Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
If you ever doubted that the Independent Order of Odd Fellows has evolved and changed over the years, you need only look on the back of the Encampment membership card (the dues card) and your doubt will be dissipated.
There, on the back of the card, in extremely tiny letters, you will find a throw-back to another age, another time, another generation.
What you find back there is the “Telegraphic Cipher and Key” used by Odd Fellows Lodges throughout North America in times past. Of course, no one uses a telegraph anymore in this age of email, text, face time, and fax. But back then, with the use of those ubiquitous telegraph lines that stretched across the continent, Lodges could communicate with one another about folks who showed up on their Lodge doorsteps claiming to be members and asking for assistance. Yes, in those days, people would travel from town to town knocking on Odd Fellow Lodge doors, looking for work, seeking financial help, showing up ill, or sometimes even passing away in the visited city. And, apparently, some folks would pass themselves off as members of the Order (when they really weren’t), or widows and orphans of members, to try to get a meal, medical assistance, a handout of money, or even help in finding a job in a new community.
So, Odd Fellows developed a code which could be used by telegraph wire to check on the veracity of the person at the door. The code was useful because it was comprised of one word “ciphers” – which was a cheaper way to communicate in that telegraph operators charged by the word – and it also allowed for secret communication of a question and an answer between lodges from different venues. There were 22 words (or ciphers) in this special code. Here they are for your reading pleasure:
Benefit – What sick and funeral benefits do you pay?
Black – He is a fraud, and if he has a card or other papers from this lodge, they are forgeries.
Boat – He is an expelled member, and has not been in good standing for _____.
Cash – Is in our city asking financial assistance, and claims membership in your lodge in good standing.
Caution – Look out for a fraud named _____.
Doubt – Identity in doubt. Wire description.
Final – A member of your lodge died here.
Funds – Shall we aid him and draw on you to the extent of $_____.
Green – Wire instructions to us at once as to the disposition of his remains.
Grip – Draw on us for the amount of expenses incurred.
Help – Will your lodge pay nurse hire, and how much per day?
House – Is in our city, holding a visiting card from your lodge and asking of us financial assistance.
Lodge – Forward remains to this place by _____.
Purple – We think best to bury him there.
Red – Holding a visiting card from your lodge died here.
Regalia – Assist him and we will honor draft to the extent of $_____.
River – Has your lodge a member in good standing by the name of _____.
Rock – A member of our lodge is in your city needing assistance. His name and address are _____.
Secretary – He has a fraudulent card.
White – We don’t know any such party, and he does not belong to our lodge.
Widow – Wife or child of a deceased member of your lodge is in our city asking assistance. Shall we draw on you to the extent of $_____.
Yellow – Is in our city and very sick. Claims membership in your lodge. Shall we give him attendance on your account?
Ah, yes. Those were certainly different times.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California