The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 20, 2013

Fraternal hazing pranksters recalled

JOHNSTOWN — The pieces may be a tad odd, but that was half the fun.

John Goldsmith, the curator of the DeMoulin Museum in Greenville, Ill., will present a free program at 2 p.m. April 28 at the Heritage Discovery Center, 201 Sixth Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

Goldsmith will speak on the history of the DeMoulin Bros. & Co., which specialized in the manufacture of prank lodge initiation devices.

The presentation will include a DeMoulin spanker, often referred to as a slapstick, from Johnstown Area Heritage Association’s collection that was once used by the Johnstown lodge of the Order of the Knights of Pythias, an international fraternal organization.

The order held its meetings in the GAR Building in downtown Johnstown.

During initiation rituals, inductees would be swatted on the bottom with the padded side, which created a loud bang when the spanker discharged a blank cartridge to scare the individual.

It is thought the device was manufactured between 1906 and 1930.

“We are always delighted to present programs like this, but the way this came about is unusual,” said Kaytlin Sumner, JAHA curator. “The spanker was shown in our April Collection Connection, which is a once monthly feature on JAHA’s Facebook and website, and it came to the attention of the DeMoulin Museum and Goldsmith contacted us.”

Goldsmith’s appearance at the Discovery Center is the first stop on an East Coast trip to promote the museum.

He’ll discuss the unique personality traits of the DeMoulin brothers and how they were “the right people at the right time” to capitalize on the fraternal craze that was popular in the early 20th century.

There also will be demonstrations on a few of the lodge initiation contraptions and a virtual tour of the museum.

By the Depression era, fraternal hazing fell out of favor and the company shifted its focus to producing marching band uniforms and graduation caps and gowns. They also ventured into woodworking and crafted furniture for lodges and churches.

The company remains one of the world leaders in band uniform manufacturing.

In 2010, the museum was founded to preserve the story of the DeMoulin brothers.

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