The first club at Lakewood High School (around 1918) was the S.P.I.F. Club and composed of males only. They met secretly and had initiations and pledges and rituals just like Fraternities. To be pledged to the SPIF Club was to really belong and an honor. They had one big deal and that was their Christmas Dance. Roy Walther If you didn't go or if you weren't invited, you were a dog, ruined for life. This was the day of the Name Band and not only did the Band cost money, so did the tickets. The SPIF Club made money on all their dances and I have no idea what was done with it, but I have a pretty good idea. The next club to start up was for girls only and called the FIPS Club or SPIF spelled backwards. It too was secret and rumored that it was started by the girl friends of the members of the SPIF Club. They too had dances but the girls asked the boys to go. They were not as successful financially as the SPIF Club perhaps because the SPIF Club had the Christmas Club Dance Night as a tradition and it was the one to go to and be invited to.
And this was no mean accomplishment but demanded weeks of preparation, jockeying to get the most popular girl, or car, and booze. Also whether to go singly, in couples, or six. Also who sat on whose lap, who drove, and who got the rumble seat. Also where to get the booze, whether it would be all one kind, how to get home without smelling of it, and get your girl home sober enough and quietly enough without waking her parents. These were prohibition Days and required much thought and secrecy. However, these problems did not exist for me and my gang, sinply because we didn't dance and didn't belong to the SPIF Club. Not that we didn't want to - we just weren't asked. So we solved the problem by starting our own Club called the Ching Tang Club. It grew so fast that we finally beat the SPIF Club by taking over the Christmas Club Dance.
The Ching Tang Club started either in 1919 or 1920 because I can remember taking in some new members at least once, maybe twice. The initiation wasn't very complicated and consisted mostly of taking some kind of oath, learning the handshake, buying the Ching Tang Pin for either 3 or 5 dollars, and then dropping his pants and bending over to see whether he could take the physical initiation. This was accomplished by hitting his backside with a paddle, made especially by the initiate for the occasion and used once by each of the active members. Some really swung the paddle viciously but I didn't and thought it ridiculous and dangerous. It was dangerous because we almost ruined one of our new members for life and I think this part of the initiation was discontinued.
I was not paddled because I was a charter member. There were either 12 or 13 of us and we were made up mostly of the gang from Bauers Pool Room who hadn't been asked to join the SPIF Club. None of us were great athletes but most threw a good bowling ball and knew which end of a pool stick you hit the cue ball with and were good crap and poker players.
About 2/3 of the members were like that but others such as Jake never did any of those things. They were always there with the rest of us but never sinned. I guess one of the requirements was to have some place to go to have our secret meetings and maybe read dirty stories afterwards.
I doubt that any of us realized how the club would grow or why we needed one. There were no requirements for membership in the beginning and no restrictions. We had no bigotry back then - all that was required was that all the active members had to agree that so-and-so would make a good member and then he was asked to join. I think we had some turn-downs at first but not many because it was easier to join us than to start a new club and if you didn't belong to a club, you were just out of everything.
We were fortunate in having a creative artist as a member even though he didn't shoot pool, bowl, or shoot crap or play cards. But he had a big house up on Arthur Avenue and ideas as big as the house, and I think most of the organizational work, the name, the design of the pin and the secret stuff was mostly out of his head. He was Chuck Seltzer, the son of Charles Alden Seltzer, the writer of western stories perhaps second only to Zane Grey; Brother of Bob Seltzer who still writes for the Press and brother of "Mr. Cleveland" former editor of of the Press etc. Chuck is dead now but followed his creative ability, was quite an artist and ended up in advertising. His father we never saw but we did hear him, and he never saw or heard us. We had to be quiet when we met at his house because his father wrote his novels, including "The Two Gun Man" there and nobody was allowed in his room. He had never been west of the Mississippi according to Chuck but was hell on wheels when he was writing. He chewed tobacco all the time and also according to Chuck, was a poor shot at the over-sized spittoon.
There was no prejudice or bias against membership in the Ching Tang Club. There were only three requirements (1) an applicant was proposed by someone who thought he would fit into the group, (2) the applicant sort of tried to make it appear that he wanted to join but was not too anxious and (3) he couldn't belong to our rival club. There were two other requirements which were not discussed until after he was initiated. They were the ability to buy the pin and pay his dues. Bowling and pool were not required but helped to swing the vote in his favor.
I have no idea who thought of the name "Ching Tang" and it really seems silly, because we had no Chinese members, knew nothing of China.
I wish I had kept my Ching Tang pin but I think I gave it to one of my few girl friends when I left High School and she never gave it back.
