WARRENSBURG -- Talk about having skeletons in the closet.
About 30 community members gathered in the hot sun Saturday at Warrensburg Cemetery to pay their respects at the burial of two skeletons found on the top floor of Odd Fellows Hall, Warrensburg Lodge No. 488, in the late 1980s.
The two sets of human bones, estimated to be about 150 years old, are believed to be a part of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ initiation rituals.
Like the Masons, the IOOF was a trade organization. It was made up of the “Odd Fellows” from different trades that didn’t have a large enough contingent to have their own organization.
The Masons’ and Odd Fellows’ ceremonial practices were similar in that human remains were used as part of initiation rituals in the past.
“They used skeletons to remind prospective Odd Fellows of their mortality,” said Steve Parisi, director of Warrensburgh Museum of Local History.
The pledges would be blindfolded and laden with chains before they were led into the dark, only to be left standing face to face with a skeleton flickering in the candlelight.
The IOOF originated in England and moved to the U.S. during the 20th century.
In 1987, the local chapter folded, leaving the bones behind. They were stored in their original boxes by funeral director John Alexander, of Alexander Funeral Home Inc.
With Warren County celebrating its bicentennial this year, it was decided the skeletons would finally get their burial.
“It’s a great opportunity to finally put them to rest,” said Sandy Parisi, Warrensburg town historian.
The coffins, dripping in what appeared to be candle wax from the Odd Fellow rituals, were open for the beginning of Saturday’s ceremony, but closed for sermons from Father Thomas Pettigrew and the Rev. Stephen Andrews.
In attendance was one member of Theta Rho, the junior order of Rebeckahs, a group under the IOOF umbrella. Linda Baker-Marcella joined the organization during the 1960s and worked as the state president representing the Warrensburg chapter.
“It was a good social organization that kept our family close,” Baker-Marcella said. “It kept us focused on character, community and unity.”
Alexander, Sandi Parisi and the rest of the bicentennial committee thought the county’s 200th anniversary celebration would be a good time to honor those souls left behind.
“The planets aligned so that we could finally lay the anatomical specimens to rest during the bicentennial,” Alexander said. “This was a unique experience to show the historical value of the Odd Fellows.”
The Odd Fellows own a plot in the Warrensburg cemetery where one Odd Fellow was already laid to rest at the turn of the century.
The Alexander Funeral Home and the Chestertown Lodge IOOF chapter donated money for a plot and headstone to honor the “unknown Odd Fellows.” Fort Miller Co. of Easton supplied the gold-colored symbols affixed to the coffins.
Peter Haggerty, Warrensburg Cemetery sexton, hand-dug the grave and restored the stones in the ground that displayed the three rings of IOOF: friendship, love and truth.
“I don’t think many people have gotten the chance to see a burial like this,” Haggerty said.
“These bones were somebody,” Steve Parisi said. “It’s great they can finally be buried.”
An exhibit dedicated to the burial, the IOOF and other fraternal organizations will be on display at Warrensburgh Museum of Local History through mid-July.
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