Cheerleaders Find, Like, Literal Skeletons in the Closet
What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in an old closet? For some young Texas cheerleaders, the answer is literal skeletons.
As the buildings formerly used by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization with roots in 17th century England, are adapted for new purposes, many of their new users have been surprised to find caskets containing human remains nestled among the robes, dusty books, and other ritual paraphernalia left behind by the mysterious Order. This is exactly what happened to Houston’s ShowMe Spirit All-Stars in 2004 when two coaches discovered three coffins in the century-old building they rented as practice space..
Although its exact origins are murky, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) began sometime in 17th century England and has historically drawn members from many social classes and professions. The first U.S. lodge opened in 1819, and membership grew to over 3 million members by its peak in the early 20th century. The Order bills itself as “an inclusive co-ed fraternal organization with over 200 years of history that serves as the original social network and provides members a multi-faceted experience depending on what they are looking for.” Throughout its history, the group espoused charitable acts like taking care of orphans and helping people bury their dead.
Like many other fraternal groups and secret societies, they also had an elaborate series of rituals and ceremonies, complete with symbolic objects and arcane texts, meant to instill solidarity and devotion in members. Initiates into the Order were forced to reckon with their own mortality in a visceral way by coming face to face with a skeleton in a ritual called the Lodge of Reflection. The stripped-down human body was meant to convey the transitory nature of human life and the inevitability of death. In an age where ‘memento mori’ abounded and mourning was elevated to an art, it’s no wonder that this secret society incorporated death awareness into their rituals.
With Odd Fellows lodges now in the hands of non-members, the discoveries keep coming. Skeletons have been found in old lodges in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, Indiana, Texas, and other states around the country. The skeletons, once discovered, have ended up in research collections, museums, and other, more colorful and controversial locations. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Odd Fellows skeletons have popped up in costume shops and as decorations in bars. One made its way into a serial killer display at a New Orleans art gallery. Another made an appearance in the cult classic horror film ‘Dawn of the Dead.'”
Today, though interest in fraternal organizations has waned, the Odd Fellows maintain active chapters in almost every U.S. state. And, for all we know, they continue to practice their memento mori initiation.