The Unbiased Order of Odd Fellows: A Mystery Society That Left a Trail of Human Skeletons in Its Wake

Cheerleading follow can be grueling, but hardly ever does it entail the discovery of human stays.

That altered in 2004, when the youthful women of all ages of the ShowMe Spirit All-Stars were established to converge on a century-aged setting up they experienced rented in Houston, Missouri, to use as observe space with the letters IOOF published previously mentioned the doorway. Going for walks by the house, squad coaches Tabbi Eire and Sheri Wade found a primitive stability system with doorway buzzers and peepholes. They also learned aged robes, historic ledgers, and guides that seemed to trace at a mysterious record. The spine of one particular quantity read: IOOF Working Rituals.

Then there were the coffins—three of them in full. Two contained pretend skeletons, but the third appeared suspiciously reliable and immediately grew to become the communicate of the procedures. Just one of the girls’ moms requested nearby authorities to examine them, and their suspicions had been verified: The specimen and its filth-encrusted surface area was the real report, a skeleton that would eventually prove to be of indeterminable gender and ancestry. All everyone knew of the remains was that they belonged to the Impartial Order of Odd Fellows, a hundreds of years-aged fraternal business.

Owing to the dust, they also knew the skeleton was probable not acquired as a result of conventional implies. The grime hinted it may well have after been buried, and a person experienced then dug it up. The ShowMe Spirit All-Stars experienced uncovered proof of a ritual that nonetheless exists in some form today, a person that has resulted in several cases of skeletons earning extraordinary reappearances during renovations.

But why did the Odd Fellows require them in the first put?

Although their quantities have waned in modern yrs thanks to the introduction of the world wide web, fraternal businesses were at the time a popular part of American everyday living. Freemasonry, Moose Lodges, and the Benevolent and Protecting Purchase of the Elks opened chapters across the nation and espoused a values procedure ordinarily based mostly all over charitable acts and loyalty whilst bonding as a result of arcane rituals, languages, and attire. By just one estimate, 10.5 million Americans ended up a member of around 500 “secret societies” in 1907.

The Independent Get of Odd Fellows was one particular this sort of culture. The group shaped in 17th century England prior to arriving in The united states in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1819, and its identify has a handful of likely origins: It could refer to the reality that early members were tradesmen who preferred to form a trade group but experienced far too several friends in their specialty and had to band with each other. Other folks believe it refers to the “odd” character of assembling in an effort to be charitable, which is anything the Odd Fellows pleasure themselves on. Aiding orphans and aiding folks in burying their lifeless ended up early tenets. These days, the team sponsors a professorship at Johns Hopkins College of Medicine and supports the Arthritis Foundation, among other pursuits. Their image of a few interlocking rings signifies Friendship, Enjoy, and Reality. In the early 20th century, it may possibly have had as many as 3.4 million users.

“The IOOF or Odd Fellows is an inclusive co-ed fraternal corporation with about 200 several years of record that serves as the authentic social community and gives users a multi-faceted knowledge based on what they are seeking for,” Ainslie Heilich, a spokesperson for the Sovereign Grand Lodge for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, tells Psychological Floss. “Lodges provide socializing with a intent to assistance boost our communities though enhancing ourselves. Members appear collectively to become a far better model of ourselves and go away driving the frustrations of daily everyday living although collaborating in conferences, socials, fundraisers, volunteering, initiations, and diploma rituals. It’s a fantastic way to understand new social, business enterprise, and existence skills as perfectly.

“One of my Lodge mates aptly describes the expertise as being like scouting but for grownups. I feel it’s a tiny like slipping into a actual lifetime Wes Anderson film. It’s anything I did not recognize I was looking for right up until I located it.”

When great intentions were being and are plentiful, both equally the Odd Fellows and other corporations tended to have a flavor for the macabre, using ritualized behaviors to indoctrinate members and cement a feeling of solidarity and discretion.

Not all were being harmless. In 1913, a Loyal Purchase of Moose ritual turned lethal when two candidates in Birmingham, Alabama, perished. Fooled into considering that senior associates were being truly branding them with a scorching iron—the iron was cool, but a battery connection despatched a sensation up their bodies—the adult males had heart assaults and died. A Knights of Tablor ceremony in Texas in 1916 virtually finished fatally when a member tripped and fell on a sword. He survived and sued the Knights in an act of decidedly non-fraternal litigation.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows symbol representing Friendship, Love and Truth.
The Unbiased Get of Odd Fellows symbol representing Friendship, Love and Real truth. / smallcurio, Flickr // CC BY 2.

While the accidents incurred during such tactics invite publicity, other organizations have long gone years—perhaps centuries—without disclosing what goes on powering closed doorways. That was accurate of the Odd Fellows until the 1990s and early 2000s, when disbanded lodges and vacant locations commenced to be occupied by comparatively ordinary fellows.

