Column: There was a lot to talk about at old social clubsWORTHINGTON — Take notice of those second stories of Worthington’s downtown buildings. Most of them are abandoned. No one goes there. No one wants to climb stairs. A century ago, those second level lofts were the center of Worthington’s social life.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Take notice of those second stories of Worthington’s downtown buildings. Most of them are abandoned. No one goes there. No one wants to climb stairs. A century ago, those second level lofts were the center of Worthington’s social life. Nearly every night there were gatherings of men or women in at least one of those expansive rooms at the head of the stairways. Some of the people still were meeting by the light of kerosene lamps.
I don’t know all the societies and lodges and clubs that organized at Worthington. I believe every one of them was segregated by gender — a lodge for men, an auxiliary for women.
There were the Civil War veterans, of course. The Grand Army of the Republic, the GAR. The GAR’s auxiliary was the Women’s Relief Corps.
There were the Free and Accepted Masons, the Royal Arch Masons. The women met as the Eastern Star.
There was an Ancient Order of United Workmen, a Degree of Honor. Knights of Pythias. Modern Woodmen of America. Knights of the Maccabees of the World. Brotherhood of American Yeomen. Royal Neighbors of America.
Uncle Bert belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the IOOF. The IOOF women were organized as Rebekahs.
Many of the societies had a root in insurance. Insurance was a tough bill to meet in those years. The basic reason lodges were organized was because there was no radio, there was no TV. Many members had no automobiles. Listening to a phonograph, cranking it up through all of an evening, was not great fun. There was no Internet. Many families had telephones — land lines — but these were thought of as a means for short, sometimes emergency calls.
What to do on long winter nights? We’ll have a meeting; we’ll discuss important things. Sometimes we might listen to a politician or a singer or a piano player. We’ll have sandwiches, coffee and cookies. Lodges were Worthington’s entertainment, Worthington’s social life. Climb the stairs for an evening of conversation and entertainment.
By and large, lodges were for older men, family men. The auxiliaries were for wives and mothers. A succession of Worthington newspapers were embarrassed, angry, challenging when they turned attention to Worthington’s youths, the young men and women of 17, 19, 21 who congregated (especially) at the Worthington depot to watch trains and passengers come and go. The depot was warm, and it was lighted. Hanging out at a bar could be costly.
The thing was — well, there were several things. Some of the youths were mouthy; they passed along insults and judgments on people coming and going. It was a heyday of snoose and snuff. The youths kept tobacco wads between their teeth and their cheeks, and they sometimes spit until the floor was slippery. They were intimidating Worthington.
Worthington believed (imagined) the youths were plotting crimes. This was a generation before John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, George (Baby Face) Nelson. These youths were daunted by banks but — across all the country — they were making post offices their targets. They broke into post offices, stole stamps and sold stamps to middle men in the Twin Cities, Sioux City and Omaha.
Newspaper accounts of police and security chases were sometimes tickling.
Stamp drawers in the Adrian post office were robbed. Again. Officials were on the trail of McCarty and a cohort. McCarty had frequented the Worthington depot.
There was a call from Org. The station master said a stolen railroad handcar had shown up in the night. It was guessed McCarty was on his way to Sioux Falls.
Instead, when everything was untangled, it appeared McCarty —maybe a McCarty gang — had jumped aboard a train heading south. The handcar thieves were a pair of jail breakers from Rock Rapids who had abandoned their vehicle and then climbed aboard a second time. They were pumping down the railroad tracks to Luverne and Valley Springs.
The postal thieves were nabbed at Council Bluffs with $400 in cash and $448 in stamps. Postal Inspector Gordon said $317 worth of confiscated stamps were from the Adrian post office. Crime solved.
It was a troubling time, but it was a welcome topic for conversation in the downtown Worthington lodge halls.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.