Hoo-Hoo International Office and Museum – Gurdon, Arkansas - Atlas Obscura

Hoo-Hoo International Office and Museum

The strange and snarky traditions of the lumber industry's fraternal order began with five men waiting for a train here in Arkansas. 


Left with nothing better to do while waiting for a delayed train for seven hours in Gurdon, Arkansas, five men founded what would become a worldwide fraternity for the lumber industry, though you wouldn’t know it from the group’s name: the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

The Hoo-Hoo was founded on January 21, 1892, shortly after the men in question had attended an Arkansas Yellow Pine Manufacturer’s Association meeting. They were all somehow interested in the forest products business, either running lumber companies, reporting on it, or otherwise working with wood, and they felt there should be a single, concentrated organization to represent and look out for all those involved. (Unfortunately, at the time of the group’s founding, this was restricted to white men only.)

The idea was for a kind of fraternal order, but the men didn’t want to conjure overly serious images of secret societies and the like, so designed the organization in the opposite direction. They adopted the black cat as their mascot as a kind of anti-superstition, and elevated the number 9 (the mythical number of lives of a cat) to a place of importance within the fraternity (they hold their annual meeting at 9:09 on September 9th). 

They adopted officer names inspired by the work of Lewis Carroll: The executive committee, or “Supreme Nine” consists of the Snark of the Universe (or Grand Snark), the Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Scrivenoter, Bojum, Jabberwock, Custocatian, Arcanoper, and Gurdon. The term “Hoo-Hoo” was coined by co-founder Bolling Arthur Johnson, a newspaperman, to describe the oiled tuft of hair on the otherwise bald head of a friend of his, and it came to mean anything odd or peculiar in the eyes of order members. That friend later became the first Grand Snark. They called their “Sergeant at Arms” the “Gurdon,” after the town in which the order was founded, because the name sounds like “guard,” and the made-up word “Scrivenoter” reminded them of “note scribe,” so that was the title given to the secretary.

All of this and more took place in those seven hours; then their train arrived, and they went on to spread their ideas. And spread they did. The order grew rapidly, expanding beyond the United States to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and South Africa. To date, Hoo-Hoo has had over 100,000 members (now including women and people of all races), all involved with or supportive of lumber-related industries. Its strange sense of humor spawned a spinoff group, the Society for the Preservation of Wooden Toilet Seats (aka the Birch John Society), which was founded to protest toilet seats made of plastic and steel.

While there are branches around the world, the Hoo-Hoo International Office and Museum can be found back in its birthplace, in Gurdon, Arkansas. It’s housed in a restored WPA-era log cabin, around the corner from the site where the order was founded beside the railway. At the site itself is a large stone monument with statues of the group’s emblematic cat, with its tail in the shape of the number 9. Inside the museum are artifacts, photographs, books, and other memorabilia from Hoo-Hoo history.

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