In 2001, an electrician in Warrenton, Virginia, named Paul Wallace was restoring circuits in an previous creating formerly occupied by Odd Fellows when he came across a space in between two walls. Tugging on the contents, he found a black box. Inside was a skeleton included in a white shroud—“like a Dracula film,” Wallace would afterwards recall—and alerted authorities.

The scene had been taking part in out throughout the place. In 2000, a theater worker in Missouri was provided two cost-free caskets by a consolidating Odd Fellows lodge. One experienced a plaster skeleton. A next experienced a authentic one particular. In 2008, a gentleman in Wayne Township, Pennsylvania, named David Simmons was supporting renovate his grandfather’s household when he observed a thing unusual in concerning the floorboards of a crawlspace. Shining his flashlight, he recognized an aged clock, a lantern, and some 50 bones. (Some Odd Fellows skeletons are incomplete: The human body has around 200 bones.) Other skeletons cropped up in California, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, and Virginia, between others.

“As with all fraternal companies, the variety of IOOF users and lodges has been shrinking,” Heilich states. “The second half of the 20th century observed a lot of lodges closing and the Grand Lodges all in excess of the continent could not preserve up with clearing out and storing anything so complete lodges comprehensive of things were just deserted. These ordinarily downtown buildings would then be offered and as the new entrepreneurs would be performing renovations they would unwittingly uncover [the skeletons] prolonged overlooked in a storage cubby.”

At the time authorities identified the properties wherever these continues to be had been discovered at the time belonged to Odd Fellows, the society that cherished its privateness was compelled to disclose a portion of its record and depth why so several of their lodges held true skeletons—and what reason they served.

However Odd Fellows often questioned authorities to be discreet about their ritualized tactics, facts finally started to circulate exterior their closed circles.

When a future Odd Fellow was completely ready to be part of the ranks of the society, their initiation would require donning a hoodwink—goggles with designed-in blinds that could be open up and shut. Sometimes weighed down with chains, the would-be member would be led into a torch-lit or candlelit space. When the blinds were opened, they would come across on their own out of the blue and unexpectedly standing deal with-to-face with a skeleton.

The exercise, identified as the Lodge of Reflection, is meant to remind associates of their personal mortality—that no make a difference a person’s prosperity or stature, all wind up the exact same in the finish.

“The skeleton serves as a ritual and symbolic ‘memento mori’ in which we all are experience mortality by on the lookout the inescapable excellent equalizer in the eye,” Heilich suggests.

Odd Fellows kept skeletons around for initiations.
Odd Fellows saved skeletons around for initiations. / cottonbro, Pexels

Heilich suggests the practice dates back again to 1797. Lodges ended up able to obtain skeletons by means of health care supply providers or corporations that specialized in giving the substantial demand from customers for goods handy in fraternal orders. 1 catalog at the switch of the 20th century advertised actual skeletons as “genuine and lifetime-sized” and “fairly deodorized.” Interested parties had been prompted to simply call for a rate.

Whilst other features of Odd Fellows rituals—like riding a goat or donning a ceremonial screen mask—were unusual but largely harmless, their apply of using true human remains gave new occupants and contractors a number of frights decades later. Inevitably, authorities would investigate the conclusions, determine there was no foul enjoy, and then hand off the bones to forensic anthropologists, universities, or museums. Others obtained a appropriate burial. Two skeletons were being laid to relaxation in Warrensburg, New York, in 2013 in a funeral funded by the Alexander Funeral House and the Chestertown Lodge Odd Fellows chapter. Their coffins however bore the dripping wax of rituals earlier.

Often, some will arrive up for sale. Two Odd Fellows skeletons identified in Pennsylvania had been auctioned off by the Mahoning Valley Hearth Organization in Mahoning Township on behalf of the Odd Fellows Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 2001. That observe has in some cases drawn criticism above the ethical nature of building human skeletons a commodity. There is also been problem in excess of a attainable legal difficulty with the desecration of human stays, though the bones remaining many years outdated suggests the statute of limits has expired.

Indeed, not all Odd Fellows bones have gone on to sustain their dignity. 1 skeleton belonging to the get in Pittsburgh and later bought to a prop dealer designed its way into 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, with both equally the manufacturing and the audience unaware that the bones ended up the genuine post.

The Odd Fellows are still active—and actively recruiting—but sightings of their skeletons have trailed off in recent many years. Nevertheless, Heilich says that as previous lodges continue on to be renovated, there is potential for more skeletons to pop up.

As for Houston’s Odd Fellow continues to be: The bones inevitably wound up below the care of curious forensic anthropology students at Southwest Missouri Point out College. Their origin was by no means identified, nevertheless the filth pointed to the truth that the skeleton may perhaps have been taken by someone—not always an Odd Fellow—directly from the grave.

And what of the initiation? With skeletons pretty much tumbling out of closets, have the Odd Fellows found a new way of representing mortality with no human continues to be in enjoy?

Heilich is brief to respond to. “Who explained we stopped?”

Correction: This tale has been updated to replicate that the setting up the ShowMe Spirit All-Stars rented was in Houston, Missouri, not Houston, Texas, as at first stated.

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