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The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions: The Curious World of the Demoulin Brothers and Their Fraternal Lodge Prank Machi nes - from Human ... Goats to ElectricCarpets and SmokingC Paperback – November 1, 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Julia Suits is a New Yorker cartoonist and freelance illustrator.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Perigee Books (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399536930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399536939
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 7.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,120,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
Julia Suits has unearthed some of the most bizarre and fascinating fragments of habits and behaviors and pranks from the past and has assembled them into a catalogue - the kind we used to get from Montgomery Ward, Farmers Almanac, etc - and in doing so has provided the reader with not only some embarrassing history but a generous dollop of belly laughs. THE EXTRAORDINARY CATALOG OF PECULIAR INVENTIONS is indeed based on fact: the catalog Suits has reassembled actually existed and is subtitled 'The Curious World of the DeMoulin Brothers and their Fraternal Lodge Prank Machines - from Laughing Skeletons and Revolving Goats to Electric Carpets and Smoking Camels.'

In the days before computers, people gathered in lodges and groups to communicate and enjoy life: there were old time fraternities and gatherings where men could make fools of themselves and of each other with the machines the DeMoulin Brothers invented and marketed. This book, cleverly printed on newsprint-like stock for flavor, contains many zany prankster machines complete with line drawings illustrating how the machines worked to get one up on the victim. But Suits doesn't stop there. She also includes news clippings and articles form journals about the good and evil of these fraternal organizations and the men who joined them and championed them. Secret societies that depended on entertaining the members in a fun filled camaraderie as well as doing some rather off color deeds best left undiscussed.

As one first approaches this book it seems like just something to put on the coffee table to entertain guests with little glimpses form a different Americana. But spend time reading the Introduction and Forward and the many notes and articles scattered throughout this book and find there is much to learn about that weird period in our history from 1896 to 1930. There are many surprises here, a lot of laughs, and some odd thoughts for musing. Grady Harp, November 11
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Format: Paperback
At the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, three brothers named DeMoulin joined together to form the DeMoulin Brothers Company. The company they started is still in existence today and is the leading manufacture of band uniforms in the country. However, the DeMoulin Brothers didn't make their fortune selling band uniforms. They made their fortune designing, creating, and manufacturing lodge initiation devices. Replicating such a success in today's sue-happy society would be impossible. However, it did happen once upon a time in America. The story of the DeMoulin brothers is quite interesting and at times fascinating and this unique and particular American story is finally beginning to gain some of the attention it deserves.

Last year (2010) saw the publication of CATALOG 439 edited by Charles Schneider and published by Fantagraphic Books. That book was mostly a reprinting of Catalog 439, the most famous of the DeMoulin Brothers catalogs. Now there is THE EXTRAORDINARY CATALOG OF PECULIAR INVENTIONS by Julia Suits. Unlike CATALOG 439, this book isn't a reprinting of one particular DeMoulin catalog. Instead it is a hodge-podge of selected items from several different DeMoulin catalogs, photos from the period, essays about lodges and lodge initiation devices, and random quotes. The subtitle of the book is "The Curious World of the DeMoulin Brothers and Their Fraternal Lodge Pranks Machines--from Human Centipedes and Revolving Goats to Electric Carpets and Smoking Camels" and several of the devices invented and manufactured by the DeMoulins are featured within. However, the book itself is more like an overview of lodge life in the early 1900s.
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Although this opinion may be somewhat biased because of my involvement with the "DeMoulin Museum," it's been a thrill to watch this project unfold. Julia Suits spent countless hours researching the history of fraternalism in this country and pulling together assorted newspaper accounts and tidbits to shed some light on the question I'm often asked, "Why did these guys do this stuff?" Thumbing through an original DeMoulin catalog can be an exhilirating (yet baffling) experience for those not familiar with the era. Unfortunately in today's world of the "get rich easy by suing your neighbor" mindset, the DeMoulin "Practical Goat" and "Lifting and Spanking Machine" are relegated to museum pieces. Who would dare try this stuff at a lodge meeting today? (College frat houses being the exception to the rule.) Check out this fun stuff from the minds of Ed, U.S. and Ras DeMoulin.
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I was fascinated by the contents of this book. I was familiar with the "basic" lodges, i.e. The Masons, The Elks, etc., but I had no idea of the origins of some of the more obscure groups. The old advertising is just amusing in its simplicity and eagerness to attract customers. I can imagine in today's "sue happy" enviroment, the legal battles that would occur over some of the pranks set forth in this book. A good read, I enjoyed it.
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Fraternal lodges and organizations were an important part of the late 19th century social fabric. This was before radio and television so people had to make their own entertainment. Joining a lodge was one way to fill the evening hours. Maintaining membership in several lodges was commonplace.

The book provides a richly textured description of one aspect of lodge activities - the initiation of new members. Such initiations were a vehicle for "male bonding", but were also a source of amusement for existing members. The DeMoulin Brothers made a business of providing suggestions for bizarre rituals as well as the props for carrying them out.

The props themselves were quite literally shocking. Electricity was just coming into common use and was employed in many devices to "liven up" the rituals. DeMoulin sold everything from greased poles to fake sawmills to gunpowder loaded spanking paddles.

They also provided equipment and supplies for day to day lodge operations - ceremonial uniforms, robes, masks, headdresses, and even ballot boxes with a supply of white and black balls for voting on new membership applications. This is a fascinating look at male Americana in the days before Monday Night Football.
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