Monument’s mortar mix. Regardless, it was never seen again. The Church later sent a replacement stone that is part of the Monument today.

The Know Nothings weren’t done. After destroying the Pope’s stone, they went on to actually seize the Washington Monument by taking over the board that was overseeing fund raising and construction. For four years, the new board accomplished absolutely nothing, and the Know Nothings started to get a reputation of being do-nothings. After four years, Congress defunded their share of the Monument out of frustration, and would put no more money into it for another twenty years.

The Know Nothings finally left, but construction completely stopped in 1861 at 176-feet. Freemason Mark Twain remarked that the unfinished stump looked “like a hollow, oversized chimney.” You can still easily see the line on the Monument today where the stone changes color less than halfway up. In 1876, with the war over and the centennial of the Declaration of Independence approaching, Congress finally appropriated $2 million to finish the job.

7. The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm of North America
Most Grand Lodges of Freemasonry across the U.S. turned their backs on the tavern origins of the modern fraternity, and eliminated demon hootch from their neighborhood lodges in the middle of the 19th century. As a result, the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, whose members are known as the Shriners, started in the 1870’s in order to give millions of thirsty Masons a playground in which to shed some of their Masonic seriousness.

Not long afterwards, The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm appeared, with a similar purpose. Most of its members can scarcely remember its official name, and the group is more simply and affectionately known as the Grotto. Over the years, the Grotto has somewhat unfairly earned the unflattering nickname “the poor man’s Shrine,” but there are indeed similarities between the two groups.

In 1889, a group of Masons in Hamilton, New York, met to hold informal meetings and have some good-natured fun. The leader of the group was Leroy Fairchild, and for a while, the group was known as the Fairchild Deviltry Committee. Like the Masons who organized the Shrine, Fairchild believed the lodges had become too serious and that men would be better Masons if the solemn teachings from the lodge could be interspersed with a little socializing and fun afterwards.

In 1890, Fairchild organized the Supreme Council for the M.O.V.P.E.R., and the concept quickly spread. Like the Shrine, it is not technically a Masonic organization – it is a group that requires its members to be Master Masons. The early difference was that the Shrine required members to not just be Blue Lodge masons, but also to have received the degrees of the York Rite or the Scottish Rite as well (a requirement that has been dropped since the 1990’s).

It has an Arabic/Persian motif in its ceremonies, local Grotto chapter names and ceremonies – its ritual was suppoed to have been “discovered” in a secret Tehran vault. Members wear black fezzes with long red tassels and refer to each other as Prophets. Their highest-ranking officer is the Potent Monarch.

Really.

Their charity, the Cerebral Palsy Child is a charitable trust, directed by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Supreme Council, M.O.V.P.E.R. Funds are given annually to the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, as well as to the Dentistry for the Handicapped program. Many millions have been contributed by the Grottoes for cerebral palsy research, along with other philanthropic charities, projects, and organizations.

You can find more information on the Grotto at their Web site (www.scgrotto.com)

8. The International Brotherhood of Old Bastards
Started in 1918 to allow its members to have the “opportunity to prove you’re a real bastard.” Non-discriminatory and open to both men and women, there are close to 1,700,000 members worldwide.

Claiming its origins go back to the 15th century and William the Bastard, the I.B.O.B. has no lodges, but the Order is governed by the Supreme Archbastard. They also claim a link to the original Illuminati, called the Illuminated Bastards. Their newsletter is called Ye Old Bastards Bulletin.

9. The Ancient Mystic Order of Bagmen of Bagdad
You have to love this name. No, it doesn’t refer to Saddam Hussein’s cabinet ministers. The Ancient Mystic Order of Bagmen of Bagdad are the inner circle of the Order of the United Commercial Travelers of America, a fraternal organization originally formed for traveling salesmen. The U.C.T. was founded in 1888, and the Bagmen appeared in Cincinnati in 1892. Obviously patterned after the Shriners, the Bagmen are a pseudo-Arabic order that concentrates on fun, frolics and, undoubtedly, booze. They have a serious side as well, providing funeral expenses for members.

They may have been related to the similar-sounding Royal Fellows of Bagdad. It was an organization of liquor salesmen formed in 1914 to fight states and municipalities from passing restrictive liquor laws. Obviously they didn’t work hard enough. Nationwide prohibition lasted from 1920 until 1933.

The U.C.T. today is open not just to traveling salesmen, but to all. They offer insurance benefits and programs and have many charities across the country. Their website is at http://www.uct.org

10. The Order of the Anti-Poke Noses
As we find ourselves today living in an age of nannies, crybabies and busybodies who can’t seem to get along with their neighbors without taking them to court, the time has come for a revival of this, unfortunately, defunct organization. Originally started in Arkansas during the 1920s to battle against the explosive growth of the new version of the Ku Klux Klan (see Chapter 12), the Order of the Anti-Poke Noses had a lofty mission statement: “To oppose any organization that attends to everyone’s business but their own.”

Hear, hear!

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