Another Mystery to Be Solved...
August 09, 2011
In 2009, the National Heritage Museum was given a fez for its collection. Normally, we consider the prospective gift of a fez very carefully, because we are fortunate to have an extensive collection of these regalia items and we try not to collect objects that duplicate our existing holdings. However, this fez was unusual. As you can see in the photo to the left, it is green and embroidered with a camel and the words “Caliphs of Bagdad.”
As I cataloged it in our computerized database, I did some research trying to determine what group might have used it originally. Unfortunately, I could not find any information about when or where it came from and the donor could only tell me that it was passed down in his wife’s family. So, in November 2009, I turned to the readers of The Northern Light, the quarterly magazine of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., and asked for their help with identifying it.
I received a number of responses, including several that offered plausible leads. A reader from Springfield, Massachusetts, told me that the Association of Shrine Oriental Bands of North America has a subsidiary group of Past Presidents called the Caliphs, but admitted that he never saw a fez for that specific group. A man from New Jersey asked how I knew that this fez was Masonic. And, as I was quick to tell him, I do not know if this fez is Masonic. It may well have been used by a non-Masonic fraternal group.
Indeed, several readers suggested that it might come from other groups. One mentioned the Phi Delta Kappa fraternity explaining that the group often tried to come up with new ideas to promote interest over the years and that this fez might be one of those ideas. A Pennsylvania reader called in to tell me about the Princes of Bagdad, a group associated with the Knights of Malta, but research into their logo did not turn up any similarities. And, a reader from Iowa suggested that perhaps the fez was associated with the fraternal group, the Order of Camels, which was founded in Milwaukee in 1920. If anyone knows of regalia from that group, I would love to hear about it or see a photograph.
Perhaps the most exciting response to my query was the arrival in the mail of a second green “Caliphs of Bagdad” fez! A reader from Pennsylvania had received the fez from a friend thirty years previously and generously decided to donate it to the Museum (while we try not to collect multiple copies of the same item, we often make an exception with textile items because it is helpful to have a second piece that can rotate into an exhibition and protect them both from overexposure to the lighting in the gallery). Unfortunately, like the donor of the first fez, this donor did not know where his friend had originally found the fez.
From my perspective, two of the leads I received were the most plausible. The first came from two different Northern Light readers, one from Michigan and one from Ohio, who called in and told me that they knew of green fezzes being awarded as honorary gifts in their respective communities. One man said that it was the Knights of Columbus that did this, while the other cited an example of a Shrine Temple doing the same. The second came from a reader in New Jersey who tracked down a newspaper account of the 1937 Shrine convention in Detroit, Michigan. That article, from the June 23, 1937, issue of The Detroit News reads “The Chicago unit, the largest delegation, was next with a pink and white striped group of caliphs drawing a golden sphinx and a live camel and a band of 110 musicians wearing white and green and flying yellow pennants…” A green and yellow fez seems like it might have been just the right headwear for this group.
What do you think? Have you ever seen a fez like this? Do you know when and where it was originally worn? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
Fez, early 1900s, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Stanley A. McCollough, 2009.022. Photograph by David Bohl.
Hello Barth: Thanks so much for the comment. Both of the green "Caliphs of Bagdad" fezzes that we have date to the early 1900s, so I don't think they are associated with this new novel. The donors each had their fez for many years before giving it to the Museum - and those gifts were back in 2009. I am leaning toward the idea that this was a "one-off" group - and I think it met in Pennsylvania. We had another recent acquisition related to this mystery - look for my blog post later this summer. Thanks again for the suggestion - and for reading our blog! Aimee Newell, Director of Collections
Posted by: Aimee Newell | June 07, 2012 at 01:19 PM
I note with interest that a novel entitled _The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia_, by Mary Helen Stefaniak, was published in September 2011 (http://www.amazon.com/The-Cailiffs-Baghdad-Georgia-Novel/dp/0393341135/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339002534&sr=8-1). There is even a website, _The Baghdad Bazaar Bulletin_ (http://www.baghdadbazaarga.com/home) that purports to be the official organ of the fictional unincorporated town in the book, Baghdad, Georgia, ("formerly Threestep, Georgia"). The site's link for "the history of Baghdad, Georgia" takes you to a page on Stefaniak's website with reviews of the novel.
Could your fezzes be promotional items connected with the book? The notion that there is only one chapter of this "order" would also seem to fit the "eccentric Southerners" theme of the book. I myself have several fezzes from real Southern fraternal orders that are apparently one-off clubs.
I do note that the fezzes use the spelling "Bagdad" and that the book and website use the older spelling "Baghdad," but perhaps this was an oversight on the part of the fez maker or even an intentional bit of obfuscation.
I haven't read the book, but if it mentions such a fraternal order, I think that would be pretty convincing evidence.
Posted by: Barth Richards | June 06, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Hi Carol: Thanks so much for sharing your discovery. I will definitely look into this! We appreciate your interest in our blog. Aimee Newell, Director of Collections
Posted by: Aimee Newell | February 22, 2012 at 10:47 AM
I came across an article from a Matagorda County, Texas newspape that was about a severe storm. This quote caught my attention. "Prince Bundy’s tent and fixtures were blown away and he came to town the next morning giving the alarm of distress, “Oh Ye Princes,” and Caliphs Allan McNabb and Irvin Rugeley promptly went to his rescue." Being curious, I Googled the phrase and was taken to a site for the Princes of Bagdad at http://www.stichtingargus.nl/vrijmetselarij/r/bagdad_r.html At the bottom of the page there is a "Home" link which led to a Fraternal Organization page http://www.stichtingargus.nl/vrijmetselarij/frame_en.html The only organization listed with the name Bagdad in the title is the Ancient Mystic Order of the Bagmen of Bagdad. Maybe some of this will help
Posted by: Carol Sue Gibbs | February 21, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Hello: Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Both fezzes are "Camel #1," as you put it, and you make an excellent point about assessing that fact as evidence. Neither one has a maker's label, unfortunately. The embroidery on both does seem to be machine-embroidered, but it could have been done in a less-than-commercial setting, as you also suggest. Perhaps someone else will chime in with an other clue or the solution to this mystery! Thanks again for reading the blog and providing such a great comment! Aimee Newell, Director of Collections
Posted by: Aimee E. Newell | August 13, 2011 at 09:25 AM
Is there a maker's label inside? That might be a lead at least into the area of the country that these fezzes come from.
Also, are both fezzes that have been donated from Camel #1 ? (i.e., is there evidence (however thin) in hand that this organization had more than one constituted body?)
My immediate thought looking at this piece is that it was hand made by someone, either an individual or a haberdashery, that it comes from a source that did not commonly make fezzes. If I'm not mistaken, the crown appears to be a separate panel that has been sewn onto the conical sides. It also lacks the standard stem at the top. Based on those observations, I feel that you can safely rule out an origin with one of the larger, national fraternal groups: Shrine, Odd Fellows appendants, Pythians, etc all would all be using regalia companies with standardized, stock, contiguous fezzes made of a single body of felt. It is pretty unlikely that a group attached with any of those larger bodies would have gone with something more...errr...provincial?
This also makes dating the piece far more difficult. Looks like it lacks a leather sweat band, and there are no circular-patterned perforations in the crown. But if it was hand made by someone, it wouldn't necessarily have any of those standard tell-tales.
I'm guessing that you are looking for a stand-alone fraternal group, making the possibility of a maker's label or mark all the more central to the investigation!
Posted by: Tyler Anderson | August 10, 2011 at 07:21 PM