Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dairy Lunches & Other Lost Worlds

Grass Valley IOOF

You’ve never heard of “dairy lunches”; I can pretty much guarantee that. I know that because several years back I was researching dairy lunches and no one had ever heard of them, not even people in the trade. Well, eventually I ran across someone who did know about them, but it was a long haul.

I only knew about them because I’d been researching the history of ethnic restaurants in my town (Portland, OR) by digging through old phone books, looking for restaurants with ethnic names, and ran across a period of time—1920s-1940s—when nearly a quarter of the restaurants in town had the words “dairy lunch” in their name.



Naturally, I started asking around.

—Anybody know what a dairy lunch was?


Turns out they were the food fad of their day. Eat clean, eat dairy and you’ll avoid, if not cure, all ills. Being a Wisconsin boy, I can attest to the efficacy of that advice. Too bad we don’t still follow it; I can’t think of anything that a slice of lemon meringue pie doesn’t help.

I mention all this, not because there’s any connection between dairy lunches and cemeteries—the advice to eat clean and eat dairy was not deadly—but rather to demonstrate how quickly major institutions in American life can fade away leaving only wisps of memory like swirls of fog at the end of the pier. I wrote my little piece on the role of dairy lunches in American life, it was read by a handful of people, and promptly forgotten again. Dairy lunches are still lost.

It’s not quite that bad for fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows and the Masons are still out there, but none of us remembers what they used to mean to American life, how they dominated American society. We don’t remember it because we never knew it. We only know they have halls here and there in some towns, halls as often falling to the wrecking ball as not. If it wasn’t for the Shriners’ circus most American would know nothing of the Masons.

Yet there are telltale traces of the pervasive influence these fraternal organization (known in England as “friendly societies”), the Odd Fellows and the Masons in particular, had in American life scattered throughout the landscape: the cemeteries. As always, cemeteries are the archaeologist’s treasure trove, and in this case it’s the very names of the cemeteries that leave a memory of a time when fraternal organizations played a central role in our culture. Indeed, it was a time when people were trusting their eternity to their chosen fraternity, something previously reserved for the church. How and why this transformation occurred and why it as quickly disappeared are enduring mysteries. I’m sure there are volumes written about fraternal organizations, but they rarely get covered in high school civics. Their place in our history is largely forgotten and were it not for the halls and cemeteries, the knowledge of their very existence would soon vanish.

Nestucca Valley Cemetery

Both Masons and Odd Fellows are, as their names would suggest, evolutions of ancient trade guilds that spread from Europe to America with the European invasion and were going particularly strong at the time of the American Revolution. Free Masons were, arguably, of higher status than Odd Fellows, but in their prime the Odd Fellows easily outstripped the Masons, which is reflected in the number of cemeteries they provided. In my Oregon Territory database, Odd Fellow cemeteries outnumber Masonic cemeteries almost two to one (51/26).

(In days of yore, trades were divided up by rank, with masters being at the top. Independent tradesmen [they were invariably male] not under the direct tutelage of a master, i.e. neither apprentice nor journeyman, were referred to as “fellows.” Often in smaller towns there weren’t enough members of a given trade to form its own local guild, so these independent fellows would sometimes join together and form their own guild of mish-mash professions; hence Odd Fellows.)

Needless-to-say, trade unions of any stripe have often been looked on with a jaundiced eye by the powers that be, as, indeed, all associations of the populace evoke political suspicion. Guilds were formed to provide protection of their craft in the marketplace, both by setting standards and providing economic safeguards for its members. It’s in the latter duty that the Odd Fellows have shined in American life. By the nature of the Odd Fellows being a collection of people from diverse crafts, it could never have the role of setting professional standards, so that aspect of guild fellowship was never a burden to them and they could concentrate on fiscal protection for its members, which is reflected in their mission statement: “To visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” It was their boast that “no Odd Fellow or Odd Fellow’s dependent ever becomes a public charge” (emphasis theirs).1

Harrisburg Masonic/IOOF Cemetery

For a while, at least, they took those responsibilities very seriously. By 1927 they were operating sixty-two “homes” across America and ten elsewhere. The homes were an inspired combination of caring for old, indigent members under the same roof with an orphanage, while using the accumulated wisdom and energy to operate a farm. It’s a model to which we could well return.

