I miss the Odd Fellows Hall, although I never saw it. Every time I pass by the drive-through windows of the bank at State and Genesee Streets, I know I tread upon ground sacred to hundreds of departed lodge members. And then I think about the skeleton.
The Odd Fellow’s initiation ceremony involved a blindfolded candidate, draped in chains, led to a place where the blindfold was removed and he found himself in flickering torchlight, face to face with a skeleton. This was an invitation to contemplate one’s own mortality, and a way to underscore the seriousness of staying current with dues.
Every Odd Fellows lodge had a skeleton. Some were in boxes, some in actual coffins. Some were purchased, some just sort of turned up when the need presented itself. But as national membership declined, and more and more lodges closed, more and more skeletons were forgotten and left behind, usually to scare real estate agents half to death.
Or men like Paul Wallace, an electrician in Warrenton, Virginia, who was tracing circuits in a former Odd Fellows hall when he found a recess between two walls. Inside the tiny space was a black box; Wallace crouched down, opened the lid and froze with fright, for 20 minutes.
In Oklahoma, a work crew had the opposite reaction, completely vacating a building in just a few ticks of the second hand. Similar unsettling discoveries have been reported in Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.
The Skaneateles Odd Fellows counted more than 100 members in 1896. In 1906 they built themselves a stately temple at the cost of $6,500. A stone slab over the door read, “Skaneateles IOOF No. 275, 1906.” Its concrete blocks were made on the site, the roof was slate, the columns were 24 inches in diameter. Inside, the main hall had a dramatic 16-foot ceiling.
As membership dwindled, the hall was used as a meeting place for other groups, including the Grange, for American Legion dances, Miss Monica’s Dance School (tap, ballet, junior and senior ballroom) in 1938, and even for classes when the Skaneateles high school burnt down in 1952.
With the addition of seats, stage and curtains, the hall hosted the Skaneateles Summer Theatre, starting in 1937 and continuing for many summers. The first production was “Accent on Youth” with leading man Grandon Rhodes, who in 1942 switched to films and TV, making more than 160 appearances playing judges (17 times on “Perry Mason” alone), as well as attorneys and doctors, capping his career with a 1968 appearance on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” But I digress.
In 1966, the Village ran out of imagination and the Skaneateles Savings Bank felt the need for parking, and the building was torn down. The local papers made no mention of the Odd Fellows’ skeleton. Perhaps it had moved to another closet years before, or was swept away unnoticed in the rubble of demolition.
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“Skaneateles Landmark Demolished for Parking Lot,” Auburn Citizen-Advertiser, July 23, 1966
“Remnants of Secret Society Pose a Mystery Across the U.S.: Skeletons Found in Old Lodges of Odd Fellows” by Maria Glod, The Washington Post, March 30, 2001