grave-a-day: “the shark grave”

Welcome to my first running blog feature, grave-a-day. Here I’ll post noteworthy headstones and quick blurbs of the deceased.

First up is one of Allegheny Cemetery’s most famous residents: Lester C. Madden and his shark tombstone:shark.jpg

Located at Section 26, Lot 65 is Lester C. Madden, Korean War Veteran and lover of the 1975 cult film classic, Jaws:Jaws-movie-poster.jpg

Indeed, Madden loved the film so much that he turned his final resting place into what is arguably the most recognizable monument in the Allegheny cemetery.

Thanks for joining me and happy digging!

project 1.1 the royal arcanum

Welcome to my first project! I hope you’ll continue to visit as these stories unfold.

So, I accidentally stumbled upon a little known secret society while hanging out in the cemetery, which actually became my impetus for starting this blog. The society I discovered is called The Royal Arcanum, and as far as rich people clubs go this one is pretty great.

The Supreme Council of the Royal Arcanum, known simply as the Royal Arcanum, is a fraternal benefit society (i.e. old financial institution that includes things like banks, credit unions, and insurance agencies) founded in 1877 in Boston, MA. It is now an insurance agency dealing with over $100 million in protective benefits. They also worship the number 1105. Here is how I found this out:

I’ve been admiring a particular grave for several days. It’s a massive monument with an elegant greek goddess laced into the stone. Some days I visit and leave little trinkets, today I decided to sit down and stay.IMG_1619

It was an admittedly odd experience sitting against a stranger’s grave in the middle of the evening. Time passed in no particular hurry and I glanced up at a squawking bird on the tomb ahead.

I noticed a strange metal object on top of the crypt where the bird is initially standing, but did not see a similar looking object on the other side. What was perhaps more striking was the triangular emblem at the top of the tomb.

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I then decided to investigate the individual who was laid to rest under this strange symbol. His name was John Munhall.

Mr. Munhall was a well-liked and respected coal/oil baron who owned a successful mine and steamboat operation with his brothers near the Carrie Furnace during the mid to late 1800s. A quick Google search lead me to A Genealogical and Biographical History of Allegheny County by Thomas Cushing (p. 401). At the bottom of Munhall’s blurb was a list of formal associations: The Presbyterian Church, the Republican Party, and the Royal Arcanum.

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If you’ve not heard of the Royal Arcanum do not be surprised. In fact, this fraternal order is one among hundreds in the United States that handles billions of dollars each year. Fraternal orders are united groups that formed out of shared religious beliefs, gender, occupation, ethnicity, or political values. Many of these secret societies have roots as mutual aid organizations founded to serve immigrants and other underserved groups before government and employer-based programs existed.

Today such organizations are (as far as the American public knows for sure) state and federally compliant with financial services, reporting, and licensing. According to a 1993 study done by the Treasury Department, the activities of the entire fraternal system in the U.S. generates an estimated $2 billion annually – tax exempt since its 100-year-old inception, of course.

What’s weird about the Royal Arcanum and other secret societies like it is not the money that members shell out in order to be part of a protective organization, but their insistence upon following such strange membership rituals that accompany the purchase of life insurance benefits. Here are excerpts from a Royal Arcanum initiation ceremony as taken from a microfilm of their official Book of Duties:

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book of rites 1.pngrites 2.pngrite 3.pngrites 4.pngrites 5.pngrites 6.pngrites 7.png

I especially love the part about the mystic number:

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There you have it! They Royal Arcanum.

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As for John Munhall’s grave, I never figured out what that weird metallic t-shaped object was, or why the top of his tomb is clearly ajar. Whaaaat?:

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Thanks for reading and if you feel like adding some expensive secrecy to your life you can apply to be a member of the Royal Arcanum here (enjoy their bright pink color scheme).

Please also let me know if you find out exactly what is so mystical about the number 1105.