They did not, though, surround their homes with cemeteries. For that they selected other locations. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a history of their cemetery involvement. Their Web site doesn’t mention them. But their Web site doesn’t mention the old homes, either. Advancing social legislation, especially that of the New Deal, put the kibosh on the Odd Fellows communal philanthropy. It may have been better for the country, but not necessarily for the Odd Fellows.

A note of caution, if you’re thinking that the Odd Fellows seem eminently reasonable and that you might like to hitch your wagon to their train, that, though they pride themselves on being “non-sectarian,” it doesn’t mean you can believe whatever you’d like to believe. They believe their mission to be “founded on the inspired word of God as revealed to man in the Holy Bible,” and would like you to believe the same.

For the most part the IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) has given up the cemetery business. I have no idea when the last Odd Fellow cemetery was founded, but I’d vote for prior to mid-20th century. Some are still maintained by IOOF chapters, but the majority have long since been handed over to other authorities, often with a name change that disguises their origins. Likewise with the Masons.

(For the record, the aforementioned database of 670 or so cemeteries has 55 with Catholic connections and 72 with ties to other Christian religions. The Jews have nine. Probably the bulk of the remaining were Donation Land Claim cemeteries created by the holder of the claim and subsequently taken over by a civic authority. A few were started by municipal authorities themselves, something that would be unheard of today.)

But the remnant memory in name or history of a cemetery with IOOF affiliation isn’t just a record of the importance of those institutions in American life, their locations mark, just as Jewish cemeteries do, places of previous prosperity. Many a disappearing community in Oregon that can no longer muster a gas station, much less a lodge hall, is marked with the existence of a whilom Odd Fellows cemetery. If the town was really important, it might have a Masonic cemetery, as well. In Fossil, for example—population 470—the Odd Fellow and Masonic cemeteries are themselves fossils as much as the bones that pop out of the ground. Their very presence testifies to the former glory of this rural wayside, a theme repeated over the entire state.

How this compares with the rest of the country, I have no idea. I know that IOOF and Masonic cemeteries blanket the nation, but what percentage of cemeteries were founded by fraternal orders is unknown. In the Oregon Territory it’s roughly 7.6%. The Masons come in at 3.9%. Nobody’s counting the rest of the country. In the end, the Odd Fellows weren’t so odd, after all. They simply disappeared.

Lorane IOOF Cemetery
1. This quote and most of the information about the Odd Fellows’ homes that follows are from the “Album of Odd Fellows Homes,” edited by Ira Wolfe, 1927; 12th edition; Minneapolis, MN.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flicker Files

Antioch Cemetery

I feel it’s a form of cheating to use my Flickr set introductions as fodder for this blog, but what can I say? I’m lazy.

Yet sometimes a cemetery is worth noting, and I’m not inclined to write the same stuff over and over again. At least not until I forget that I’ve written it in the first place. Antioch Cemetery has an unusual, if not unique history. One worth noting in passing by. What follows is what you’ll find on Flickr, minus most of the photos. Come visit do.

Antioch Cemetery

Antioch Cemetery: Unearthed

The story of Antioch Cemetery is a window unto the psyche of Jackson County. What happened at Antioch and in the surrounding neighborhood (i.e. White City) put its stamp on the region forever.

With 5500 people, White City is one of the largest urban concentrations in the state remaining unincorporated. It’s also been a center for poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse, and related social problems, all because of its curious history, which has left it a community in limbo for decades.

White City is a new city dating from 1941 when the Army commandeered 43,000 acres of the Medford Valley for a World War II training facility and built Camp White overnight. Besides training upwards of 100,000 soldiers, the town also housed a major hospital and, for a while, a German P.O.W. camp. Pretty much as soon as the war ended the Army packed up and disappeared, leaving this sprawling, unincorporated town of thrown-together buildings ripe for people who couldn’t be or weren’t too choosy about aesthetics. White City was born.

The Antioch Cemetery grounds were part of the lands commandeered by the Army; which in itself would be justification for telling the White City story, but what happened to the cemetery is pretty amazing. The cemetery was located smack-dab in the middle of the gunnery range and was constantly being bombarded by live shells; which, as you can imagine, is not good for tombstones. Or much else, for that matter. But, to the Army’s credit, they mitigated the damage by laying all the tombstones flat and burying them under six feet of sand, where they remained for the duration of the camp; and when they picked up and skeedadled, they took the sand with them and returned the uprights to their proper locations. What a sweet bunch of guys, no?

