Highland News Leader

Look out below! Greenville museum adds ‘sliding stairs’ to lodge initiation collection

John Goldsmith, DeMoulin Museum curator, demonstrates the museum’s latest collection piece, “The Sliding Stairs,” manufactured by DeMoulin Bros. & Co. during its fraternal period in the early 1900s.
John Goldsmith, DeMoulin Museum curator, demonstrates the museum’s latest collection piece, “The Sliding Stairs,” manufactured by DeMoulin Bros. & Co. during its fraternal period in the early 1900s. Courtesy photo

The DeMoulin Museum, located in downtown Greenville, has added another strange lodge initiation item to its arsenal. The Sliding Stairs, manufactured by DeMoulin Bros. & Co. during its fraternal period in the early 1900s, could be the museum’s rarest piece. Museum staff believe very few were manufactured due to the size and nature of the device.

“It’s remarkable the factory sold any of them,” observed John Goldsmith, DeMoulin Museum curator. “The blindfolded candidate sat upon the top step of the stairs. A lodge member would trip the mechanism causing the steps to collapse, resulting in the candidate quickly sliding to the bottom. All of our volunteers agree the users of this device must have sustained a few injuries.”

As was the norm for DeMoulin initiation devices, a blank cartridge was also discharged and a bell would ring.

The contraption was purchased from an Austin, Texas antique dealer who found it in a store in Indiana, where it was about to be used as a display shelf. Fortunately the Texas dealer identified it as possibly being a DeMoulin device and immediately contacted the museum. “I’m not sure what amazes me more — that the DeMoulin Sliding Stairs exists or the good fortune that brought it to us,” Goldsmith said.

For its first 40 years, DeMoulin Bros. & Co. was a manufacturer of fraternal lodge regalia, paraphernalia, and initiation devices. Today, DeMoulin is one of the country’s leading makers of marching band uniforms. The DeMoulin Museum showcases over two dozen of the company’s initiation devices, one of the largest collections in the United States.

The museum, located at 110 W. Main St. in Greenville, is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. or by appointment. Group tours may also be scheduled by calling (618) 664-4115 or contacting them through their website www.demoulinmuseum.org. The DeMoulin Museum has also been spotlighted on Roadside America and Atlas Obscura, two leading quirky travel websites.

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