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Over the years I’ve written columns on Mud Season, Memorial Day and even Labor Day. I've described 'summer complaints,' summer traffic and town meetings.
But I've never written about 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 secret! 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 movies or television or cable men really had to think long and hard to come up with clever excuses to get out of the house at night, so they could go down to the lodge.
Making an 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 do 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 tonight and play a good rousing game of pachisi 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 thing about it."
The highly secretive Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society was founded over 140 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 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 secrets.
They say Hooper was a giant of a man who stood 6' 8" and weighed over 300
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 The Cherryfield Chowder Society - the marching business 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 pan of chowder and then serve it. After eating they'd clean up and go home. It was that simple. Some members began complaining it was too simple. Couldn't there be more?
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 secret handshake and a complicated set of secret bylaws.
By the early 1870s members decided there should be more to the organization than just chowder. After many heated arguments and a few ugly chowder incidents it was decided that after chowder would come marching. Since you can't march without music the society then voted to form a marching band and before long they became the Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society.
Now, you know the rest of the story.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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