Odd Fellows’ items up for auction
The contents of the Jefferson Lodge in Fairfield, the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, will be sold at an auction in Des Moines next month.
Aaron Dowell Auction Co. is selling most of what remained in the Odd Fellows’ lodge, save for a few things the Odd Fellows did not want to sell such as their books and projection slides.
Among the items for sale are caskets, including one that housed a skeleton; masks made with human hair, and robes, hats and swords used in the club’s rituals.
The lodge also contained personal affects belonging to Robert Alexander Fulton, one of the town’s founders. Fulton started the lodge 167 years ago, making it the fourth Odd Fellows lodge in the state of Iowa. To receive a charter for Jefferson Lodge and be initiated into the society, Fulton walked from Fairfield to Burlington and back, a distance of 120 miles.
Four more generations of Fultons joined the Odd Fellows. One of the photos found in the lodge was of Alexander Fulton, which makes it one of only three known photos of the man. Another item uncovered was a three-ring pin owned by Fulton, which was passed down and worn by his descendants in the society.
Fulton was instrumental in organizing the first Iowa State Fair, which began in Fairfield in 1854. The fair was held in towns in eastern Iowa until 1879, when it moved to Des Moines.
Lawrence Shilling is the Odd Fellows’ grand secretary of Iowa. He is in charge of liquidating items from chapters that are no longer active. The membership of Jefferson Lodge No. 4 had dwindled to a few members in recent years, and the current membership had difficulty finding new recruits.
Don Angstead, a member of the Odd Fellows, said the club has not met for five years. He said he can remember a time in the 1940s and 1950s when the organization boasted 100 members.
In the summer 2012, the Odd Fellows sold their building on the south side of the square to the restaurant on the first floor, India Cafe, which had been paying rent to the club. Even though the club ceased regular meetings, the club members continued the club’s mission of serving the community by donating the rent to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Ladies Auxiliary.
Rex Godwin, another Odd Fellow member, said the purpose of the fraternity in the early years was to help widows and fellow members who were sick in bed, because no other organizations performed those roles at that time. He said the club donated considerable money to Little League and the Lord’s Cupboard.
Aaron Dowell of Aaron Dowell Auction Co. said the Odd Fellows he talked to were reluctant to divulge all the club’s secrets when discussing the artifacts. However, in some cases the members did not know what the items were used for, so Dowell had to find out himself on the Internet. He estimated he spent a few years researching many of the pieces in the lodge so he would know what they could sell for at auction.
One of the interesting finds Dowell made was a device the members referred to as a “lung tester.” The members told new recruits to blow into it in order to test their lungs. The act was a ruse. The device did not in fact test their lungs. When a recruit blew into it, a blank shell shot off and powder blew back into the recruit’s face.
The casket that housed the skeleton was perhaps the most surprising thing Dowell found in the lodge. He said the Odd Fellows ordered the skeleton from a medical catalog that keeps skeletons from scientific studies. The skeleton was still in the casket when Dowell visited Fairfield in preparation for the auction. He said the Odd Fellows have buried the skeleton in their own cemetery.
The auction will be held April 20 beginning at noon at 2211 E. 42nd St. in Des Moines. Dowell said the doors will open at 10 a.m. More than 400 items will be up for auction. Dowell expects the auction to last four to five hours.