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OPINION | REX NELSON: Home of the Hoo-Hoo

by Rex Nelson | January 16, 2021 at 8:25 a.m.

On Jan. 21, 1892, six men formed an entity with an unusual name: The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

The organization's birthplace was Gurdon, which I passed through on the trip down U.S. 67 that was featured on the cover of this newspaper's Perspective section the past two Sundays. The six men were associated with the timber industry and saw the need for a fraternal organization for lumbermen. They met at Hotel Hall at Gurdon and came up with an outline of what they wanted the group to become.

"Hoo-Hoo was to be an organization comprised of men with high ideals, and the order's motto became Health, Happiness and Long Life," Rachel Bridges writes for the Central Arkansas Library System's Encyclopedia of Arkansas. "The group, led by Bolling Arthur Johnson, decided that the board of directors would be called the Supreme Nine. ... Some of the names were derived from Lewis Carroll's 'The Hunting of the Snark,' which one of the founders had recently read.

"The name Hoo-Hoo also had a unique origin. In Kansas City, about a month before the founding of the order, Johnson had used the term to refer to a tuft of hair on the head of Charles McCarer, who became the first Snark of the Universe and was given membership No. 1. Consistent with their unconventionality, the group chose as its mascot a black cat with its tail curved into the number nine."

Snark of the Universe was the title given to the organization's president. The chaplain was the Bojum, the secretary was the Scrivenoter and the sergeant at arms was the Gurdon. At-large members were Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Custocacian, Arcanoper and Bandersnatch (later changed to Jabberwock).

"Membership was to be limited to 9,999," Bridges writes. "As the order increased in popularity, this number was changed to 99,999. Meetings were held on the ninth day of the ninth month at nine minutes after the ninth hour. Annual dues were $9.99, and the initiation fee was 99 cents."

The organization grew to include more than 13,000 members. The first chapter outside this country was started in Canada in 1924.

"Though Hoo-Hoo experienced a slump from 1929-38, when membership dropped to around 700, the order recovered and membership began to rise again," Bridges writes. "Two U.S. presidents had membership. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reserved membership No. 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren Harding was No. 14,945."

In the parking lot for Gurdon's depot, there's a granite-and-bronze Hoo-Hoo monument by artist George Zolnay. That monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1999.

The men who formed Hoo-Hoo had been in Camden for a meeting of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association. A delayed train stranded them at Gurdon for five hours, and that's when the organizational meeting was held.

"There were many local and state associations of lumbermen, but no national order," writes noted Arkansas historian Mark Christ. "In order to promote communication, foster cooperation and create a shared code of ethics for the lumber industry and its workers, Johnson aspired to create a fraternity of lumbermen."

In 1909, five of the founding members gathered at Gurdon to dedicate the monument. The plaque was cast from the copper in pennies donated by Hoo-Hoo members. It was affixed to a building that stood on the site of Hotel Hall.

"In 1927, the building holding the Hoo-Hoo monument was scheduled for demolition, and the bronze plaque was moved across the street to its current location adjacent to the depot," Christ writes. "There, it was affixed to a permanent granite base and dedicated for a second time. The bronze plaque inset on the northwestern side is divided into three horizontal levels and is decorated with Egyptian revival-influenced reliefs and engravings, as well as a small relief of Hotel Hall. The names of all Hoo-Hoo presidents--or Snarks of the Universe--were engraved on the opposite side of the monument, and two statues of cats, as they appear on the Hoo-Hoo logo, were placed atop the new monument."

Zolnay had been born in Hungary in July 1863. He moved to the United States in 1892 after having studied at the Imperial Academy in Vienna and the National Academy in Bucharest. He was a member of artists' unions in Europe and the United States.

"Zolnay specialized in large memorial sculptures and architectural sculptures," Christ writes. "In addition to the Hoo-Hoo monument, he's known to have executed other small-scale bronze works, including the relief panel on the monument for Gen. Richard L. Hoxie and his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Zolnay died on May 1, 1949, in New York City.

"The identities of the sculptor of the cats and the fabricator of the granite monument on which the Zolnay plaque is set are unknown. However, these elements have been a part of the monument since its 1927 relocation. ... After its move to the current location, the monument remained a center point of the group's identity. The names of succeeding generations of Rameses--the title given to Snarks of the Universe after their tenure as president ended--were engraved on its reverse side, providing additional historic importance to the monument."

By 1988, there was no additional space to inscribe the names of Snarks. Two granite monuments were purchased by the organization so names of future Snarks could be recorded. These smaller monuments flank the original monument.

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Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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