Antioch Cemetery

The lingering effects of Camp White are not restricted to White City, though. Jackson Country remains a bulwark of patriotism to this day, not only because the residents are grateful that the Army once dispensed largess upon them—a form of modern American cargo cult—but, I suspect, because when the Army left, it left behind a certain number of personnel who thought the valley would make a good place to settle down; a thought that may equally have occurred to tens of thousands of other people passing through the camp; some of whom may have come back here to retire. There are great flocks of ex-military birds in the area.

And Camp White is surely the reason Eagle Point National Cemetery is close by.

Antioch Cemetery

I was told the story of the Army and the sand by a very pleasant grandmother of four who volunteers as a groundskeeper for the cemetery. She jested that she was “a little concerned that [she] might yet run across an unexploded shell.” She did grant, though, there would be economies of efficiency by being blown up in ones own graveyard.

Whatever it was that spurred the volunteers to recover this fairly sizable cemetery, it’s been working. It’s not immaculate, by any means, and no one’s watering the place, but the grasses are kept at bay and it’s dotted with oaks and laurels and rhodys, et al. It actively being used and is quite lively for a cemetery of its kind. A fair amount to read and a good excuse to while away some time.

After which you can drive Hwy. 234 to Rock Point; that’s a pastoral trip.

Antioch Cemetery

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This Just In

River View Cemetery

In a sign of the Portland times, this fresh in from the Portland Tribune, a local twice-weekly newspaper.

Portland, as you may be aware, is America’s poster child for bicycle transportation. Our guy in congress is the guy with the bow-tie and the two-wheeled agenda. We are so proud.

River View Cemetery

But not everything runs smoothy between bikes and the rest of the world here in Shangri-La-La, largely because we’re not really a bike culture yet, on the scale of, say, Copenhagen or Amsterdam; and bikes here are still a noticeable exception to other forms of transportation and their users ride bikes, not only as a matter of practicality, but as a moral stand. The general biking consensus is that the rest of us—flex cars, public transportation, old-fashioned feet be damned—are a lesser breed than they are. Ergo, bikers here tend to think laws, both of the state and of civility, are meant for other people, not them. As a result, there are occasional conflicts.

River View Cemetery

This tiff arises from bikers using the local “garden” or “rural” cemetery, River View as a private shortcut downtown. Its beauty is its downfall. It’s laced with curving allĂ©es that encourage reckless downhill speeding, which creates hazardous conditions for other cemetery users. I can personally attest to that fact, having raised my eyebrows on more than one occasion, while watching bikes carom round the corners. It can get dicey at times.

River View Cemetery

The article finishes by noting that “Lone Fir Cemetery, near Morrison Street and 20th Avenue in Southeast Portland, recently opened its grounds to bicyclists,” under the theory that “more benign uses of Lone Fir will improve its security.” What it fails to note is that Lone Fir is—if I may use the expression—dead flat. There are no opportunities for blinding speed.

Lone Fir Cemetery

Dearth of Dead Spaces

In other grave matters, the New York Times is reporting that 70 of Moscow’s (not Idaho) 71 cemeteries are closed. Needless-to-say, if it involves Russia, it involves bureaucracy and corruption. It seems best that you should die elsewhere than in Moscow.

Like Miami, perhaps.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Great Jacksonville Cemetery Raid

Jacksonville Cemetery

Despite the fact that some regional Indians lived in settled villages and had done so for millennia, all current Oregon towns date from the pioneer period of our history when we were invaded by waves of Americans, Europeans, and Asians. This was a relatively short period of time, roughly from, say, 1840-1890. The towns that were prominent in that era are not necessarily the same that are of importance today. This, of course, could change again in the future, though I suspect Portland’s preeminence will continue for the foreseeable future.

Our first “official” town was Astoria, named for John Jacob Astor, the fur baron; whereas The Dalles is located at the site of a forever trading rendezvous location at the high desert entrance to the Columbia River Gorge. The Dalles will rise again, simply because of its location. Google, for example, has recently moved a plant there.

