There’s only one word for the exhibit staged by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Lodge #314, Santa Paula’s oldest fraternal organization - fabulous. Little known and rarely seen artifacts, regalia, cups, headwear, robes, memorabilia, photographs, helmets and banners are just a sample of what is being exhibited at the Santa Paula California Oil Museum. Standing in front of the display are (left) Carlos Juarez, (right) Wes Easley.

Odd Fellows SPCOM exhibit: Ancient organization not a secretive one

April 07, 2010
Santa Paula News

There’s only one word for the exhibit staged by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Lodge #314, Santa Paula’s oldest fraternal organization - fabulous. Little known and rarely seen artifacts, regalia, cups, headwear, robes, memorabilia, photographs, helmets and banners are just a sample of what is being exhibited at the Santa Paula California Oil Museum.

Considered secretive by some, there are no secrets at the exhibit whose recent opening featured not only a look at the world of Odd Fellows, but also featured remarks on its history, goals, future and needs. John Nichols, who helped Odd Fellows prepare for their first ever exhibit, spied the notorious Black Ball in the voting box: “That is,” he noted, “where the expression ‘black balling’ came from.”

The exhibit - crafted with the help of the Santa Paula Historical Society - also features one of the original clock faces that is still made of glass posed regally between two mannequins wearing Odd Fellows robes and regalia. An impeller device of unknown function is also displayed; it was found in the crawlspace below the Clock Tower and is believed to be an original piece of equipment used in the construction of the building and clock tower in 1905.

“A lot of people are asking us what it is,” said Past Noble Grand Carlos Juarez, “and a lot are saying what they think it is... my favorite is a waterwheel. It’s one of the most interesting items existing from the lodge other than the clock face.”

Medals also take up display case space, and numerous vintage photos include the laying of the cornerstone for the new lodge after the former Cleveland Building Odd Fellows called home burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1903. An IOOF flag is of unknown age but is, said Juarez, “very, very old.”

Wonderful postcards and a blueprint of the lodge were drawing much attention, as was the 1884 Charter for the Santa Paula Lodge. The oversized charter displayed under glass has two magnifying glasses hung from it to examine the intricate and fascinating wording swirling throughout the document.

Wes Easley offered a history of the organization from its suspected beginnings in eighth century Egypt - which is only one theory of IOOF’s roots - to England, where mentions of the Odd Fellows were noted in literature of the 1600s. In early days organizations were formed for those with something in common, often their jobs, but Odd Fellows took members from a wide spectrum, which garnered their name. In the 1880s the purpose of Odd Fellows was to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan,” in short, said Easley, take care of their fellow man - in those days considered odd.

Past Noble Grand Dave Beaver gave the history of the local organization, and noted that city founder Nathan Weston Blanchard was the first Noble Grand. By 1903 or so the group had about 100 members and was housed at Cleveland Hall, purchased in 1889 for “1,000 coins... we still have the sale contract.”

After the fire that destroyed the building, a two-year community effort raised the funds for the new lodge, a Santa Paula landmark.

Ron Merson, also a Past Noble Grand, said the contributions of the late Les Maland revived the club as well as renovated the building, including adding an elevator; and now the Hall is named for him, as is the Plaza in front of the lodge. “At the same time we served the same purpose” of taking care of members and their families in times of need.

“Les deserves a lot of credit,” said IOOF member Carl Barringer, as a “driving force” in Odd Fellows as well as the community overall.

Member Paul Skeels became a member due to his interest in the clock: “Dave Beaver said the only way I’d see it is to join,” and now Skeels said he spends much time with the “mechanical marvel.” Manufactured by Seth Thomas, the clock was restored in recent years by the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, of which Skeels is a member. Earlier, in the early 1950s, Skeels said the clock was restored and modernized with “considerable help from the community,” which supported the Main Street icon.

Odd Fellows always welcomed the community, and Juarez said its membership still values its original ideals of helping others. “We are entrusted to preserve and maintain the clock tower,” now 105 years old and in need of major repair work that could cost as much as $100,000. And if the Odd Fellows ever ceased to exist, the building would revert to the state.

Juarez said permission was granted by the national organization to allow visitors to “see items normally not seen by the public... and there are others we cannot display.” Over the centuries, he noted, there has been much speculation of what goes on inside Odd Fellows Lodges, from the “mischievous to planning to overthrow the government,” but the organization’s goals remain the betterment of lives and community.

Noble Grand Johnny Henderson said he is pleased with the exhibit: “It’s good for the community so people can understand and appreciate Odd Fellows” and its rich history linked to the city’s own.

 





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