Every so often, we stumble across an artifact in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection that prompts a great deal of intrigue among museum staff. This photograph of a deceased member of the Loyal Order of Moose finds itself in that category. I must admit that prior to my arrival as a volunteer at the museum, I was not especially well versed in the history and practice of fraternal groups. Sure, I had heard of the Elks and the Lions, but aside from that, I was somewhat of a novice in the field of fraternalism. Upon further investigation, I was surprised to find that although literature on the group is relatively scarce, the Loyal Order of Moose boasts an impressive list of members. Amongst the ranks are former presidents, astronauts, sports legends, and a cornucopia of Hollywood icons, including Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), Henry Ford (1863-1947), and Larry Bird (b. 1956).
Due to the strict funeral regulations of the Moose, in which each member, regardless of rank, is provided the same procession, it is difficult to decipher this particular man’s place within the hierarchy of the organization. There are, however, a few clues in the photo that provide us with a small amount of information regarding his identity. Present alongside the casket are four funeral wreaths reading, “Uncle,” “Brother,” “Ole,” and “Moose 679.” The last wreath is the one that immediately struck me as potentially useful. With the help of the official website of the Loyal Order of Moose, I found that “Moose 679” most likely refers to the Springfield, Vermont, chapter of the organization.
The remaining three wreaths however, proved to be slightly more enigmatic than their peer. While intuition would suggest that the words “Uncle” and “Brother” indicate this man’s position on his family tree, I found myself at a loss for an explanation of the word “Ole.” After a series of investigations that bore no fruit, I stumbled upon the definition of the word “Ole” as a Scandinavian name. Keeping in line with my theory that these wreaths represented the various names to which this man may have answered, I felt that this was far more likely an explanation than others I had found. The fact that the photo can be dated between 1890 and 1920, coupled with my limited knowledge of the history of immigration to the United States, suggested that a man of Scandinavian descent with the first name “Ole” could have been living around Springfield, Vermont, during this time period. Although this is mere speculation, these few details hint at the possibility that this picture was taken during the funeral ceremony of Ole, a member of the Springfield, Vermont, Moose Lodge #679, who never fathered any children.
Though popular during the 1800s, the practice of photographing the dead for memorial purposes has since waned in popularity. Any number of conclusions can be drawn as to why post-mortem photography met its demise. For me, the increasing accessibility of photography itself seems like a likely catalyst. As the process of taking a photograph became less formal and more of an everyday activity, people had far less reason to have such portraits of loved ones taken after their death. However, the formal aspects of this picture are the ones that provide us with hints at the biography of a man whose legacy may have otherwise been confined only to those who knew him.
Unidentified Post-Mortem Photograph, 1890-1920, probably Vermont, Museum Purchase, 2002.018.4.
Moose Magazine 33 (1948).