Field Guide

Odd Fellows (IOOF)

The primary symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is three links of a chain. They share this symbol and a number of other symbols, such as the all-seeing eye, with the Freemasons, but the Odd Fellows use it as their dominant sign. Indeed, sometimes the Odd fellows are know as the "poor man's Freemasonary." The Odd Fellows are also known as the "Three Link Fraternity." The links represent Friendship, Love, and Truth. On tombstones, the letters F L T are often enclosed within the links of the chain.

The IOOF is an offshoot of the Odd Fellows, which was formed in England in the 1700s as a working-class social and benevolent association. The United States branch was founded in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819, when Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Lodge No. 1. By the Civil War it had more than 200,000 members, and by 1915 there were 3,400,000 members. The Great Depression and lack of interest in fraternal orders took their toll, and by the 1970s there were fewer than 250,000 members. But, the society claims there has been a resurgence of interest and states that now it has close to 500,000 members. Death care, including funerals, was one of the major benefits of Odd Fellows membership. One of the first orders of business, after establishing a lodge in a new town, was to purchase plots in an existing cemetery or to establish a new cemetery where plots were sold to members at a modest fee.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.