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Over the years I’ve written columns on Snow, Mud Season, Memorial Day, Maple Syrup, Labor Day and Guy Fawkes Day. I've described 'summer complaints,' winter complaints, summer traffic and March meetings, but I've never written about Maine’s secret societies.
"Did you say 'secret societies?'" I hear someone ask.
Yes I did. I've always wanted to write about Maine's secret societies but I couldn't - they were cloaked in secrecy.
But now the secret's out and I can finally write about one of Maine's most secret organizations - "The Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society."
It's said that in the old days when there was no television, few couches and fewer ‘remotes’ men really had to think long and hard to come up with an excuse to get out of the house at night so they could go down to the lodge. Making any organization's activities 'secret' was a real stroke of genius on someone's part because no matter what it was you were doing down there at the lodge - no matter how frivolous or intoxicating it was - you could always say you had sworn a blood oath to keep it all secret and therefore you couldn't talk about it.
Before the invention of the television remote men had nothing to direct their creative energies to in the home so a husband might say to his wife: "I'd like nothing more, my dear, than to stay home with you and the children and play a good rousing game of Parcheesi but I'm afraid we've got very important business to tend to down at the lodge and of course since it's all secret I can't - under pain of death - tell you any more about it."
The highly secretive Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society was founded over 130 years ago in the Down East town of Cherryfield and soon became the center of male society in town.
Those who listen regularly to my weekend radio show on WGAN have heard me talk of the society but I've never gone into too much detail. Now, I feel, I can talk.
The society was founded in 1868 by Civil War veteran Eldridge T. Hupper, a burly man who looked like his body alone could hold most of the world's important secrets if it had to.
They say Hooper was a giant of a man who stood 6' 8" and weighed close to 400 pounds. He also had a long, drooping handlebar mustache that made eating chowder a tad difficult.
He was a man who loved nothing more than to sit his portly frame down to a good steaming bowl of thick tasty chowder. He never cared if it was fish, clam or corn - he loved them all. In fact the secret society's original name was simply The Cherryfield Secret Chowder Society - the marching business and band would come later.
The organization's early meetings were in the old Cherryfield Town Hall where Hooper and a small band of charter members would show up with their fixins and make themselves a huge cauldron of chowder and then serve it to members. After eating they'd clean up and go home. It was that simple. Some members began complaining that the whole experience was too simple. Couldn't there be more – like the Masons or the K of C?
That's when they began adding things like their secret way of eating chowder and the society's secret flag - a white chowder tureen and two crossed soup spoons on a navy blue field. Eventually the society adopted a set of secret bylaws and, of course, a secret handshake.
By the early 1870s members decided there should be more to the organization than just secrets and chowder. After many heated arguments and a few ugly chowder-spoon incidents it was decided that after chowder would come marching – they would all get up and march around their chowder table.
Since you can't march without marching music the society voted to form a marching band. Before long they became the now famous Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society.
Now, that you know the CCMS's secrets you must promise not to tell anyone.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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