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November and December of 1859
From The Missouri Democrat, Tuesday, December 13, 1859.
SONS OF MALTA.
Grand Disclosures of the Ceremonies and Mysteries of the Wonderful Order.
FUN AND MORE FUN.
[From the Zanesville Aurora.]
In almost every town and city in this country, there is a lodge of the Sons of Malta. This mysterious order took its rise in New Orleans some three or four years ago. There are two accounts given of its origin. It is said, by one account, to have originated with the army of “Walker the Filibuster,” at the time that worthy was preparing to take Cuba. Another account says it originated during the ravages of the yellow fever, and was intended to divert the minds of the frightened people, as well as to supply a fund for charitable purposed-such as burying the homeless dead, &c.
However it may have originated, it is not the order that outsiders take it to be; as we shall presently show.
One of the brethren, who has been turned out of the important and secret office, the initials of which are “G. R. J. A.,” has taken offense at the order, and communicated to us the whole proceedings--pass word, grips, signs, &c.
When about to become a member of the I. O. S. M., (Independent Order Sons Malta,) the candidate or candidates presents himself or themselves in an outer room, where he meets a committee of officers of the Lodge, who come to him out of the lodge--room, with drawn swords in their hands, and a kind of three--barred sheet iron hats on, which hide their faces; these officers put test questions to each candidate; and any candidate who hesitates or falters is allowed to depart in peace; those who remain pay $5 each, and the committee returns to the lodge-room to report on the cases and have them balloted for.
The funds thus raised pay the rent of the room, and the balance is expended in charities; there are no other dues, for reasons which will appear hereafter.
After the candidates are balloted for and elected, the Grand Conductor goes out to the anteroom and escorts the candidates to the inside entrance door, where he pounds on the door with the hilt of his sword three times; the inside sentinel raises a little slide in the door-peeps out; and the chief officer from the inside asks in a loud voice:
“What is the cause of this hub-bub?” The sentinel answers: “Strangers coming into camp!” To which the Chief replies: “Let 'em rip.”
What a sight breaks upon their vision! The room is nearly dark, and is only lighted by a lamp of alcohol, which sits upon a coffin in the middle of the room, and thrown its blue, flickering light around the scene! The members dressed as our citizens have seen them upon the streets, are ranged around the room, thus: One lies upon his back like a corpse, another kneels down upon his knee beside him in the attitude of a mourner. All is still as a tomb around the room, except in the center where the coffin lies upon the bier and the pale lamp flickers upon the scene. Beside that coffin, which is covered with a pall or black cloth, marches an old man who carries a musket and bayonet upon his shoulder--an old man whose white locks of hair hang in weird and tangled masses about his neck--with his left hand he snatches unmeaningly at his hair, and then mutters to himself as he turns upon his heel with military precision and marches back and forth, passing and repassing the black palled coffin and flickering light. At either end of the coffin stands a figure draped in white from head to foot, with uplifted hands and upturned eyes, muttering lips from which no sounds issue, and nothing of the face visible but the eyes and mouth. At one end of the room sits the Chief--blazing in red and gold colors but motionless--at the other end sits a skeleton with a gilded crown upon his head; with on bony hand pointing upward, while with the other he clasps to his fleshless lips the figure of an infant-at either side of the room sits the Grand Chancellor and Recorder. Each and all as motionless as the coffin or the skeleton.
Around the coffin the candidates march in an oblong ring, passing fartherest from the coffin an nearest to the members and officers--thus leaving the old man room to pace to and fro up and down the room. The Grand Conductor marches with drawn sword at the head, and the Grand Sergeant of the sappers and miners marches also with drawn sword at the tail of the line of candidates for initiation. Three times round the line marches--twice in painful silence, through which nothing is heard but the clanking of sword scabbards as they strike, at each step, the legs of the Conductor and Sergeant--during the third round an organ or melodeon strikes up a low, wailing, tremulous, wild, hollow tune, which is echoed back by the members in a low death song, while the old man marches more rapidly and mutters louder and louder, until as the candidates finish the last round, the G. C. (as the Chief is called) says in a deep voice, “Peace, venerable father! Life is made up of sorrow, and the world is ripening for sorrow greater than thine! Peace! Peace! Be still thou wounded heart!” To which all the members respond: “Peace! Peace! Be still!”--then the music stops, and the old man resumes his quiet march.
The candidates are now arranged around the G. R., who questions them as to their motive and intentions. If the answers are satisfactory (as they always are) the candidates are conducted to the chair of the skeleton where a person hidden behind the grim figure, administers an obligation to each, which binds him from his cradle (represented by the infant!) never to divulge what he may there see and learn.
After assuming the obligations the candidates are conducted back to the G. C. through the same scene of silence and sorrow, who gives them some advice, after which they are conducted out to the ante-room. And this ends the first scene.
After the candidates go out and the door is closed, the members in an instant spring to their feet, light up the room, throw off their gowns, put away the coffin, &c., and prepare for fun. In the meantime the candidates are being blindfolded so that they cannot see; in this condition they are conducted to the door again by the same parties as before; the door is again rapped upon, and, this time, the G. C. says in a loud voice:
“What is it makes the alarm!”
To which the Sentinel replies:
“Friends! Who will do us no harm!”
