By Connie Williams
The event which made the summer at the museum for me was obtaining the artifacts of the Odd Fellows.
It was a hot humid day in early July. Bertha Zniewski and I met Duane Bluhm in the upstairs of the Ben Franklin store. We arrived at the store building about 10 a.m. It was already beastly hot and the air was close. The closed in steep stairway ahead of me going to the upper floor looked like enough to discourage the most hardy mountain goat. When I arrived at the top of the steps without going into oxygen debt, I was thankful. We went down a hall into an empty room and it was there I found treasures beyond description. There were boxes upon boxes of artifacts belonging to the Odd Fellows. This is where they used to meet. However, most of the members are up in age and can no longer deal with the intimidating steps going to the second floor. They have changed their meeting location to the Paynesville Area Center.
I felt like a child in an attic. I was among dozens of costumes, hats and helmets. Some 100 years old and made of fine velvet. Each costume unique and colorful. Another box held ceremonial swords and shields and other items. I looked out the window. People were walking on the sidewalk below. I thought if they only knew the secrets that are held in this place. People wrapped up in their immediate concerns, oblivious to what was happening in our little world upstairs. I felt glee knowing that I had found a treasure right under their noses. I turned back to see the head of "John the Baptist" being handed to me. I held the sacred three link chain which represents friendship, love, and truth.
I learned that the Odd Fellows is a fraternal society. It is made up of people with shared interests who come together in fellowship. It is a nonprofit organization. The Paynesville Odd Fellows have been active since 1899 and they still have regular meetings. Some groups are secret societies, but the Paynesville group has open meetings.
I felt like I was back in the time of the Renaissance. I poured over costumes of the guard, the outside guard, inner guard, and vice grand with their rich velvet in deep blue, black, or maroon. The clothes smelled musty, but actually had a feeling of fellowship and brotherhood that seemed to emanate from them.
I learned that those joining have to do degree work in order to become full fledged members. There are three degrees starting with an initiatory degree. When a new member has his degree work done then the organization has an initiation ceremony. Members wear these special costumes at these initiation ceremonies.
These costumes are only worn for initiation. Otherwise the members wear just plain clothes and have regular business meetings. They have donated reading lamps to the Good Samaritan Care Center. They have given money to many causes, and send students each year to the United Nations. They also make plans for Christmas parties and picnics.
There is an Odd Fellows Home in Northfield. It is a nursing home and retirement center. It was incorporated in 1899. Its now modern facilities are ever growing.
In Northfield, they also have the Three Links Apartments and Three Links Care Center for the elderly named, of course, after the three link chain symbolizing friendship, love, and truth.
The Odd Fellows are the only fraternal group that has ever been allowed to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldiers in Washington, D.C.
We have on a temporary display an exhibit of about a dozen of these beautiful costumes.
It is sad, but there are very few Odd Fellows left anymore.Young people are no longer interested in fraternal groups or secret societies. The chapters are closing all over the country.
The people of this area are very lucky indeed to have one of the last remaining chapters of this group still in existence among them. You are doubly lucky that you have a museum right in your midst which is housing the beautiful costumes, helmets, and swords of a fellowship group which may soon be gone forever.
A future article will be about the Rebekahs.