Skeletons in the closet
October 31, 2003 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Police find skeleton in Oddfellows lodge. Turns out, they'd already found it, 6 years before (your guess is as good as mine why no one did anything then). Even more interesting, it's not the only one that's been found and subsequently investigated by the police around the country. Makes you wonder about those Oddfellows.
posted by tommasz (26 comments total)
I always wanted to be an 'official' Oddfellow, but since their group is so bizarrely secretive, I'll just settle for amateur status.

In Delaware, BTW, they've got the hippest real estate: the Odd Fellow's Cemetery.
posted by moonbird at 2:20 PM on October 31, 2003

Geez, give 'em their skeleton back, for pete's sake. What a bunch of busybodies.
posted by rushmc at 2:31 PM on October 31, 2003

I second that, rushmc. Now I suppose they'll have to find another one.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:43 PM on October 31, 2003

I was struck by the attitude difference in 6 years. What was once thought inconsequential is now worthy of the CSI treatment. And no one is claiming they were obtained in anything but legal means (for the time).
posted by tommasz at 2:57 PM on October 31, 2003

Does anyone have a good link explaining that the International Order of Oddfellows is all about? As far as I was aware, they did investment and superannuation...
posted by Jimbob at 4:01 PM on October 31, 2003

The Oddfellows remind me of the Masons. Old masonic tradition used even older (and dead) mason-bits as part of the tradition.

Now, they have PVC replicas for the ritual work.

As I've been told, the bones were part of one Mason's will to make sure he'd remain part of the lodge work for years to come. Sounds like the OddFellows have a similartradition.

Want some REAL fun? Buy a Russian Skeleton, then bury it in the back yard. And 15-20 years later, when the new owner has a dog or goes to put in that deck....
posted by rough ashlar at 5:47 PM on October 31, 2003

I'd always wondered about Oddfellow and Elks and Masons and Moose and the like. I was talking to my friend's husband recently, and he happened to mention his grandfather was an Oddfellow. He then told me that all groups (including the Oddfellows) had secret "signals" so that, for example, if you've got car trouble and you're stranded at the side of the road, you can give your signal until another lodge brother recognizes you and stops. This sounded like just so much bunkem to me...when I told my husband about it, he let slip that his dad was a Mason. Imagine, married almost 10 years and he never told me! So I called his dad and grilled him about secret signals and the like...and he became totally evasive. Is it true? Are these clubs like the Water Buffalos on the "Flintstones" and really have passwords and stuff?
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:43 PM on October 31, 2003

Oriole Adams - yes, they are, they have weird rituals and all that jazz, I call them "secret penis clubs". I have seen with my own eyes the power a simple Masonic symbol on a car can have on a Masonic cop.
posted by biscotti at 7:01 PM on October 31, 2003

Jimbob : If you search for Independent Order of Oddfellows, odd fellows are revealed.
On preview : Oh very much so, yes Oriole. Masonry in particular has some arcane rituals associated with it, yet enjoys influential patronage.
posted by punilux at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2003

This sounds more like an "alas, poor Yorick" moment than anything "most foul, strange, and unusual."
posted by namespan at 7:34 PM on October 31, 2003

Aye, namespan, doesn't seem likely that anything's rotten in the state of Denmark.

I read once somewhere that it used to be somewhat common for writers to keep a human skull on their desk, to be reminded of mortality. Anyone know something about that?
posted by weston at 7:42 PM on October 31, 2003

It's not local 151 is it? Behind the firehouse?
posted by Zonker at 7:45 PM on October 31, 2003

These fraternal organizations (Moose, Elk, Masons, Oddfellows, etc.) used to be where you bought your insurance.
posted by kindall at 7:48 PM on October 31, 2003

"Is it true? Are these clubs like the Water Buffalos on the "Flintstones" and really have passwords and stuff?

Who controls the British Crown?
Who keeps the Metric System down?
We do! We do!
Who leaves Altantis off the maps?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
We do! We do!

Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do!

Who robs cave fish of their sight?
Who rigs every Oscar night?
We do! We do!

posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:17 PM on October 31, 2003

Zonker, I'm sure REM wasn't in Canandaigua when they wrote that but nothing there is far from the firehouse.
posted by tommasz at 8:38 PM on October 31, 2003

Or there's this little ditty:

Who welcomes overlords to town?
Who keeps the pancakes nice and brown?
We do! We do!

Who has ponys in their room?
Who knows about the vibrating broom?
We do! We do!

