The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Bolkcom Cemetery, Rileyville, PA

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is an international fraternity that traces its roots back to 17th century England, where small groups of working-class people banded together, using some of their wages to create a common fund that they could turn to in times of sickness, loss of a job, or death.  These altruistic groups became known as “odd fellows” since it was then considered odd or peculiar to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. 

The IOOF came to America in 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland.  Thomas Wildey, a British Odd Fellow who immigrated to the New World in 1817, placed an advertisement in a local newspaper, calling for other Odd Fellows to meet him at the Seven Stars Inn.  Four other English Odd Fellows met with Wildey, and the first lodge was formed, Washington Lodge No. 1.  Wildey traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard, organizing more English Odd Fellows and others into lodges.   By the Civil War, the IOOF had 200,000 members and by 1915, they numbered 3,400,000.  However, the Great Depression and a lack of interest in fraternal organizations decreased membership; by the 1970’s, less than 250,000 members remained.  But the organization is still in existence and now has members in 25 countries, numbering more than 500,000 members.  

The IOOF became the first national fraternity to include both men and women when it adopted the Rebekah Degree in 1851.  In the Bible, Rebekah came to the well with her pitcher and met Eliezur, a tired and thirsty traveler with tired and thirsty camels.  He asked if he could use her pitcher to draw water, but Rebekah insisted that she minister to him, drawing the water herself and offering it to Eliezur and then watering the camels for him.  Hence, women of the Rebekah order are called to serve others, especially the sick and destitute.

Odd Fellows and Rebekahs were also the first fraternal organization to establish homes for senior members and for orphaned children.  In the 19th century and early 20th century, IOOF lodges also purchased cemetery plots for the use of their members, or in some cases, established entire cemeteries and selling lots to members at modest fees.


The IOOF shares many symbols with the Masons, so many that the IOOF has been called a “poor man’s Freemasonry.”   (The Masons tended to be populated with more of the upper classes, while the Odd Fellows were less, shall we say picky?, in their acceptance of new members.)  The main symbol of the IOOF is the three chain links, sometimes with the letters F, L and T carved inside them, which stand for Friendship, Love, and Truth.  When the three chain links are joined with an axe, the symbol means that truth must persevere and the parts of us that “do not bear good fruit” must be cut down, as an axe fells sickly trees.

The IOOF shares the all-seeing eye symbol with the Masons, as both fraternities require members to believe in a higher being, a deity of some sort, though the specific religion of each member is not dictated by the fraternity.  (Although many of the IOOF symbolism traces the meanings back to Judeo-Christian teachings.)   The all-seeing eye reminds Odd Fellows that God watches them always.  When the all-seeing eye is in the center of the sun, it symbolizes that the blessings of God descend on all of mankind.  When the all-seeing eye is in the center of a cloud, it means God (and we should) see the suffering in the world and be moved to sympathy for human woe.

The bundle of rods symbolizes that in unity, there is strength.  Try breaking a bundle of sticks instead of just one at a time. 

Another symbol that usually signifies the IOOF is a hand, palm facing out, with a heart in the center, signifying “cheerful giving” and benevolence to those in need.  Two shaking hands (grasping each other in a handshake) can also be a symbol of the IOOF as a sign of Friendship, one of their tenets.

A higher order of the IOOF called the Encampment uses the symbols of crossed shepherd’s hooks and/or ancient Middle Eastern-looking tents.  The Encampment branch of the IOOF strives to impart the principles of Faith, Hope and Charity.    The crossed shepherd’s hooks symbolize that the higher order of the IOOF are like the Israelites---shepherds, watching their flocks and keeping them safe.  And the tents are the tents of the wandering Israelites, to remind us we “do not permanently abide here, as we are on a pilgrimage to the grave.”

For Rebekah, the dove symbolizes peace and the lily symbolizes purity.  


Since my interest in history pertains to 1850-1900, I concentrate on tombstones carved and erected in that period.  In the cemeteries I have visited in Eastern Pennsylvania, I am amazed at how many men and women in that time period were members of IOOF and Rebekah.  There were strong and vibrant lodges located in many large cities and small towns of Eastern Pennsylvania.  I do not know any current members of IOOF or Rebekah. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania is still in existence, according to the IOOF website, as well as a state Rebekah Assembly and the Grand Encampment.  Per their website, they raise money for many organizations, continuing the work of the first “odd fellows” who banded together to help one another, back in the 1600’s.

Bethel Methodist Cemetery, Bedford Valley, PA

Dalton Shoemaker Cemetery, Dalton, PA

Dalton Shoemaker Cemetery, Dalton, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Encampment Symbol, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Equinunk Cemetery, Equinunk, PA

Heart in the Hand (Charity), Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Hatboro Cemetery, Hatboro, PA

Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Madisonville Union Cemetery, Madisonville, PA

Mountainhome Methodist Cemetery, Mountainhome, PA

Newtown Cemetery, Newtown, PA

IOOF Plot Marker, Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Prompton Cemetery, Prompton, Wayne Co.

Rieglesville Cemetery, Riegelsville, PA

St. Michael's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

Sterling Cemetery, Sterling, PA

Tannersville Union Cemetery, Tannersville, PA

Trumbauersville Cemetery, Trumbauersville, PA

Rebekah, Zion Cemetery, Newfoundland, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

St. Luke Episcopal Cemetery, Newtown, PA

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Rebekah, St. Paul's UCC Cemetery, Swiftwater, PA

Bethel Methodist Cemetery, Bedford Valley, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettsyburg, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Hays Cemetery, Easton, Pa

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pansies, Poppies and Passion Flowers

While the Victorians had a few most-favorite flowers that they placed on cemetery tombstones (lily of the valley and roses being two of the most popular), they used many types of flowers to symbolize different sentiments to mark the resting place of their loved ones.  And while I haven’t found an abundance of carvings of pansies, poppies and passion flowers, I have discovered a few lovely examples of each of them.


