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Fraternal Organization Symbology in Cemeteries

Many cemeteries are filled with symbolic gravestones. The majority of the cemetery architectural motifs in the United States are from the following categories: 1) ancient pagan architecture; 2) Egyptian architecture; 3) Classical architecture; 4) Gothic architecture; 5) late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture; and 6) “[u]niquely funerary architecture.” Also, many of the symbols are from secret societies and fraternal organizations. For example, a member of Woodmen of the World may have this gravestone:

Woodmen

A member of the Freemasons may have this gravestone:

  Mason

A member of the Order of Odd Fellows may have this gravestone:

Odd Fellow

A member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks may have this gravestone:

Elk

It is clear that membership in a fraternal organization is very important, and many of these organizations conduct graveside ceremonies for their fallen fraternal brothers or sisters. For Freemasons, most of their ceremonies are held privately except for the laying of cornerstones, the open installation of officers, the periodic public education program, and, their most common public ceremony, the Masonic Funeral Service (depicted below).

  Ceremony

The Order of Odd Fellows was founded with the following principles: “to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” The Order purchases cemetery plots and owns and maintains entire cemeteries so that its members may be buried near each other. Even though fraternal organization membership is in decline, symbolic gravestones will forever be a reminder of how prominent these organizations were in our nation’s past.

Brandon Heffinger 

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