"The Moose is the lifeblood of the forest. He robs not his fellow man. He scales the heights, rising high. He crops the leaf of the water lily. He takes only what he needs."
Walter Ketz, Past Supreme Governor
Loyal Order of the Moose.
"Be kind to animals Kiss a Moose."
A label button on a Moose.
Outside the heavily guarded doors of his favorite organization midwinter convention, Paul Synder was saying that fraternalism may hold the answer to the world's problems.
"The trouble with the Moose is they hide their head under a bushel basket," he declared impassionately. "My favorite expression is we succed in spite of ourselves."
The Loyal Order of the Moose is unabashedly gunshy. Back in 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court was debating whether Moose lodges could exclude blacks, it was under all kinds of heat from the liberal press and politicians.
A wave of fear swept through the Moose's 2,000 lodges - but not for the reasons one might think. "People thought there would be a mass exodus of whites from the organization, or a mass movement of blacks into it," explained Synder, the president of a savings and loan company in Edgemere, Md. who was attending an area-wide Moose convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington.
This didn't happen, although Moose Lodge 107 in Harrisburg, Pa., was eventually ordered to admit guests on a nondiscriminatory basis and the national organization dropped the whites only clause from its constitution.
"In the long run, it was the best thing that ever happened. It got the issue into the open, and it didn't change anything," Synder, a member of the Supreme Moose Council, the group's governing board, said, "Everyone realized blacks were doing their thing and we're doing our thing."
Not only did the Moose survive, it's membership mushroomed from 964,000 in 1972 to 1.2 million today in an age when many fraternal organizations are losing members and seem as archaic as the buggy whip. It nows claims not only President Jimmy Carter as a member, but also his beer drinking brother, Billy Carter.
No one seems to know how many blacks are now Moose, but it's not many. "I think I saw one at the last national convention," said Moose publicity director James Rawlings. "He was at the meetings and was obviously black. So, there are some apparently."
The organization's membership in Washington and many other large cities is small. One problem with the nation's capital is that government workers are too well paid, said one Moose official. "They're a country club crowd."
Another problem for an almost all white group is the location of the Moose's only lodge in the Washington at 3720 Martin Luther King Ave. SE in the heart of a predominately all black area. "It's been hard to get members in Washington for the last 10 or 15 years because of parking and crime," said Allen Burger, a former governor of D.C. Lodge No. 126. "But the members want to keep the lodge there. It's a matter of pride more than anything else."
The Moose attracts a large, loyal following in smaller cities and in suburban areas, especially in the Mideast. It claims 46,661 members in Maryland, 50,607 in Virginia, and 282 in D.C. Lodges with from 2,000 to more than 5,000 members each are found in College Park, Cumberland, Glen Burnie and Edgemere.
The appeal is that the Moose mixes a combination of solid, old values - fellowship, charity, and community service - with the very current need for a cheap place to buy a beer and take one's wife out to dine or dance at a place where one doesn't feel threatened by people different from himself.
The Moose keeps costs and ritual hokus-pokus down to a minimum. The entire initiation and indoctrination ceremony is crammed into 37 minutes. Annual dues at most lodges range from only $15 to $25.
Its other selling points are two large complexes the Moose operates: Mooseheart, a "city of children" near Aurora, Ill., that houses and educates orphaned Moose children; and Moosehaven, a retirement and nursing home for aged Moose and their widows near Jacksonville, Fla.
Both were the brainchild of James J. Davis, a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, who built the organization, and was later indicted and acquitted of profiteering from Moose charity balls, which the government unsuccessfully alleged violated lottery statues.
Otherwise, the Moose isn't all that different from a host of other fraternal and civic groups, many with animal names: the Elks, the Eagles, the Lions, the Shriners, the Masons, the Woodman of the World, etc. Many do pretty much what the Moose does.They sponsor Little League, softball, and bowling teams. They stage dances, picknics, bullroasts and chicken suppers.
But the Moose is edgy. When a reporter visited the midwinter conference of the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Moose Association this weekend, large beads of sweat appeared on the forehead of state director Harry Bergen. He barred the newsman from all Moose meetings and said it would be impossible for him to grant an interview during the three-day conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. When the reporter appealed to Herbert W. Heilman, the world's top Moose, he was admitted to one meeting where the only business was a demonstration of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation techniques.
What kind of people belong to the Moose?
The hundreds of Moose men and women at last weekend's three-day conference were the true believers. They were gray and middle aged for the most part. Many men wore leisure suits and the women were coiffed in beehive hairdoes. They were friendly people, quick with the handshake and smile, uneasy with the interviewer.
Allen Burger said he meet his wife, then a widow, at the Moose. Emma Hardesty, of Edgemere, Md., said she and her husband joined the Moose 10 years ago. Her husband's mother, whom the couple had cared for for years, had just died after being bedridden for a decade. "We wanted to join something, to get involved," she recalled Saturday. "We had no children and no real interest. Now I'm usually down at the lodge at least three nights a week. It's like a family to us."
"Were all just ordinary, working people," said James McFarland, 61, a member of Cumberland, Md., Lodge 914, for the last 35 years. "We don't have no rich people. We don't have no real poor people. Guess most of us work at Celanese, Pittsburg Paint Glass, or Kelly-Springfield Plant in Cumberland.
Like almost every other Moose interviewed, he mentioned Mooseheart and how the orphans of members are cared for there free of charge. "It's a wonderful thing for a young family man to have," he said. "It's a darn cheap insurance policy."
"Mooseheart is the heart beat of the Moose. You'll have to come there and visit," declared Moose director general Heilman.
As a practical matter, however, the "city of children," located on an impressive 1,109 campus 38 miles from Chicago, provides service to a small population. Its enrollment is only 329. That at the organization's home for the aged, Moosehaven, is only 400, both small numbers in an organization of 1.2 million.
Over his second beer, Boyd Snapp was waxing eloquent about the glories of Moose. He is governor, or chief executive, of Lodge 212 in Hagerstown, Md. His 1,475-member lodge, he said, sponsors three Little League teams, five softball teams, three dances for members each week two annual picnics, and several Sunday dinners each month. It also collects money for a host of charities.
"You can go to the lodge anytime and watch TV, or shoot pool, play a little gin rummy, or buy a beer 5 cents cheaper than any bar," Snapp said. "It's a happy-go-lucky place. The thing I like is you meet so many of your friends there. It's like a big family thing."