No one knows exactly what year the unusual tradition of serving a fried oyster dinner began at the venerable Corinne Masonic Lodge.
The event was originally held in early November to encourage attendance as the lodge in this small Box Elder County town held elections, but it became so popular that members decided to move it to the second Saturday in November in 1978 and use it as a fundraiser to help pay for upkeep of its historic building on 4405 W. Montana St.
According to Mike Nelson, the current master of the 140-year-old Masonic group, this year's event is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 9, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. It is open to the public. Cost is $15 and includes fried oysters, fried green tomatoes, ham slices, garlic bread, potato salad, ice cream, root beer and homemade desert.
"Our lodge started in 1872 and received its official charter in 1873," said Nelson. "The oyster dinner started much later than this. The old-timers said that even in the 1960s and '70s, they were eating oysters on election nights. In 1978, one of the guys decided it would be better to separate the oyster dinner from election night to the second Saturday of November."
Long-time member John Elwell said the original dinners were so small that members had a six-pound tub of medium oysters shipped in by train from Washington state on the old railroad fish train that came to Ogden every night.
"We would pick up a tub of oysters and, that night, the designated cook would fry them up for lodge members, in an effort to get lodge members out for balloting," he said.
Word got out among other Masons in Utah about the oyster dinners, and more began attending. So Elwell said a few more oysters were ordered. It was then decided this was too much work for election night and the effort was turned into a fundraiser.
Fried-green tomatoes were added to the dinner. Some folks didn't like the oysters, so ham was added, Elwell said. He wrote that the shipping of the oysters changed as demand increased. When the railroad stopped shipping the fresh oysters, another company shipped them by air express. The group then bought its oysters from the Globe Fish Market in Ogden. When that went out of business, Ocean Beauty began providing the approximately 150 pounds of oysters needed for the event.
Originally, lodge members used small home fryers. But when an Ogden restaurant closed, a lodge secretary obtained commercial fryers to use in the popular event. The historic building needed to be rewired to have enough electricity to operate them.
One of the traditions that has evolved is that Norm and Annie Smith, Masons from Price, usually attend the oyster dinner. They entertain guests and visitors with music from the old Hammond organ in the Lodge room, which also serves as a waiting area for tables to clear and people to visit after eating.
The event has drawn as many as 300 people.
Corinne was a railroad town founded in 1869 that originally had a wild reputation as a place filled with saloons. It billed itself as "The Gentile Capital of Utah." It is now a relatively quiet farming community.
Nelson said the Masons began occupying the upstairs lodge room in 1909, in the Bear River Canal Company building that was constructed on historic Montana Street in 1891. The Masons have continued to meet there ever since.
In addition to the dinner, Nelson said the lodge room will be open for tours throughout the evening and Masons will be on hand to answer any questions about the fraternity in general or the Corinne Lodge in particular.