There are more than 8,200 people buried at IOOF Cemetery in Neosho. At Newtonia IOOF Cemetery there are over 1,600. There are more than 500 at Granby’s IOOF Cemetery.
All together, this makes more than 10,300 souls that are buried in the three mentioned IOOF cemeteries in Newton County. Yet, I think a lot of folks have no idea what IOOF is exactly.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a fraternal organization that reached its peak in the United States in the late 19th century. At one time there were more Odd Fellows than Free Masons. The two organizations are not affiliated in any way, though their structures are somewhat similar from an outsider’s perspective, or at least at first glance.
The now-closed IOOF lodges in Neosho, Newtonia, and Granby at one time managed the cemeteries in those communities, and in thousands of other communities across the country. That’s why the cemeteries still bear their name.
Although the local lodges are gone, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is still around, with about 600,000 members worldwide. Like most fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows are engaged in various charitable activities. Their general commission is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
The Odd Fellows got their start around sometime in the early 1700s in Great Britain, though records are shoddy. According to the modern organization in America, their name comes from the fact that “it was deemed odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need without recognition and pursuing projects for the benefits of all mankind.”
Another theory, however, is that the original lodge members were tradesmen who pursued “odd” or miscellaneous work as a living and weren’t eligible to belong to any of the available guilds at the time. The first explanation is much nicer.
The organization came to the U.S. in 1819, with the establishment of the first lodge in Baltimore. However, in 1842 the American lodges seceded from the British order and the next year changed its name to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In 1851 it became the first fraternal organization to allow women with the establishment of the Daughters of Rebekka.
The Neosho lodge was chartered in 1855 (the cemetery which would later carry the IOOF name has existed since at least the first burial in 1846, however). The lodge was dormant during the War Between the States but came back to life afterward and was active until at least the mid 1970s if not the 1980s.
I’m sure there are many folks still around who belonged to the lodge, and most people recall the big IOOF letters that until recent years were still present on the former lodge building on the east side of the Square.
The Granby IOOF Lodge was chartered in 1858, but like the Neosho lodge disbanded during the War Between the States. It was reestablished just after the war and continued throughout the rest of the 19th century. It merged with the Newtonia Lodge, which came along in 1870, sometime after the turn of the century. I’m not sure when the consolidated Granby-Newtonia lodge finally ceased to exist.
All three IOOF lodges – in Neosho, Granby, and Newtonia – at one point in time purchased the land for and managed the three respective cemeteries that still bear the initials of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
So if anyone ever asks you what those letters on the cemeteries stand for, now you can tell them, if you didn’t already know.
I wonder how many people do?
By Wes Franklin
(Wes Franklin can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)