(credit due)
posted by namespan at 9:04 PM on October 31, 2003

kindall's link is excellent, and obviates any point I was going to make about the mania for fraternal societies in the 19th century. Some of them were pretty run-of-the-mill Elks-type social organizations, others were secretive or mock-secretive, and I don't know that the Odd Fellows really originated from the Masons -- they may have arisen to parody the Masons. Back during a history of Beloit, Wis. that I helped compile, we uncovered information that suggested at one time possibly half the adult male population was affiliated with some society or another. There was an egalitarian clubbiness to it all that would have been familiar to de Tocqueville, although there were obvious class differentiators between various lodges (and often ethnic barriers, such as clubs for whites only, blacks only, or Irish immigrants only), but the members might be from many different walks of life (and would offer business opportunities and service discounts to each other). In the 20th century changes (such as those making insurance more widely available) brought many of these to die out, and newer organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis were built around more straightforward principles melding business-based social relationships with voluntarism. There's a clear evolution from secret social societies obsessed with ritual and signals, to mutual-benefit societies, to modern-day service clubs; the fraternals that have survived have adapted similarly.

I'm more surprised nobody's commented on the offhand reference to catherine yronwode.
posted by dhartung at 9:08 PM on October 31, 2003

I used to have a human skull on my desk, but my girlfriend was extremely uncomfortable with it, so I had to get rid of it--and found that it can be very awkward "getting rid of" a human skull in a metropolitan area.
posted by hashashin at 11:58 PM on October 31, 2003

dhartung: As an old comic book geek, I appreciated the unexpected appearance of Cat Yronwode in this story. Back when I was a regular reader of Fit to Print and Eclipse Comics, I don't think I appreciated the magnitude of her alternative lifestyle.

She's the quintessential California free thinker, as this quote from her bio demonstrates nicely: "When i was 50, i performed a very serious love spell that led directly to my living in tantric partnership with tyagi nagasiva, whom i first met through the internet in 1994 and then physically in 1998. When he moved in, he brought with him his best friend, Eris, the Doggess of Discord, a beautiful black curly-coated Portuguese Water Dog."

Do you remember when she helped drive an e-mail-to-Usenet gateway offline as a blow against anti-AOL user discrimination?
posted by rcade at 6:15 AM on November 1, 2003

How would I go about acquiring a human skull?
I've always dreamed of having one (not counting the one I'm currently using, of course) but they seem to be hard to come by. How did you get hold of yours?
posted by spazzm at 6:27 AM on November 1, 2003

Never mind.
posted by spazzm at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2003

Fraternal organizations like the masons aren't much different from greek letter societies (fraternities and sororities), all of which have secret rituals, goals, handshakes and the like.
My stepfather joined the masons a while back, and I remember that his lodge was really excited to recruit someone under the age of 60. They're so eager for membership that they have special weekend retreats where new members can go through all the degrees of masonry in two days.
posted by bonheur at 12:37 PM on November 1, 2003

Wagner said that in past years, new members were required while looking at the skeleton to say the words “ ‘As you are, I was once. As I am, you will be’ — or something like that.

Er, is it just me, or does this makes no sense? Maybe he meant: "As I am, you were once. As you are, I will be."
There is a verse in Buddhism similar to that, in the Nine Cemetery Contemplations:
And further monks, just as a monk sees a body thrown onto the cemetary reduced to a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together by tendons, so he applies this perception to his own body thus: "Verily, my own body, too, is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it."
Or maybe that's not what they meant at all, and the mysteries of the Oddfellows are beyond my feeble reckoning.
posted by moonbiter at 1:42 PM on November 1, 2003

‘As you are, I was once. As I am, you will be’

Makes perfect sense to me. It's the skull speaking to the observer, and this was a not uncommon message carved on gravestones pre 20th century.
posted by jokeefe at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2003

I guess what confuses me is that this phrase is something the the initiate recites, as opposed to something being written on the casket itself.
posted by moonbiter at 3:09 PM on November 1, 2003

I lived in an Odd Fellows lodge as a live-in caretaker in Seattle for three years, ending in 1999. They all have skeletons in the basement. As I recall, their missions are to "to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan" and these events play a part in some of the rituals they participate in and some of the props they have.

The older lodges would actually have embalming tables and whatnot in the basements, before the private performing of these sorts of things was pretty well outlawed. I knew most of the guys in the Seattle lodge and found them to be an eccentric likable bunch of guys with some fun dress-up clothes. There is a women's auxilliary group - the Rebekahs -- which are notable for being on an equal footing as the men's lodge. In fact, the Oddfellows were the first fraternal order that had an equal-ranking women's lodge.
posted by jessamyn at 2:07 PM on November 2, 2003

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