To which the G. C. answers:
“Bid them, Beware! Beware!
And welcome them to enter here!”
The candidates are then led in, in single file, each holding the coat-tail of the other. In total blindness they are thus marched about the room several times while the room is lighted brilliantly. All is now silence and grins--except on the part of the candidates, who are sternly commanded to indulge in “No Levity.” They are brought to the chair of the Grand Commander, where they are asked all manner of questions touching their fitness to bear arms, to swim, to march, as to the condition of their health, teeth, &c., &c.--as to their moral character--whether they have been, or are, intemperate--whether they have overstepped the bounds of chastity, and so on. In order to get this information, one of the previously initiated heads the line and stammers out answers to the questions, gradually and painfully making himself out a mighty bad fellow. The others, who are blinded and cannot see, of course hold themselves in honor bound to speak out the whole truth in such a solemn place as they imagine this still to be--as they cannot see how the scene has changed. At each answer the G. C. says “let it be recorded,” and the recorder sings out in a low, hollow tone, as he writes it down in a great book. “It has been so recorded!” [NOTE.--The records in the book must be interesting.]
During these questions the candidates are tried to test their ability to swim, to play the drum or instruments--and it must be amusing to see staid, sober citizens lying down face foremost on the floor, and “striking out” as if swimming for dear life from Florida to Cuba, as well as going through the other feats of a similar ridiculous character. But then, each man thinks, we suppose, that he must do as all good “Sons of Malta” have done before him, and therefore he goes the whole figure.
After enough of the above questions are asked and answered, the candidates take another solemn obligation having reference to the conquest of Cuba, which is administered to them in their blind state, while each places his hand upon a big book, which is always carried in procession, and which contains nothing but the pictures of two Jackasses, one in the prime of life and the other in a rapid decline.
After this the candidates are told that they must retire for a moment and prepare to go through a trying ordeal, which will severely test their nerves and manhood.
They retire, and so ends scene second.
The candidates are now brought in one at a time, still blindfolded. Each candidate is brought in, rapidly marched around the room, double quick time, between two guards, and is them made to run up a steeply inclined ladder composed of rollers, which are set close together, and which turn under his feet at every step and make his legs fly past each other like spokes of a run away buggy--when he gets to the top of the ladder he lands upon a platform, where stand two more guards, who turn him about and tell him to sit down; he sits down, and they give him a shove down the ladder over the rollers. Without any sled, he rides this way to the bottom of the ladder, where he strikes a springing board, just as it is jerked up by two stout men, which sends him with a bound up towards the ceiling of the room-as he comes down he is caught upon the board in a sitting posture-one of his legs is then pulled about, so that he is astride the board; and in this condition he is carried around the room in a procession of the members, while drums and gongs are being beaten in a most furious manner.
By this time the candidate, blind as he is, begins to see through the matter; and gets scared or riled according to the state of his feelings, but it is too late to stop.
After taking him round the room on the board, the G. C. says, “let the cavern be opened,” and at that moment the board is lowered at one end and hoisted at the other, and the candidate slides down to the mouth of a large sheet iron cylinder--something similar to the smoke-stack of a steamboat--and as he slides down a rough voice whispers in his ear, “Crawl for your life”--following this advice, he crawls through the thing, while all hands are pounding on the outside of it with sticks--just as he comes out he is taken, again up the steep ladder of rollers to the platform at the top. He is now told to stand up, straight, and divest himself of all matter that will spoil by coming into contact with water. While he is being thus prepared for the water the members have got ready a large canvas sheet with rope all round it; this is placed behind him, and held outstretched by as many men as can get hold of the ropes; as soon as all is ready, the candidate is thrown from the platform back upon this sheet, and away he goes--up and down--no sooner down than up again--like Sancho Panza tossed in a blanket--until the members get tired tossing him, at which time he is let down upon a mattress; from which he is lifted back upon the platform, where he is set upon the top roller with his feet directed toward the bottom, an umbrella without any covering is then hoisted and given to him, in his left hand, while in his right hand is placed a cow-bell-he is told to hold up the umbrella and ring the bell, and thus sails down over the rollers into a tub, full of wet sponges, at the bottom. Here the blinds are taken from his eyes, and he beholds himself surrounded by about fifty persons, in their shirt sleeves, all laughing at him.
At first the candidate is astonished, the he gets angry, and finally he laughs with the rest, and becomes a zealous member of the Venerable Order.
He is then instructed how he is to get into the lodge. He is instructed to the outside door, sneeze twice and rap once; at this the sentinel raises the slide or wicket in the door, and the candidate says “Squi,” to which the sentinel says “Bob,” then both say “Squibob,” and the member enters. He then advances to the inside door where he sneezes once and blows his nose and raps, at which the slide is lifted and the candidate says “Lager,” to which the sentinel responds “Beer,” and then both say “Swei Glass,” and the candidate enters-proceeds to the center of the room, where he flaps his two open hands at the top of his head, after the manner of a jackass flapping his ears, and takes his seat. These signs will give admission into any lodge of the Sons in the world, if they are properly given.
There are more of these ceremonies, but these are the chief of them.
Of course we do not vouch for the truth of this, but it is probably true. We tell the tale as it was told to us.
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