I came across this photographic copy of a print or painting that showed the Port Byron’s Owl Club Roost #1. As with many items stuck on the shelves, there are no attributes, notes, who did it, no hints at all as to what it was. The print does offer clues of it’s own. It did show a list of “members” of Roost #1, all men of course. As I was looking at it, Dave Thomas stopped by and I showed him this new “discovery”. He recalled that it was part of the Erie House auction back in 1994 and that a local man purchased it. He also commented, since he had seen the original, that it had appeared to be a blank print in which you added the name of the Roost and the names of the members. So this must have been part of a larger organization.
A search of the Net was somewhat disappointing, but maybe to be expected. There are many Owl Club bars and night clubs to be found. There is also a Wise Owl Club, a group dedicated to saving eye sight. But there were no Owl Club’s which describe what I am looking for. A search of the papers with a focus on hits in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s may lead us to the correct conclusion. A news article from the 1895s tells about odd and unusual social organizations in New York City, in which the Owl Club is one. It’s leaders and members were given titles such as the “Worshipful Wogglybob”, “Jovial Jimplecute”, Daredevil Dingbat Dollier”, “Humorous Humenityite”, and not to be left out, the “Perfervid Pantalette”. The article does say that the organizations mentioned were located only in the city, but maybe the news traveled and attracted new roosts. Or maybe the author didn’t do his homework as the next clue was from 10 years prior. Or maybe people just liked the name.
It does appear that some in Baldwinsville carried out quite a battle with the members of the Owl Club in the 1880’s. In response to a letter from a Mrs. J.H. an “Owl” wrote that the Club was the first social organization in the village, “where gentlemen, young and old, rich and poor, married and single, in occasional leisure moments, meet on equal and friendly terms, with open doors, in pleasant, well-warmed and well-lighted rooms, to enjoy the pleasures of social converse or engage in harmless games of amusement at proper hours, where rowdyism, immoral conversation, wicked or vicious practices of any kind are unknown.” This letter was quickly followed up by a note from Mrs. J.H. who wrote that she did not consider the ridicule and general denial of the charges as “entitled to serious consideration”, and she was dropping her attacks.
The last clue from the papers was by way of a poem about the Owl’s Farewell in Sag Harbor, NY. It turns out that the meeting place of the Owl Club, a barn so remote from the village and nearby roads that firemen couldn’t reach it in time, burned around New Year’s Day in 1910. The first stanza of the poem went; “Farewell to the Owl Club, That stately old hall, Where a dozen bold warriors, Would meet at a call.”
In the end of my rather quick research, I still don’t know much about this print or the Owl Club. The owl in the print appears to be perched on a barrel, and if you look close, you can see that the letters on the barrel spell MALT. The names of the men appear on the top of another. The names of the men seem to date the group to after 1894 and before 1909, based on when some in the group died. Was this group a response to the Temperance movement that was sweeping through upstate New York during that time or did someone simply think it funny to get a blank form and write in the names? They all, if you look, all written by the same hand.
It would be great to be able to make a copy of this print and return it to the Erie House. It all weaves into the story that we tell visitors to the Park about how VanDitto set up his tavern and then moved to Montezuma once the Town went dry. If anyone knows of its whereabouts, please contact me.