By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
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By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
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just off the corner of Lake Street and Cedar Avenue across the street from the old Layman's cemetery. The IOGT (formerly the International Orderof Good Templars), according to one of their tracts, "offers GOOD TIMES through wholesome personal living; through a disciplined life of total abstinence."
Specifically, the IOGT promotes abstinence from liquor. As for good times: "we encourage sociability," the tract continues. "We like to eat, drink and be merry without intoxicants, with clear heads and feeling at our best."
We recently paid a visit to the museum and headquarters, escorted by Marion Ekstrand, a compact, elderly teetotaler who must have an exceedingly clear head since she simultaneously holds the offices of historian of the National Council, assistant office manager of the National Office and Museum, Secretary of the Northwest Regional Council and also of the Good Templar Center Board of Directors, editor of the Northwest Regional Council Newsletter, and president of the American Fellowship of Abstainers, a related organization. Her husband, Arthur, who takes a somewhat less active role in the Templars, takes the tour with us.
The IOGT, Marion informs us, was founded in Utica, New York in 1851. From its inception, the Good Templars combined the zeal of missionaries with the social sensibility of the Lions Club and dressed it all up with the splendiferous trappings of the secret societies and Masonic orders that were springing up across the country in the 1850s. "In the beginning there were some powerful speakers," says Marion. The Templars filled lecture halls to see them argue for laws against liquor. "But after Prohibition, I think we thought our work was done," she adds.
A few traces of the old-style Templars remain at the museum, tracts with names like "The Snake and the Bottle" and "The Drunkard is a Sissy" stand next to more staid, recent publications. The museum itself occupies a small two-story room in a 1983 addition to one side of the original Good Templars building, which was erected in 1923, and contains a wooden dance floor, a basement dining hall and kitchen, and a small lounge. Ranged around the walls in the museum are some 20 framed documents bearing enigmatic tokens and engraved scenes of surreptitious females holding symbolic fruits, beneath which are signed in florid script the names of founding Templars now teetotaling in the mold. These are the Charters of disbanded orders from around the country, preserved here at the museum.
Even here in this national hub of Good Templars, admits Ekstrand, membership is slacking off. Perhaps the old cemetery stones staring in at the windows like ghosts are to blame, perhaps the ravages of time, to which even the most vigorous abstainer must in time succumb. Only around 100 Templars in all show up in the latest membership rosters for the three Minneapolis orders. And most of them, like the Ekstrands, are elderly. Every year, the ranks of the abstainers thin a little more.
The lack of young blood might be attributed to the fact that the Good Templars do not seek to rehabilitate chronic inebriates the way Alcoholics Anonymous groups do. Many of the Templars, Marion included, never drank in the first place. (Her husband admits a little sheepishly to having indulged in his younger days). Initiates are required to sign a pledge of abstinence, and in the old days, Marion says, the order would check up on its members and kick out the drinkers. Now the abstinence is strictly honor system. Gone too are the rituals: Initiation ceremonies in full regalia, during which Templars dropped white marbles into handsome wooden boxes made especially for the purpose to signal a 'yes' vote--one black marble dashed an initiate's abstemious hopes. No longer do the Templar's wear the intricate embroidered yokes; a drawer in the museum holds dozens. The rest of the museum's stock consists of old panoramic photographs of Templars, Bibles donated by Templars, leather ledgers filled with Templars meeting notes, and books about the society's history.
For those of us who take a drop or two or more around the New Year, the possibilities are endless: The world around us is one vast bottle inviting us for a swim at the bottom. For the Good Templars, the holiday is one of those moments when GOOD TIMES without lubrication are in high demand. For the grandchildren, the local order plans a lock-in at the center; games, food, and fun behind closed doors. And the Ekstrands? "We're too old for New Year's Eve," Marion says, "and we don't like to drive in winter."