Jacksonville Cemetery

During the early years, the major community in southern Oregon was Jacksonville. Once eclipsed, Jacksonville fell into a Rip Van Winkle slumber where nothing changed for a hundred years only to reawaken a couple decades ago to discover itself a stunningly preserved gem on the edge of a burgeoning agricultural/arts-cultural valley. The cemetery is a high point, literally and figuratively, for the town. It’s one of the reasons to go there. They know it and they display it prominently.

What follows is the introduction to the Jacksonville Cemetery set on Flickr, which includes some 120 photos. They’ve added a lot to the cemetery since I first visited, some 35 years or so ago; and the place is still in active use.

There’s one photo in this post from Keno, a Rock Hudson-Doris Day kind of spot on the Klamath River. It has just been announced that six damns on the Klamath will be removed to restore salmon runs to the upper Klamath Basin.

Praise God.

Jacksonville Cemetery

There are, I would contend, three iconic, non-Native American cemeteries in the state of Oregon: Lone Fir (Portland), Camp Polk (Sisters), and Jacksonville. There are numerous other delightful, rustic graveyards scattered throughout the state—we are blessed—many of which excel in one manner or another, but those three are unmatched for size and variety of monuments. These three say “Oregon” loud and clear. Not big. Not showy. Not elaborate. Just ours, thank you, ours. A little off-center. A little left foot. The box has yet to show up that we’re suppose to think outside of. We don’t march to our own drummer. We have no drum.

Jacksonville Cemetery

But enough about me.

Jacksonville goes out of its way to get you to visit their cemetery, beginning with a spiffy, black and white sign out on the main drag, and a wrought iron entrance arch visible from the drag, as well. Their cemetery is the town’s crown jewell, and other than the Britt Festival, it’s arguably the best reason to visit this preserved town. Certainly, the community thinks highly of it and a stroll around the grounds offers ample testimony to their involvement, not the least of which being an “interpretive center” established there in 1991, amplified by several other interpretive signs located throughout the cemetery. There’s a lot of story here to tell and a lot of it is told through the cemetery. Its unusual size and complexity for what became a forgotten by-place, alert one right off the bat that this community had its greater glory days. Notably, the cemetery is an amalgam of six separate cemeteries: city; Catholic; Masonic; Odd Fellows; and Red Men, both Improved and Independent Orders; and Jewish. Combining cemeteries is common, but to have so many sections for such a tiny town attests to its erstwhile luster. The Masons and Odd Fellows and Catholics sprinkled cemeteries all through the state; their appearance here along with a municipal plot would attest to a certain stature Jacksonville had in the past; while the rare appearance of the Orders of Red Men boosts that claim considerably; but the clincher is the Jewish section. You don’t find Jewish cemeteries unless there’s money. I’m sorry if saying that offends anyone and I don’t mean it in a crass or derogatory way; I’m only pointing out that Jews only show up where there is significant commerce, and the existence of a Jewish cemetery is a guarantee that, at one time at least, wherever place you’re at once had clout. Albany, Oregon, once had clout. So did Jacksonville. (Portland has seven Jewish cemeteries; Portland still has clout.)

But the Jacksonville Cemetery, it’s important to note, is not a cemetery frozen in time as, say, is that of Myrtle Creek; and while the proliferation of relatively old stones (for the West Coast) is the advertised draw here, in my mind it’s largely the active new stuff that merits attention. Admittedly, this place doesn’t have quite the exuberant insouciance of Camp Polk, but it’s a close second; and don’t come here without expecting to spend a lot of time. I advise sandwiches, something to drink. The six sections must cover at least fifteen acres crawling up a madrone covered ridge. The newer stuff tends to be lower on the hill, but not necessarily. The Jewish section has considerably more activity than either than fraternal orders or the Catholics.

Jacksonville Cemetery

The 1972 movie The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, which stared, among others, Robert Duvall as Jessie James, was filmed in Jacksonville, thanks to its period architecture. I must say that the mountains of Northfield never looked better. Or bigger.

For some inexplicable reason, the USGS, and hence ePodunk, don’t list this cemetery. They do list a Jacksonville Cemetery in Jackson County, but it’s considerably north of here and I haven’t tracked it down yet.

There are a lot of reasons to detour to Jacksonville, should you ever find yourself drifting up this way, even were there no cemetery; but this is a must-see. You’re gonna love it.

Keno Cemetery