Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - August 18, 2004

Couple discovers Oddfellow skeleton while remodeling

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

In remodeling their downtown apartment, Kay and Robert McDaniel expected to find typical attic treasures. What they did not expect to find was a black coffin containing a six-foot replica skeleton.

coffin The couple recently purchased the Ben Franklin building, where they will live upstairs in a loft apartment and open an art gallery downstairs. They found the coffin in a 25' by 70' room that they have been remodeling.

To their surprise, Robert anfd Kay McDaniel found this coffin, which contained a life-size skeleton, buried among the debris in their new apartment over the Ben Franklin store in Paynesville.

Upon finding the coffin resting on a table among debris in a corner, the McDaniels remained calm, even though they didn't know if the skeleton was real, said Kay. As a matter of fact, the couple found a certain amount of humor in their discovery. "We truly have skeletons in our closet," Robert would laughingly tell anyone who inquired.

Knowing that the building was formerly owned by the Oddfellows, a fraternal organization that relied heavily on ceremony during its meetings, Kay assumed - correctly- that the coffin and the skeleton belonged to the group.

Finding an Oddfellow proved a little difficult. The organization began in Paynesville more than 100 years ago and was once a thriving group. Over the years, however, members of the local chapter have dwindled.

Oddfellows skeleton But just days after contacting the group's sister organization - the Rebeccas - two senior citizens knocked on the McDaniels' door to claim the skeleton, which they affectionately referred to as "Freddie," according to Kay.

The six-foot-skeleton was once used to represent the dead at ceremonies performed by the Paynesville Oddfellows.

According to Arnold Knebel, a longtime Oddfellow and one of the gentlemen that retrieved the coffin, the skeleton was indeed a prop used in ceremonies to install new members. Since the Oddfellows are dedicated to taking care of the needs of people less fortunate than themselves, new members were encouraged to take care of the young and to let the dead pass on, with the skeleton representing the dead, Knebel said.

The Oddfellows' roots are in 17th Century England, where anyone who wanted to help the poor were considered "odd." The group's motto is "Friendship, Love, and Truth."

The Paynesville group was organized sometime around 1895 and used to meet on the second floor of the Ben Franklin building on James Street. They rented the lower level, according to Knebel.

Rituals and ceremony were an important part of meetings, but the group's desire for secrecy was overrated, said Knebel. He laughed when someone asked if the Oddfellows met on the second floor so nobody could peek in the windows.

The Oddfellows sold the Ben Franklin building in 1973 but continued to meet there until the 1990s, when meetings were moved to the Paynesville Area Center. The coffin, and skeleton, as well as many other props, were left behind.

In the past, the Paynesville Oddfellows raised money to send a local high school student to the United Nations each year and to send children to an Oddfellows camp. Last year, however, the group was unable to sponsor a student because the dwindling number of Oddfellows has also meant a dwindling bank account, said Knebel.

The Oddfellows were pleased to get the coffin back, but now no one is quite sure what to do with it.

The Oddfellows still hold monthly meetings at the Paynesville Area Center. They hope to be able to sponsor a student on the United Nations trip next year.

The Rebeccas, which have a healthy membership, continue to hold regular fundraisers, including a pie sale on Saturday during Craft and Market Day in Paynesville.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community