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Skeleton in the Closet

To: alt.magick,alt.lucky.w,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magick
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Skeleton in the Closet
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 06:04:13 GMT

[Please pardon my bracketed interjections of slight
misquotes. -- cat]

Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle

Old skeleton rattles Canandaigua

The discovery unveils a spooky history, 
but its identity a mystery.

By Jack Jones, Staff Writer

(October 31, 2003) -- CANANDAIGUA -- Scott Lambert first
encountered the human skeleton in its white coffin six years

On that night, Lambert, then a police officer strolling his
beat, moved between streetlights and shadows to make sure
Main Street shopkeepers had remembered to lock up at the end
of the day.

He paused at each portal to twist the doorknobs of shuttered
shops bewitchingly adorned with cardboard ghosts and plastic
goblins in the ghoulish tradition of the Halloween season.

When he stopped at the International Order of the Oddfellows
Lodge at 65 S. Main St., the door opened to his touch.

Lambert called for backup before he and another officer
apprehensively stepped inside and climbed the stairs to look
for signs of burglary or vandalism.

"We went into a storage room, and saw the skeleton there in
the coffin," recalls Lambert, now a police investigator. "It
was around Halloween, so we thought it was some kind of
stage prop or something. It looked very real, but because of
the fact it was around Halloween time ... we just didn't
expect it could be real. If it had been any other time of
year, we would have investigated further."

The officers secured the building, and Lambert continued his

The memory of that October night floated hauntingly back to
Lambert five months ago when he was assigned to investigate
an anonymous report of human remains in a Main Street
building. The address was 65 S. Main St.

"As soon as I walked into the storage room, I knew that I'd
been there before," he said.

After a four-month investigation and forensic examination,
Lambert last month found no reason to suspect foul play in
the death of the unidentified person who is believed to have
died in the late 1800s.

At their second meeting, Lambert examined the specimen more
closely than he had that earlier Halloween night.

"As far as I could tell, the skeleton was all in one piece
naturally," not wired together like some medical school
specimens with nuts and bolts, Lambert said. "A lot of the
tendons were still on the body, and because of the
embalming, some of the arteries were still intact."

He learned that the skeleton -- once known around the lodge
as "Hector" -- had been wheeled in its coffin periodically
from the storage room into the adjacent Oddfellows meeting
hall during past decades as part of an initiation rite for
new members.

After being examined by the Monroe County Medical Examiner's
Office and found to be that of a female, the skeleton was
returned to Canandaigua, where it was renamed "Jane Doe."

More than five months after being identified as the remains
of a human, Jane Doe remains in a storage room at a local
funeral home while police and others try to raise money to
pay for her interment.

Odd practice

Although the use of human skeletons for any purpose seems
indeed odd in this era, it was at one time an accepted
practice in ceremonies conducted by both Oddfellows and the
Masons, another fraternal organization that according to
some historical accounts was the Oddfellows' parent group.

The skeleton discovered at the Canandaigua lodge is one of
dozens found in attics and storerooms at fraternal lodges
around the country in recent decades, triggering similar
police investigations in at least six other states.

The Canandaigua skeleton "had to have been around this area
since the late 1800s, but where they first got it and why, I
don't know," said Don Wagner, Noble Grand of the local
lodge. "It was in the Clifton Springs lodge, until they
dissolved about 60 years ago and they brought it here."

For at least the past 12 years since he's been a member,
Wagner, 80, said the skeleton has remained in the storage
room "with stuff piled all over the top of it and never used
for anything. We weren't even sure it was a real skeleton."

Lefty's journey

Unlike Jane Doe, another Oddfellows skeleton called Lefty
was sold by a California lodge in his original redwood
coffin about 25 years ago to an antiquities dealer and later
purchased for use in a spiritual curiosity shop.

"There were three coffins, all from Oddfellows lodges, and I
had my choice," said Catherine Yronwode, proprietor of Lucky
Mojo, a shop in northern California where she teaches
classes in the African-American "hoodoo" tradition of
ancestor worship. [i’d said “magic” but mentioned “ancestor
worship” later; he conflated the two -- cat]

"I wanted an actual skeleton and I picked Lefty because he
had the most exquisite carpentry on his coffin," Yronwode

[True! See -- cat.]

Lefty is now "the tutelary ancestor of my shop," she said.

African-American students and patrons of her shop pay
symbolic homage to their own ancestors in a ceremony that
involves the mingling of graveyard soil and wine [i’d
clearly mentioned “buying graveyard dirt by paying with
coins or by leaving an offering of whiskey” -- he
substituted “the mingling of graveyard dirt with wine” out
of nowhere. -- cat] as part of a traditional ritual "that a
lot of white people aren't familiar with and a lot of black
people don't talk about," said Yronwode.

Her research has found that the skeleton ritual, which "goes
back to the 1400s," was used from about the 1840s through
the mid-1950s by the Oddfellows organization, Yronwode said.
[This is his confusion: i was talking about operative
Freemasonic guilds dating back to the 1400s and to the
Oddfellows being an offshoot of Freemasonry; he mixed this
up with hoodoo graveyard dirt “ancestor” oriented practices
somehow. I did not say that the Oddfellows stopped using
their 3rd degree rite in the 1950s, either, only that after
that period you are more likely to find artificial
skeletons in California Oddfellows’ Lodges -- such as a
papier mache skeleton in an Oddfellows’ decorated casket
that i had seen and which i mentioned to him. -- cat]

Initiation rite

A candidate for membership in the charitable groups was
required to view the skeletons and made to realize "he must
live his life in a good way for he will die," she said.

Wagner said that in past years, new members were required
while looking at the skeleton to say the words " 'As you
are, I was once. As I am, you will be' -- or something like
that. But it wasn't any kind of cult thing, because we're
not a cult. We're just a good outfit that donates money to
people in need and to charities. That's all."

Ironically, the Oddfellows' traditional mission statement
includes providing funerals for poor people bound for
paupers' graves, said George Baldwin, past Noble Grand of
Oddfellows Humboldt Lodge 138 in Rochester -- which has
volunteered to provide a burial site for the Jane Doe at Mt.
Hope Cemetery.

Baldwin said the grim initiation rite belies "our true
mission, which is to help. We're blue-collar Masons, and we
were started back more than 150 years ago to help people in
our communities. Our motto is 'To bury the dead, to educate
the orphans and to assist widows for the betterment of
mankind.' Our thing is charity."

Thanks to the Humboldt Lodge's donation of a grave plot,
Lambert said he and others involved in the unusual case hope
that Jane Doe will soon be laid to rest, more than a century
after she is believed to have died.

Thanks to John Burns of Shortsville, the unknown Jane Doe
will not be interred in an anonymous plot.

"I definitely don't believe anyone should lie in an unmarked
grave," said Burns, who sells monuments for the George E.
Hoare Memorial Co. of Watkins Glen.

He contacted police after reading a news account.

Burns said the inscription on her headstone will likely
include only the name Jane Doe and estimates of the era when
she may have lived and died.

"It seems a little spooky to me," said Burns. "And I deal
with this all day."

Wagner points out that his lodge isn't the only place where
skeletal remains -- at one time available for purchase
through medical supply houses -- have been found in recent

"There was a case about 15 years ago when they found one of
these things in an undertaker's garage in Waterloo that had
been there about 50 years," Wagner said. "We're not the
first ones to have skeletons in our closet."

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