Washington Odd Fellows Pacific Lodge #86
By Lucy Banion, St. Francis Borgia High School, 2022 Scholarship Winner
“I didn’t know what it meant to be forgotten until I was staring at the smallest of the hundreds of plastic boxes of unclaimed unclaimed human ashes: the lightest one to pick up, but the heaviest to carry. It was humbling to see any life reduced to a bag of ashes and even more disturbing to see the remains of a life smaller than mine.”
This was the opening paragraph to my college admissions essay based on the life-changing experience I had of one afternoon with the Odd Fellows Lodge.
I was first introduced to the Washington Odd Fellows Lodge in the summer of 2019. That summer, I had been doing odd volunteering jobs around Downtown Washington and loved every minute of it. I heard about the Odd Fellows through Marc Houseman, and was invited to participate in their inventory of the columbarium. Weeks leading up to this night, I researched what this organization was and why it existed. It had never crossed my mind what happens to the old man who’s the last of his family or the homeless woman who lives under the bridge after they die. They don’t have any relatives or a church to give them a burial, so they come here, the Odd Fellows Lodge in Washington, Missouri.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded in 1819 in Baltimore by Thomas Wildey. The fraternal order's purpose was to "visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan."
Throughout the 19th century, this international organization saw new chapters emerge before becoming the largest fraternal organization in 1896. The IOOF was a place for the lower middle class and skilled workers. The 20th century brought The Depression and the New Deal, which significantly impacted membership numbers.
The IOOF includes over 10 different Units of Order in the United States. Washington is home to the Odd Fellows Lodge: Pacific Lodge #86. What makes the Washington Lodge so unique is that it is the only lodge in Missouri that continues to gain membership ever since it was established in 1855. The lodge is located by Wildey Cemetery, where they bury the unclaimed dead. This cemetery is home to those with no family, no church or those who chose it as their final resting place.
The Washington Lodge expanded in 2013 with the construction of the columbarium. The original goal was to create a final resting place for unclaimed veterans remains, but now it is opened to any unclaimed remains of Missouri residents. The columbarium houses over 1,300 numbered and documented remains. Every resident is logged into the Find a Grave website and is easily accessible to the public to search for lost family members. Through this system, the Odd Fellows have worked to reunite families and transport remains to Jefferson Barracks for proper military burial. The Washington columbarium houses remains from funeral homes and crematories across Missouri, all sponsored by the Odd Fellows.
I believe the greatest history is the one you can see. I learned that summer that behind the metal doors of what appeared to be a tool shed on Wildey Way was the inner workings of a 200-year-old society adorned in colorful robes, tassels and hats. I saw the books, the royal-like chairs and the skeleton in the corner, a medieval-like story frozen in time unlike anything I had ever seen in Washington. The Odd Fellows is a personal history to me. Although it was just a few hours, it was one of the most impactful discoveries of my life. Its history is fascinating, but its history cannot end in the past.