To the Victorians, pansies symbolized humility and remembrance.  The history of the pansy is linked to its ancestor, the viola, which originated in Europe.   A delicate and yet hardy bloom, the viola was cultivated by the Greeks for medicinal use.  Sometime after the 4th century B.C., a mutation occurred:  the viola gave birth somehow to a wild pansy, a flower at home in alpine meadows and rocky ledges.  The first sightings of the pansy might have been in France, as its name traces back to pensee, French for thought or remembrance.

Hybridization of the pansy blossomed (forgive me) in the mid-19th century, pansies became a popular flower for Victorian gardens.


The poppy, both the flower and the seed pods, represents eternal sleep, peace and rest.  The Greek goddess Demeter, in despair over the seizure of her daughter Persephone by Pluto, ate poppies in order to fall asleep and forget her grief.  

Opium is derived from poppies, and when combined with alcohol derivatives, produces laudanum, a popular Victorian medicine used as a headache and sleep remedy.  Also, numerous household medicines contained opium and were used to treat children, such as Godfrey’s Cordial, commonly given to children and infants as a sleeping draught.  Sometimes, however, overdoses happened, and eternal sleep came sooner than planned.

Passion Flower

The passion flower is a symbol of faith and belief that Christ, through his suffering, was sent to save us. The different parts of the unusual flower of the passion-fruit plant were interpreted by Spanish priests in 17th-century South America to symbolize the crucifixion and the suffering of Christ. The central column of the flower represents the pillar to which Jesus was tied to be scourged. The thread-like inner petals represent the crown of thorns, the five yellow stamens symbolize the five wounds of Christ and the three pink styles represent the nails. The ten outer petals symbolize the ten faithful apostles.  

The Spanish introduced Europe to the passion flower in the 1700’s, and the by the 19th century, it could be found in North America as well.  The Victorians continued to view the passion flower as a symbol of Christ.

Pansies, Riegelsville Cemetery, Rieglesville, PA

Pansies, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Poppies, Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, Pa

Poppies, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Poppies, Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Poppies, Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Poppies, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Poppies, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Passion Flower, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Passion Flower, Trumbauersville Cemetery, Trumbauersville, PA

Passion Flower Close-Up, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Final Handshake

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

One of the most prolific gravestone carvings of the 19th century was the handshake.  The handshake symbolized the last farewell to those left behind.  I have taken about 100 pictures of handshakes on tombstones in more than 50 cemeteries in mostly eastern Pennsylvania, and without an exception, they all have one thing in common:  they all depict the hand on the right clasping the hand on the left, whose palm and fingers almost always remain flat and open.  (The one above is the only exception--the left hand is clasping also.)  Other internet cemetery symbol sites mention the same pattern, occurring across the country.  (And you thought I was the only gothic nutcase into this, eh?)  This probably represented God, on the right, leading the deceased, with the meek and open hand, to heaven.  

Carved handshakes frequently marked the final resting place of husbands and wives.  It showed that even “death do us part” does not severe the marriage bond.  Many of the carvings show two different cuffs…one decidedly more feminine with lace or a blouse-y drape, one with a suit-coat look.  However, I have noticed that sometimes the gravestones of single adults also had the same carvings---a male hand and a female hand clasped together.  Perhaps the purchaser of the stone just liked the design, or the stone carver sold them on the idea, or it was a popular stock design in the tombstone catalog (even Sears and Roebuck sold tombstones back in the late 1800’s through their catalogs.)

And yet even though every carved handshake has the same basic form, the variations of design amaze me:  stubby fingers, elongated fingers, fat hands, slim hands, nails, no nails, the barest hint of cuffs, elaborately detailed cuffs…it is hard to find two carvings exactly alike.  

The detail that most intrigues me is that some of the carvings---about ten percent of the pictures I have collected---show the right hand with the index finger extended, not clasped around the left hand like the rest of the fingers.  My research has not yielded any definite answers on the meaning.  There are claims that it symbolizes a handshake from a secret fraternal organization such as the Masons or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (that will be a future blog, never fear).  One source (Remnant Stones, by Viva Ben-Ur and Rachel Frankel) call this “presenting hands,” and argue that it symbolizes “a continuum of being, and even interaction, between above and below, between the living and the dead, and between the human and the divine.”  Maybe.  Did you know that if someone shakes your hand while you extend your index finger like that, they can squeeze as hard as they want but they cannot give you a bone-crushing handshake?  Maybe then, that symbol with the index finger extended does show the supremacy of God over Man…no matter how hard we try, in the end, we die.  And on that cheery note........

Bolkcom Cemetery, Rileyville, Pa

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Hornbaker Cemetery, Madisonville, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Montgomery Baptist Cemetery, Montgomeryville, PA

Newtown Cemetery, Newtown, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery Close-Up, Quakertown, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery Close-Up, Keelersville, PA

Tannersville UCC Cemetery, Tannersville, PA

UPSIDE DOWN HANDS, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Wentz's UCC Cemetery, Worcester, PA

Zion Cemetery, Newfoundland, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Daleville Cemetery, Daleville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Hollisterville Cemetery, Hollisterville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Madisonville Union, Madisonville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Neola Methodist Cemetery, Neola, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Michael's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Wentz's UCC, Worcester, PA

MISSING FINGER, St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

MISSING FINGER, St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

BOTH INDEX FINGERS OUT, Springbrook Cemetery, Springbrook, PA