Got a skeleton in your closet? Since the early 1800s, if not earlier, this was a phrase that was meant to imply that you were concealing something of such a serious nature that it might damage your reputation if revealed. In a more sinister connotation, it could refer to past criminal activity, perhaps even the existence of an actual decomposing corpse on the premises.
To this end, skeletons have been turning up unexpectedly in backyards and domiciles for thousands of years. Some have innocent origins and explanations, everything from homes built on ancient burial grounds or forgotten, unmarked graveyards to “Grandma died of a heart attack and we couldn’t afford a cemetery plot.”
On the darker side of the proposition, attics, crawl spaces, walls, chimneys, basements, gardens and backyards have long been favorite hiding places for serial killers or even your seemingly friendly neighbor to stash the bodies of their victims. Often these unfortunate corpses languish for decades or more before being discovered, usually long after the culprit has moved on (or passed on) and some unwitting new homeowner embarks on a remodeling project.
And then, sometimes skeletons are legitimately obtained for some purpose or other and then forgotten about, only to cause hysteria and consternation upon their inadvertent discovery by later generations. Such is the case with a charitable organization dating back to 17th Century England called the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows.
Pledged to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan,” the fraternal order was composed of wealthy society members who wished to aid the lower classes, which was considered “odd” during that period in history, and hence the name.
But it seems their penchant for charity wasn’t the only thing that was odd about the Odd Fellows.
Similar to Freemasons and other secretive societies, the Odd Fellows practiced clandestine rituals involving human bones and skeletons, witnessed only by members of the inner sanctum who were sworn to silence.
The first American Odd Fellows lodge opened in Baltimore in 1819, and after a minor setback during the civil war, the organization flourished. Known as the “Golden Age of Fraternalism” in America, the period of 1860 through 1910/1920 saw the Odd Fellows building lodges in every state, beating out the Freemasons to become the largest of all fraternal organizations according to the 1896 World Almanac.
Although events of the 20th century (depression, wars) led to a serious decline in membership for the Odd Fellows and fraternal organizations in general, membership in the 21st century has begun to rebound. Nonetheless, as the organization evolves and changes, old ways — and old lodges — have fallen by the wayside.
And as those old lodges are closed and sold, skeletons are turning up willy nilly, in places like Warrenton, Virginia, where a contractor found a ritual skeleton in a black wooden box hidden between two walls of the Warrenton Odd Fellows Lodge.
In recent years, the discovery of Odd Fellows skeletons has sparked police investigations in Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Nebraska. In Oklahoma, the discovery of human remains prompted a work crew to flee in terror.
Owing to the clandestine nature of the society, no one is talking, and therefore no one knows where these skeletons came from or what they were used for.
Famous members of Odd Fellows include Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Wyatt Earp, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Burl Ives and Red Skelton. The first national fraternity to accept both men and women, the society also welcomed into its ranks Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Georgia Dwelle, the first woman physician of African American descent.
Here at Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth, Texas, we have more than a few skeletons in our closets, along with evil clowns, zombies and bloodthirsty psychopaths. It’s actually kinda crowded in there. Come on down and take a look — we DARE you! Open Thursday through Sunday nights!
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