Who? The Hoo-Hoo
By Joe Phelps, The Daily Siftings Herald, December 18, 2008
Gurdon, Ark. - With nothing else to do, five men who were stranded in Gurdon in January 1892, created a mysterious fraternity among lumbermen known as the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.
Almost 117 years later, a museum in Gurdon boasts a collection of artifacts from the fraternity, from the world’s largest known board to a few wooden toilet seats hanging on a wall. The museum is also home to the Hoo-Hoo International Headquarters, where every other year the fraternity’s board — headed by the Grand Snark of the Universe — meets at the mid-year board meeting to discuss Hoo-Hoo business as well as timber industry happenings around the world.
It all started with the creative ideas of Bolling Arthur Johnson, a 30-year-old journalist for Timberman trade newspaper of Chicago, and 40-year-old George K. Smith, a secretary for the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association of St. Louis. Johnson and Smith, along with three other men who had careers in the timber industry, were en route from a convention in Camden to “yet another convention in yet another city,” and their itineraries called for them to board a train in Gurdon. But when they arrived in Gurdon, they discovered their train would not be leaving for another seven hours.
So with all the time the men had on their hands, they checked into Gurdon’s Hotel Hall, which was located just across Front Street from the railroad tracks. Meanwhile, Johnson and Smith sat on a lumber pile — discussing their treacherous travels and sharing their thoughts on a unified lumber fraternity.
Johnson and Smith later found the other three men — George Washington Schwartz, William Starr Mitchell and William Eddy Barns — in the lobby of Hotel Hall and discussed the feasibility of the fraternity. Ludolph O.E.A. Strauss of the Malvern Lumber Company in Gurdon later came into the hotel and was invited to join in on the discussion.
In a nutshell, the men wanted to create a fraternity that would obtain the business interests of all lumber organizations in existence so that, in the “complex web of industry concerns,” the fraternity’s fellowship and goodwill would trickle down to every timber organization — so they could all “bear the fruit of service to the industry.”
Developing the ins and outs of the fraternity proved to be an amusing task. While Johnson and Smith brainstormed on the lumber pile, they dubbed their potential fraternity as the Ancient Order of Camp Followers. In Hotel Hall, however, the group agreed that the name did not fulfill their objective — to “contain a certain degree of mystique to represent the exclusivity of its membership.”
Only one month prior to this historical session of pondering Johnson had coined the word “Hoo-Hoo” to describe something unusual. For example, a good poker hand was known as a “Hoo-Hoo hand,” and a strange hat would be known as a “Hoo-Hoo hat.” The first time he uttered the word was when he saw Charles McCarer, lumberman and friend to Johnson. The only hair on McCarer’s head was a tuft of hair, “greased and twisted to a point.” Since “Concatenate” is such a hoo-hoo word for “unite,” the idea of naming the fraternity the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo stuck. From its beginning, the Hoo-Hoo fraternity created its own history. Other strange things associated with the fraternity include its mascot, the numeral nine and names given to officers.
The Hoo-Hoo fraternity adopted the black cat as its mascot because of its “general association with bad luck.” Its tail is always curled to create a 9, to represent the cat’s nine lives. The number nine is also important to the fraternity. There are nine men on the Board of Directors, who hold their annual meeting on the ninth day of the ninth month beginning at nine minutes after nine. In the fraternity’s beginning, annual dues were 99 cents, and the initiation fee was $9.99 — and the membership would never exceed 9,999 men. The officers were also dubbed with strange titles, as Barns had just finished reading Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark and suggested giving directors “eerie and peculiar” names.
The Grand Snark of the Universe is the leader of the organization, followed by the Scrivenoter (secretary), the Arcanoper (the opener of the Hoo-Hoo’s gates), the Custocatian (treasurer) and Gurdon (sergeant at arms). McCarer — the man whose hairstyle inspired the fraternity’s name — was appointed as the fraternity’s first Grand Snark.
Despite the initial ruling that no more than 9,999 members would be allowed into the fraternity, it has had more than 107,000 members join since 1892.
While the Hoo-Hoo may make Gurdon a name known internationally to those within the fraternity, Beth Thomas, executive secretary of Hoo-Hoo International, said both the museum and the fraternity are still widely unknown to many in Clark County — and even in Gurdon.
Growing up, Thomas had always associated the term “Hoo-Hoo” with the old Hoo-Hoo theater, which used to be located next to Thomerson Drugs in Gurdon. It wasn’t until she noticed a group of strangers — loafing around town in business suits — that her curiosity grew about Hoo-Hoo. After the fraternity allowed women to become members in 1986, Thomas gained her position within the fraternity in 1989 as manager of Hoo-Hoo International, and later as executive secretary.
Having the Hoo-Hoo International headquarters means a lot to Clark County, Thomas said. “While it may be just another place to us, Gurdon really sticks out in the minds of people in the fraternity,” she said. “When they hear of Gurdon, they think of Hoo-Hoo.”
The fraternity is divided into nine (there is that number again) jurisdictions, with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and South Africa making up the fourth jurisdiction. Canada is another country that boasts a number of Hoo-Hoo chapters.
In addition to her duties as secretary, Thomas oversees the museum. The building where the museum is used to be home to Gurdon's city hall, which encompassed the police and water departments. In 1980 the Grand Snark decided to move its headquarters back to where the fraternity was born, and Gurdon gladly accepted the decision. The building was dedicated as the museum and headquarters in 1986. Thomas said Hoo-Hoo pays the city $1 per year for renting the building.
According to the Hoo-Hoo Web site, www.hoo-hoo.org, the fraternity is one of the oldest service organizations. It has survived all these years because its members are “interested in the welfare and promotion of the forest products industry.” Membership is drawn by invitation from all aspects of the forest products industry. Membership is open to adults who are employed in some aspect of wood-related industries.
To visit the museum, located at 207 Main St., Gurdon, or to learn more about Hoo-Hoo, call 353-4997. Information from this article comes from an article in Log and Tally with permission from author Billy Tarpley, life-long Gurdon resident and former executive secretary of Hoo-Hoo. Tarpley's in-depth article on the Hoo-Hoo's history can be found at the museum.