Inside the Union Building (p6)

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was a different type of fraternal organization, at least when compared to its contemporaries. While most organizations of its type were founded to foster a particular profession – like the Masons – the Odd Fellows were formed to foster more philanthropic needs. Members of the Odd Fellows weren’t joined by a common profession but by a common commitment to each other’s (and the communities as a whole) humanitarian needs. This is thought to be one of the possible origins of the “Odd Fellow” name, designating a group of “odd” men who didn’t partake in the usual fraternal type of organization. (Though others believe the name relates to the various “odd-and-ends” types of occupations the Fellows practiced) But while priding themselves on their “odd” origins, the organization still followed many of the same basic tenants of such a fraternal organizations. This was especially true when it came to their highly ritualized (and dramatic) ceremonial events that closely mirrored those of the Masons.

While these events took place within the main meeting hall itself, they often had their dramatic start here in the Robing Room. It was within this room that members would change into the sometimes superfluous ceremonial robes required for the organization’s initiation and degree granting rituals. The room was dominated (and continues to be still today) by a large collection of wood lockers that stand along its south and east walls. Participants would enter the room from the neighboring anteroom, using the small door seen to the right of the picture. Once robed members would make a grand entrance into the main lodge hall through the large opening seen to the left, using a pair of unseen (but still extant) pocket doors.

The rooms main focus is this line of dark stained lockers, storage cabinets that would be used to hold those costumes and robes. The lockers are rather ornate, featuring intricate trim features and a decorative cornice along their tops.

Here’s a close look, this time showing the locker’s inside features as well. While today only a rather plain bead boarding can be seen, I would imagine the lockers originally had shelves and hooks for the hanging of robes and costumes.

In addition to those lockers, the room also houses a large storage bench set along the south wall. The presence of the storage locker brings to focus an interesting architectural issue with the building, that being the oddly angled wall set here between the anteroom and robing room. You can easily note this oddity by looking at the backside of the bench and the skewed line of hinges along its top. Of course the most obvious answer as to why this was done is the presence of that window also seen in the picture. If the wall was straight, it would have cut that window in half. I suppose the crooked wall was a compromise between the symmetric aesthetics of the building’s front facade and the room requirements of its interior.

This room shares the same high-class atmosphere as the anteroom next door, complete with the high planked wainscoting and canvas wall coverings. It also features that same dark stained wood shutters…

Here’s a closer look at one of those shuttered windows. These would no doubt be a must for such a secretive society as the Odd Fellows. You wouldn’t want just anyone looking in from the street. Originally all the windows on these upper floors had use of these heavy shutters, but unfortunately not all of them survived. The ones that did happen to survive were all placed in these rooms (the anteroom and robing room).

Zooming in on those shutters we find some rather intricate iron details, such as these knobs and locking mechanism.

While all these details are familiar to anyone coming from the neighboring anteroom, this particular space ups the ante a bit (no pun intended) with the inclusion of stenciling along the crown molding and within the ceiling coffers. Its a great touch and seems to hint at the all the pomp and circumstance to be found in the adjacent room.

Another historical vignette can be found in this room, but this time it showcases not the rooms original decor but a whole range of decors as it had been made up with during its life. At least six different wall coverings were found here, dating back to what is believed to be the rooms original decor seen at the bottom. This room, as with most of the meeting spaced up here on the upper floors, were renovated quite often, to keep pace with the changing needs and tastes of the fraternal organizations that called this place home.

From here those robed members would make their way out into the great hall itself, through a pair of pocket doors that we passed through now today. Past them sat the great expanse of the Odd Fellow’s hall…

The space was large, but a bit smaller then we had anticipated. The room’s best feature by far is its richly stained beamed ceiling and ornate hanging lamps, and I could easily picture what it must have looked like during an Odd Fellows meeting or ritual; dark and solemn with all the shutters closed and a thick layer of haze in the air from all the pipe smoke.

Similar to what would have been seen up a story at the Masonic Hall, this space would have originally been lined along its outside walls by seating for its members, while degree granting ceremonies would occur within the center of the space. There was also a small stage placed up at the front (east end) of the room, at about the location where this enlarged baseboard can be seen between the windows.

These interesting features, however, are a new addition placed here for use by the park’s visitor center. They are electrical conduits that will power the various exhibits that will soon sit in this space once the visitor center is open. In fact this entire space will be home to the center’s principal exhibit: Risk and Resilience, Life in a Copper Mining Community.