It was a pretty pin and designed in the kitchen of the Seltzer home on Arthur Avenue by Chuck Seltzer. It was diamond shaped with a gold border running around the edge. The main part was a black black and had a gold lion in the center. It had a sort of fierce friendliness about it as I remember, rather like the cowardly Lion portrayed by Bert Lahr. We meant no harm - just a bunch of left-outs, who wanted to be on the inside like the other guys. We all turned out fairly normal, at least the ones I knew; no better or worse than the other members in the other clubs.
The handshake was quite complicated and consisted of the first two fingers and the last two fingers held together with a space between and a space between the thumb. With the fingers in these positions it was not easy to shake hands with another club member and we avoided it as much as possible. I think we all thought it was silly but if every other club had a handshake, we had to have one too. There is only one difficulty connected with Secret Societies - suppose they all have the same initiation, pledge of allegiance, handshake and rules?
The Ching Tang Club had an inauspicious beginning and was almost put out of business with its first dance. But it did go on for quite a few years putting on dances, taking in members and making money. And spending money. I, of course, lost track of it when I graduated from Lakewood and coincidentally or not, it grew by leaps and bounds from then on. It gradually took over the Christmas Dance tradition and had its dances at the hotels downtown. I don't remember where but I know one was at the old Hollenden Hotel. This was during Prohibition and the liquor was consumed like water. Perhaps much of it was watered, the same as dope is cut today. The big problem was in arranging transportation and who was going with whom. And who would be let out first and who last and where to go afterwards. There were no drive-ins or McDonalds or Red Barns. But there was Clarks Restaurant in Lakewood, Coulters at the west end of Lakewood and Child's Restaurant downtown. They were open all night and the thing to do was to go to one of them, preferably Childs for waffles and honey or Pancakes and Honey or syrup.
I remember coming back from Hillsdale College and going to "our" Christmas Dance and dancing to Duke Ellington's orchestra, sitting on the piano bench with him, talking with him and even shaking hands with him. We made money on that dance. Two amounts come to mind - $1500 and $5000. We either paid Duke 1500 and made 5000 or the other way around.
I understand that the profit made on the dance was used to rent a cottage on the Lake for the summer for the use of club members and "friends." But this came after I was out of Lakewood and Hillsdale and therefore never enjoyed its convenience and hospitality.
Our first dance was held at the Lakewood Masonic Temple and one figure stands out there in the amount of $75. It was either what we paid for the hall or what we made on the dance. I think it was what we paid for the hall because our classmates where not exactly fighting to get in or to buy tickets. Frankly I think it cost each member about 4 or 5 dollars apiece to cover our expenses. This was no SPIF Club dance or a Christmas Club Dance - just a Saturday night dance by an unknown orchestra given by an unknown club made up of unknowns with a Chinese name.
In the middle of the dance, about 10:30, somebody turned out all the lights in the ballroom which provided an excellent opportunity for couples to neck without going outside or in the various rooms. Whether this was done by one of our members or one of the opposition has never been determined but right then from the second floor, down the stairs came a whole bunch of Masons from a meeting who, of course, looked in, and ordered the lights put on. They were and they were kept on for the rest of the dance. On Monday morning, Jake, Glen and I were called in to the Principal's office, bawled out and almost suspended.
But our reputation was made and everybody now knew about the Ching Tang Club; we had less difficulty selling tickets but we were still #2 and had to fight harder.
It is difficult to imagine how the Club could have gone on to being such a successful business venture after the first dance ending on such a fiasco but it did and contributed to the formation of other clubs such as the Nomads. This name made more sense than Fips, Spif or Ching Tang and perhaps helped it along. But as time went on, the proliferation of dance clubs led to their extinction by the Board of Education and possibly to the formation of clubs in high school to take their place.
Even sororities and fraternities were trying to elbow their way in along with Religious organizations. We debated a long time as to whether our Club should disband and join the DeMolay which has something to do with the Masons and is still going strong but we decided not to. The club prospered and others sprang up until practically everyone was putting on dances, selling tickets and trying to run the politics of the school. I think that some even tried to establish chapters in other schools. Conditions got so bad that secret societies were forbidden at the High School and as far as I know there are none there now or at Rocky River. They may have gone "underground" but I don't know. However, somewhere in my memory, I recall that when Prohibition was ended, it was necessary for a private club to have a charter to get a liquor license to sell alcohol, and someone bought the charter of the Ching Tang Club for this purpose. This may all be a dream on my part or hearsay, but if true, someone made a good thing out of our initial venture to start a club of congenial high school kids who hadn't been asked to join the Spif Club. We all turned out fairly well, some are dead, most retired, some wealthy, some poor, some happy, some not.