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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Cruel Deception

Men's fraternal organizations such as the Odd Fellows and Elks became very popular in America after the Civil War. Fieldworkers for the W.P.A. Wisconsin Folklore Project were told years later that residents of Lodi decided to form one of their own around 1870. They called it the One Thousand and One Club, and its sole purpose was to keep members entertained. One of their favorite ways to accomplish this was the induction of new members.

Like most fraternal organizations, the One Thousand and One Club kept its rites and ceremonies secret. Initiation of new members was accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, and the nerves of pledges were deliberately tested. The final ritual by which they were officially admitted was branding with a hot iron.

When initiates learned this, they naturally became uncomfortable. Some even dropped their application to the club and fled. But others, not wanting to lose out on the benefits of membership, bravely complied. Submission to branding was the highlight of the entire ceremony and a favorite moment for old members who had already endured it.

The applicant to be branded was brought forth in front of the club, followed by a member holding a red-hot iron. After exposing his bare flesh, the victim was turned around backward to be branded.

At this point, officers would silently switch an icicle for the poker. The sensation to the victim, who had been carefully worked up to expect searing pain, was remarkably similar to that of a hot iron. Many shrieked in imaginary agony and some even ran off for parts unknown as fast as their 'crippled' condition allowed.

The history of the club has not been traced, but you can find historic pictures of the beautiful city of Lodi here, and read about its past in our collection of local history newspaper articles or county history books.

[Source: W.P.A. Folklore: Wisconsin - project records. Reel 5, frame 305]

:: Posted in Curiosities on July 22, 2010

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