I don’t know how many of you are aware of the Odd Fellows but I’ve always noticed their buildings while traveling around the country. Believe it or not, they have a museum in Wisconsin (unfortunately it does not have a website or any other info source). Luckily, Matt from the Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi (also check out his tumblr) personally visited the Odd Fellows Museum and has shared his experience with us:
The charming town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin has a little museum in the old lodge hall of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. The fraternal organization started in England in the eighteenth century as a union of various odd workers in trades too small to have their own guilds. Cornish miners brought the idea to the thriving lead mining district of southwest Wisconsin and founded Odd Fellows Lodge #1 in 1838, the first chapter west of the Alleghenies. In its heyday the lodge gave stability to its working-class members by providing life insurance, micro-credit loans, and a family-friendly social club in a rough frontier town.
Though the little wood building was built as a lodge hall, the club lost a majority of its members when the miners left town for the California gold fields and the building was turned into a residence. Eighty years later the Odd Fellows were finally able to repurchase the house and turn it into a museum in 1927.
Entering the house our eyes were drawn in all directions to glass cases crammed with memorabilia from the club’s long history. There are ribbons and souvenirs from endless years of conventions, full of pomp and circumstance. Portraits of past Grand Masters and handcrafted tributes to fraternal ideals line the hallways. Our guide was especially proud of a World War I shell embellished with Odd Fellows symbols, carved by some doughboy hiding in the trenches. The walls are densely covered with lithographs spelling out mottoes and acronyms with meaning only for the initiated.
Upstairs there is a room full of more fascinating treasures: parade costumes and ornate thrones used in club rituals. A little coffin lies in the corner but it’s only a theater prop used in some ceremony, a symbol of our mortality and limited time on earth. Our tour guide happily explained some of the uses of the artifacts, but there are too many symbolic references and internal meanings to fully understand what it is all about, at least during our short visit.
While the building is a museum, it is still owned by the Odd Fellows who hold meetings in an annex behind the lodge. There may not be as many members as there were several decades ago, but perhaps the mystery of these intriguing objects will entice the visitor to join the Odd Fellows to find out what it is all about. “Think about it,” the guide says on our way out. “We do have a chapter in your town!”