While those electric conduits on the floor may have been a more modern addition, this complimenting electric device dates back to a much earlier time. It’s a dimmer switch, used to control the hall’s original compliment of ceiling lights. It’s hard to tell here but the whole copper and iron monstrosity is a good two feet in diameter. It’s a far cry from the small knobbed switches we use today, but that’s really its beauty. This is an electrical contraption built during the industry’s early days, during the time of Edison and Tesla, when such power and potential was celebrated, revered and to some degree feared. It’s amazing it survived up to this day without being torn out or scrapped.

Back in the corner stands these interesting pair of doors, both which today lead to nowhere. That’s because behind this wall sits the building’s new elevator shaft and stairwell. Originally though these doors would have led to a pair of storage rooms; the larger one leading up to small room above the kitchen by means of narrow stairway and the smaller accessing a petite space found under those stairs. Those rooms and the adjacent kitchen are all gone now.

What isn’t gone is the neighboring reception room adjoining the main hall on its south end. Entrance to this room is through another set of hidden pocket doors (seen just to the far right of the pic). The door on the back end leads back out to the hall and stairway. That door would have allowed non-members to come into this room and the neighboring kitchen. I’m not exactly sure what purpose this room had, though I would assume it served as just another gathering space before and after meetings.

Some of the same features found next door follow through to this room as well such as the rich beamed ceiling and ornate chandeliers.

Up on the wall we find another vignette. Here we see the room’s original ivy stenciling and dark wallpaper. I would assume this treatment must have carried through to the adjacent meeting hall, but I can’t be sure.

With this floor done, we turn back to that new staircase and take a trip up to the third and final floor. This one belonging to the Mason’s themselves…

The Grand Opening of the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s new Calumet Visitor Center – housed within the newly renovated Union Building – will be held on Thursday October 27th with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10am. In addition to the visitor center itself, the building will be home to several interactive exhibits about life and work in the great metropolis of Red Jacket. The building will be open to the public between 9am and 5pm, and there is no cost for admission.

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  1. Great series! Love the dimmer switch. “We don’t need no stinkin’ insulation or guards!” Definitely from back in the day when if one was dumb enough to touch the live parts it was considered one deserved to have his hair curled. I would guess that any OSHA inspectors who make the tour will have nightmares after looking at that one.

  2. Great series indeed! Maybe the dimmer switch figured as part of the initiation ritual of potential new members. Liquor ’em up, then ask them to dim the lights – the one’s who don’t kill themselves make it in!

  3. Quite amazing; oddly enough, I never thought about conveniences I consider “modern” like switches that dim lights by adjustment as something that had predecessors. Too cool!

  4. This series on the Union Building is Copper Country Explorer at its best! Great eye for important detail, excellent photography, and lively narrative. All of us who cherish the rich history of the Copper Country are much in your debt. Thank you so much.

  5. My Grandmother Helen Torkola was installed as the Worthy Matron of the Eastern Star when I was a young girl. Dressed in a floor length white satin gown, designed for the occasion, with a coronet of baby roses in my hair,
    I marched up to the dais, a bit overwhelmed with the solemnity and strangeness, tears streaming down my cheeks and presented her with two dozen long stemmed roses.
    This summer I met a classmate who told me she remembered that night very well as she was with her mother who was also in the Easter Star. She also took part in the event.

    Grandpa Torkola and Grandpa Oscar Holmstrom were 42 degree? ( high ones/) masons too.

    Their immigrant parents often used the rooms for meetings of many kinds.

  6. Roc… There’s a great deal of “odd” items like those radiator covers, but that’s part of the difference between a renovation and rehabilitation in the literal sense. (those hanging track lighting back in the old bank lobby is another big one, as well as the brand new staircase and elevator shaft) You can return the building back to its original look, but you loose much modern functionality that would be beneficial to the building’s continued use. By making changes to the building to bring it up to modern sensibilities, you insure its survival for many more years.

    Ian, Dave, Paul… that dimmer switch is by far one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. I’m glad they left it intact. It makes me wonder what type of stuff you can find in the back of the Calumet Theatre if you look had enough…

    George… Thanks for the great compliment. Glad you’re enjoying, but its really the park that did all the great work here. I was just there to photograph it.

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