The Skeleton in the Odd Fellows’ Closet

Odd

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.

Summer-Theatre-WEB

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.

* * *

“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

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5 thoughts on “The Skeleton in the Odd Fellows’ Closet

  1. My grandparents, father, and his two brothers lived in the house to the right of the hall. After, grandmother Vernie die in May l967, the house was sold to the bank for a drive thru lane. My grandparents and two of their sons are buried at the Lake View Cemetary. Dad was cremated in Florida and his ashes spread at sea. I just visited Skaneateles and left on Apr 18, 2015. You are very lucky to live in such a beautiful place (except for the winters). My family will visit again soon. Thank you for the great stories.

  2. I just wanted to add that the occupants of the house next to the odd fellows temple were as follows Wells(dod Jun34, Vernie (dod May67, Harold(dod1972;, Carlton (dod1975), and my father Lester(dod1993). They all lived wonderful lives and their legacy continues on in the lives of their children and grandchildren. At my father’s last visit at 85 years old, he described Skaneateles as “a little bit of heaven.” Thank you again for the wonderful stories on this beautiful part of our country.

  3. Just wanted to add that my father, Lester, and his two brothers used to sit on the second floor of their house and watch movies being shown in the Odd Fellows Temple. This was around the years of 1915 to 1922. I am glad I was able to see the temple several times before it was torn down. Grandma Vernie’s house was torn down after her death in May 1967.

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