Being different was a barrel of laughs (and apples) in Belfast in 1894.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photograph Penobscot Marine Museum
Charles R. Coombs, of Belfast, was an odd sort of fellow. Not on account of his passion for photography and his ability to record some of the most memorable, candid scenes in turn-of-the-century midcoast Maine, but because of his ability to perform a variety of occupations practically simultaneously. Want some furniture? Coombs could locate the finest maple table for you. Need to mount your prized moose? He specialized in taxidermy at his shop at 70/72 Main Street. And by 1894, when he captured this jovial bunch preparing a feast, he could also claim to be one of only a few photographers to set up shop at the head of Penobscot Bay.
But Coombs and the ten men he discovered peeling apples, munching on treats and crackers, and sampling cider around this wooden table were actually odd by definition — they were all members of the fraternal group known as the International Order of Odd Fellows. Dedicated to furthering “Friendship, Love, and Truth,” this benevolent group had gotten its name because its original members were considered “odd” for pursuing the betterment of mankind in the seventeenth century. Remarkably, the Odd Fellows are still active worldwide today.
Coombs’ Waldo County chapter had been formed in 1878 and almost instantly betrayed its “friendship and love” mission by clashing with the existing Belfast chapter, but after a series of lawsuits Coombs’ group emerged as the chapter of record. The largest fraternal order of the day, the Odd Fellows set about building a meetinghouse that matched their stature, and in 1889 they completed the Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street in Belfast. Four stories tall, sixty feet long, and 104 feet deep, the building was the largest in the city and boasted such modern amenities as steam heat and electric lights, at center, though the stub of a gas-lamp fixture at upper right reveals that the Odd Fellows were not entirely reliant upon this new technology.
Within their great hall (the first two floors were occupied by an apothecary and lawyers’ and physicians’ offices), the Odd Fellows held meetings, lectures, and celebrations. Who knows if the bundled gents shown here, including the Odd Fellows’ grand marshal William K. Keene, fourth from left, are all engaged in one of Miss Farmer’s famous cookery classes. And yet somehow it seems that her culinary instructions seeped into the plaster of these walls, as today in this very same building the restaurant Chase’s Daily is creating delicious food from the freshest ingredients.
An oddly delicious situation, one might say.
- By: Joshua F. Moore