There are mooses in Dundalk. While far from what we normally consider to be their native range, these moose (why isn’t it meese?) have thrived amongst us. But before you all run out to install anti-moose collision equipment on your cars or build moose blinds in your back yards, consider this: Your neighbor might be a moose, and you wouldn’t even know it.
I refer, of course, to the Loyal Order of Moose. Joe Rychwalski of Cornwall Road passes by their lodge hall on Sollers Point Road several times a week. He, like thousands of others, has looked up countless times and wondered “ Why does that building have the word MOOSE on it in big red letters?” But unlike those nameless thousands, he took the extra step of sending me this question. So you have him to thank for this week’s column.
So, what are the Moose? Obviously, they are a fraternal organization like many other social and community- oriented organizations in our area, but what do they do? I will, uncharacteristically, refrain from implying that they are an ultra-secret brotherhood practicing hidden and bizarre rituals to further their ultimate agenda of world domination. I mean, we have the Masons for that. (Note from 2015: This single comment created more critical backlash than anything else I wrote in this column over the years. Let me just say. I have the greatest respect for the Masons. I understand yours is a society of secrets, not a secret society. It was a joke. Don’t get your aprons in a twist). But, because I denied myself my usual comfort of idle and paranoid speculation, I was forced to call them over at the lodge hall and find out just what they were up to.
As it turns out, they’re up to quite a lot. The Loyal Order of Moose was established in 1888 as a fraternal organization by Louisville physician John Henry Wilson. At that time, men’s clubs were often named for animals. Dr. Wilson chose the moose because of its strength and nobility. In 1913, the society founded Mooseheart, intended to be a planned community for the nurturing of the children of deceased members, in rural Illinois. In 1922, the organization established Moosehaven, a retirement community for elderly members, near Jacksonville, Fla. Both of these projects still continue, and local Moose lodges like the one in Dundalk continue to support them.
The Dundalk lodge actually began in Sparrows Point, according to lodge past governor Earl Leisure Sr. On March 6, 1929, a group of steel and ship workers received a local charter from the national Loyal Order of Moose to start its own lodge. Originally, the workers met in a private home. Later, they moved to a small space over Rossi’s Garage. But this solution soon proved inadequate.
In the 1940s, Sparrows Point Moose members began raising money to build their own hall. They took out a loan and, in 1949, paid for the construction of the current lodge. Over the next nine years, they worked tirelessly to pay off this loan, which they did in 1958. They held dances and bull and oyster roasts to raise the money, and Mr. Leisure was quick to point out that the Women of the Moose branch of the lodge, instituted in 1937, was instrumental in getting them to their goal.
Today, the Sparrows Point-Dundalk lodge remains active in social and community service activities. Lodge administrator Ed Reeves (Note from 2015: the current administrator is Joe Franco) points out that the Moose is a family-oriented fraternity, an orientation that distinguishes it from other fraternal organizations, and has attracted younger people into its ranks. Friday night is Family Night, according to Mr. Reeves, with live music, food and entertainment for the kids. The hall also boasts a bar for more grown-up activities, with pool tables, shuffleboard and free pinball.
But it’s not all fun and games at the Moose hall. They also contribute to and participate in a wide array of service programs, including Patapsco High School’s music program, Dundalk Middle School’s benefit for its Student Government Association and the Heritage Fair. Women of the Moose hold clothing and food drives to benefit Community Assistance Network and a shelter for battered women. The lodge also sponsors students to attend a drug awareness conference in Annapolis that teaches young people to be instructors of local anti-drug seminars for younger kids.
So that’ s pretty much it for the Moose. But I did receive one other Moose-related question. Debi Golden of Mornington Road asked me to find out if the orb atop the flagpole outside the lodge is a bowling ball and, if so, why is there a bowling ball atop the flagpole outside the lodge? Hoping to squeeze a whole column out of this little gem of a question, I asked the helpful folks down at the lodge about this anomaly.
But, alas, the globe is simply a decorative flourish that does bear a remarkable resemblance to a bowling ball. The pole was made at the Sparrows Point Shipyard a long time ago, according to lodge member Jack Jamison, and it does look rather nautical with its projecting spars, so maybe it’s a ship thing.
That’ s what I dug up on the Moose. I have to say that my Flintstones- inspired images of funny hats and secret handshakes (remember the Water Buffaloes?) were frustrated, and nobody even made reference to the words “Grand Poobah.” I uncovered nothing silly or sinister, but I might have missed something. So if there’s a Moose-savvy informant out there who knows otherwise, let me know.
(first published 2001)