Mystery Photo: Perhaps a Duluth Fraternal Group from 1908

This image is from a postcard mailed 115 years ago today — May 23, 1908 — available for sale on ebay. It’s been touched up a bit here for easier viewing. The obvious mystery is what organization the people in the photo belong to.

The item is listed on eBay as “1908 RPPC Duluth Minnesota College Club Vintage Postcard MN Land Point Idaho ID.” The “college club” part of that is clearly speculative. Many of the men have sashes and badges that suggest perhaps they are part of a fraternal club like the Odd Fellows.

The women are wearing similar, if not identical, sashes. At least one lady has a dark shirt and light sash, which likely indicates a different level of authority or whatever.

There is an address on the back, 1431 London Road, which is presumably the home address of Viola, who mailed the postcard to Elisabeth Bergman of Land Point, Idaho. The house is still there, though it bears the house number 1429 now. It’s a duplex, and duplexes often go back and forth between having two addresses and one address.

The message on the back is in a foreign language, maybe Danish? It’s not easy to read the writing, but it includes the phrase “eftermiddags kaffe,” which translates to “afternoon coffee.”

2 Comments

Matthew James

about 9 months ago

So I typed this into the language translation software DeepL, probably getting more wrong than I got right: 

Kom du ser sakid das senda dis en hel hop smed pamila bekent. Kom het just nie lanna ack jas dricker eftermiddags kaffe min misses har pact iet. sa sui ma du te vis har det trefigt de hjserthsala helomarsaar freas as bada va religen
And it came back with the following translated from Swedish:
Come on, you'll see that it's just a whole bunch of blacksmiths, you know. Come on, it's not like I'm drinking afternoon coffee, my missus has something to do, so you must be having a good time with the whole family.
I strongly suspect that this translation only bears a passing resemblance to the actual text.

Matthew James

about 9 months ago

Continuing my use of AI to try to provide some extra information about the photo, I described the sashes to ChatGPT and got a response that aligned with the guess in the post:

Based on your description, it sounds like the individuals in the photo may be members of a fraternal organization known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF). The IOOF is a non-political and non-sectarian fraternal organization that was founded in 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland... The white ornamental objects you see around their necks are likely collars or sashes that are worn as part of their ceremonial regalia. The collars often have distinctive patterns, symbols, or emblems that represent different ranks or degrees within the organization. The ring clasp at the chest could be a symbol of unity or solidarity.
The Oddfellows were clearly quite active in Duluth as the general Wikipedia page for the organization features a photo of the group's 100th anniversary celebration in Duluth. The photo was taken with the group gathered around a light pole at Second Avenue East and First Street in June of 1919. One hundred and one years later, a large group would again gather at that exact intersection in the middle of June to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie.  

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