Who Are The Odd Fellows?
One of the most mysterious secret societies has more than a few skeletons in its closets.
Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from TRVL's "Conjuring Kesha")
Secret societies in America date back to the founding fathers, but one of the most mysterious is the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The exclusive, secretive club was established in the 1700s and only admitted men. The tradition and rituals of the society were largely undocumented, though rumors of occult practices, grave robbing, and sacrifices have swirled. The strangest ritual of the Odd Fellows is the presence of at least one human skeleton in every lodge — a practice that continues to this day.
The origin of the name Odd Fellows is debated, and the lack of written history leaves the truth a mystery. Some say the group was literally odd because of their values: “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” At the time of the group’s formation in England in the 1700s, it wasn’t trendy to be charitable.
Another possible origin for their name is the idea that Odd Fellows were a group of men who did odd jobs or worked in several different fields versus working in a single career space that would allow them to join a union with fellow tradesmen.
Many notable statesmen, entertainers, and American presidents have been members of the IOOF. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin Roosevelt were all Odd Fellows. Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, was also a member of the group.
As the American Civil Rights movement was underway, the Odd Fellows voted in 1971 to open their organization to men of any race. Forty years later, in 2001, they began allowing women to become full Odd Fellows instead of relegating them to the ladies' auxiliary wing, the Rebekahs.
Skeletons In The Closet
Throughout the years, construction workers and tenants have found human skeletons in the walls of buildings later identified as former Odd Fellows lodges.
Human bones have been found in Odd Fellows Lodges throughout the country. In at least one case, dirt on a casket found in an Odd Fellows lodge led authorities to believe that somebody in the lodge’s history could have robbed a grave. According to Mental Floss, the skeletons in the closet prompted police to question how and why the society chapters came into possession of the bones.
When a new member is initiated into the group, they are blindfolded and the skeleton is placed in front of them so they can contemplate their own mortality when the blindfold is removed.
On the "Kesha Faces Mortality" episode of Conjuring Kesha, she and supermodel Karen Elson became the first women to go inside the Odd Fellows lodge in Tuscola, Illinois, and Kesha goes through part of an Odd Fellows initiation ceremony. See them try to make sense of the secret society on Conjuring Kesha on discovery+.