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

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Fellowship of the Odd

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Symbols, Including the Three Chain Links and the All-Seeing Eye of God, Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY

One hundred years ago in this country, if you weren't a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, you would have been considered an odd fellow indeed.  The fraternal organization boasted a membership of more than 1.5 million in 1914 in the United States alone, and had lodges established in Great Britain (where it began), Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Cuba, Mexico, and parts of South America and "the Orient," as East Asia was called.

Pennsylvania was the "oddest" state, with almost 160,000 Odd Fellows in 1914.  The society still exists today, and there is a Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Middletown, located southeast of Harrisburg on the banks of the Susquehanna.  I even met an Odd Fellow in May when I was giving a tour of the Doylestown Cemetery.  He was a member of one of the three surviving lodges in Bucks County.  At one point in the late 1800's, Doylestown alone had three lodges in the borough, with two of them boasting memberships of more than 200 members each!  But as twentieth-century society changed, and wars altered us, and technology altered us, people in general ceased to follow in the footsteps of their grandparents:  joining fraternal societies fell out of fashion.  Odd Fellowship dipped to less than 200,000 in the 1970s in the United States, but happily, there has been a resurgence in their membership over the past 40 years and there are now about 10,000 lodges in 26 countries. 

The exact origin of the Odd Fellows is a mystery, but it started sometime in Great Britain in at least the 1700's when small groups of working people banded together to pool their meager resources and create what we would call an "insurance fund."  The fund was to be used if one of the members became sick or disabled and could not work, or died and left a family to be cared for.  The fund provided money for medical bills, burial costs, and care for widows and orphans.  At the time, anyone involved with giving charity to others was considered an "odd fellow."  And the name stuck.

Odd Fellowship came to America in the early 1800's and lodges were established in New York and Boston.  But the Baltimore lodge of 1819 started by Thomas Wildey, an English immigrant, is considered the first official IOOF lodge in the United States.  Wildey had been an Odd Fellow in Great Britain for 15 years, and he recruited heavily up and down the East Coast, establishing Odd Fellow lodges.  The first Pennsylvania lodge was established in Philadelphia in 1821, and the American lodges followed the British IOOF constitution and received charters from British lodges until 1842, when American Odd Fellowship became independent and formally separated from Great Britain.

Odd Fellows follow the tenets of Friendship, (brotherly) Love, and Truth.  Those letters F, L and T can be found in the three links of chain that symbolize IOOF.  The Odd Fellows believe their mission is to give charity, and the symbol of a hand, palm facing outward, with a heart in the center, represents the concept of "cheerful giving."  Over the years, Odd Fellows established homes for their aged members and also for orphans.  They purchased cemetery plots (and sometimes established entire cemeteries) for the use of members, especially those who may not have enough money for a proper burial at the time of their death.

And the IOOF was the first fraternal society to admit women, when the Rebekah Degree was created in 1851 by Schuyler Colfax, who became Ulysses S. Grant's vice president in 1869.  The Rebekah Degree is also based on the tenet of charity, as in the Bible, Rebekah came to the well with her pitcher, where a weary traveler was resting.  He asked if he could borrow her pitcher to get himself a drink of water, but Rebekah insisted on serving him herself.

Odd Fellows also have Junior Clubs for boys and girls, plus an Encampment Degree (replaced later by a quasi-militant Patriarchs Militant Degree) and a Canton Degree for members who have risen up through the lower ranks of Odd Fellowship.  To become an Odd Fellow, one must believe in some sort of higher being, be willing and able to devote time and effort to charity in both the local and global community, and be invited to join a lodge.

For more information about IOOF, visit their website at

There are many symbols in cemeteries that identify the deceased as a member of the Odd Fellows.  My mom and dad, my first "students," will see the three chain links now and immediately murmur, "Oh, an Odd Fellow."  Some of the following symbols are seen less frequently, as they relate to the higher degrees. 

One of the most interesting things to me is how many times I see numerous symbols of different fraternal societies on one person's tombstone.  Nowadays, organizations struggle to recruit members to join one organization; and back in the day, it was common to belong to two, three or more societies.  They served as social networks then.  And now we have Facebook---which ain't the same thing, trust me!

Aldenville Baptist Cemetery, Aldenville, PA

It's difficult to see, but there is a hand pointing to the All-Seeing Eye and the three chain links below, Laurel Cemetery, White Haven, PA

Man, I love this one.  The Odd Fellows' chain links are at the bottom, and the Knights of Pythias (another fraternal society) is at the top.  The tent and fire inside is an encampment it for IOOF or Kof P?  The bow and arrow to the right I think is Improved Order of Red Men (another fraternal society).  The pikes on the left, I am not sure about them.  Samuel Rue was INVOLVED.  Bristol Cemetery, Bristol, PA
Hannah was a member of the Rebekah Degree, and Harvey was an Odd Fellow, Carversville Cemetery, Carversville, PA

Quite the name, long live Poland!, Assure Assur was both a Mason and an Odd Fellow, Christ Church Cemetery, Shrewsbury, NJ

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

This is hard to see, damn pink granite:  George Kirk was a member of the Encampment Degree (tent) and at the top of the tent is the All-Seeing Eye.  Inside is a hand, palm out, with a heart in the middle, and the three chain links are below.  Susquehanna Depot Cemetery, Susquehanna Depot, PA

Capt. Kitzmiller served in the Civil War, and was an Odd Fellow, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

The All-Seeing Eye of God, and the chain links, Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Clark "kept the faith" with the IOOF, the Order of United American Mechanics and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Glenwood Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ

The first two symbols are for IOOF, the third is the Order of United American Mechanics, Laurel Cemetery, White Haven, PA

Hickory Grove Cemetery, Waverly, PA

Reuben Grafty's stone was erected by his brothers of the Cajas IOOF Lodge, No. 269, Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

The symbol on the bottom is a navigation device, Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY

A symbol of the Encampment Degree, I haven't uncovered why the use of shepherds' crooks---do they symbolize a leader, as Jesus was a "shepherd" of his "flock"?, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

The Encampment Degree, with the All-Seeing Eye, heart in the hand and chain links, Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

The Encampment Degree, Mountainhome Methodist Cemetery, Mountainhome, PA

This is the back of the monument for a deceased Grand Scribe of the Grand Lodge (secretary), hence the scroll and quill pen, Mount Peace Odd Fellows Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

On a zinc monument, Old Hawley Cemetery, Hawley, PA

The crossed pikes might make this a symbol of the Patriarchs Militant Degree.  Notice the shaking hands, a symbol of friendship, Paupack Cemetery, Paupack, PA

The Encampment Degree with the All-Seeing Eye on top, Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Isaac Griffiths had his IOOF membership symbol carved with his family initial, Springbrook Cemetery, Springbrook, PA

Must have been beautiful, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

A Freemason as well as an Odd Fellow, Stark Cemetery, Starksville, PA

Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Based on some new research, symbol on the left might be a triangle with crossed shepherds' crooks; if so, that is a symbol of the Encampment Degree.  The second symbol is IOOF and the third is OUAM, Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Knights Templar symbol (higher quasi-militant degree in Freemasonry) and IOOF, Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Eye in the Heart and Chain Links, West Long Branch United Methodist Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ

Thomas Carman was an Odd Fellow, but not sure about the swords, West Long Branch United Methodist Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ

Zion Hill Cemetery, Zionhill, PA

A zinc version of the Encampment Degree, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

William Shuber was the treasurer of his IOOF Lodge, hence the keys to the moneybox, St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

Church Hill Cemetery, Martin's Creek, PA

The Dove from the Rebekah Degree, East Ararat Cemetery, East Ararat, PA

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

"He has gone to the mansions of rest," Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Freeland Cemetery, Freeland, PA

IOOF and Knights of Pythias, Glenwood Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ

A Freemason and an Odd Fellow, Hazleton Cemetery, Hazleton, PA

Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA

St. Paul's UCC Cemetery, Swiftwater, PA

A Freemason and an Odd Fellow, St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Lafayette Hill, PA

Hand with Heart, I think the All-Seeing Eye or at least the clouds of Heaven above it and the three chain links below, entwined in the laurel and oak leaf branches, St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Lafayette Hill, PA

For more information on other fraternal organizations, see my previous blogs:

And To All, A Good Knight
The Secrets of the Symbols
A Tea Party, Native Americans and Cincinnati
Lippard, Literature, a Lodge and Labor
Patriotism Never Dies
Treestones--Symbols of Life Interrupted
Hail the Rail, Brother, and Join Me on the Footboard
Autumnal Accents

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