Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published May 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.

Memorial Day observance at Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery circa 1885.  WHC 1995.022.0003

Memorial Day observance at Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery circa 1885. WHC 1995.022.0003

“Cover them over with beautiful flowers,

Deck them with garlands, those brothers of ours,

Lying so silent by night and by day

Sleeping the years of their manhood away.”

-Will Carleton

In 1854, Chemeketa Lodge No. 1 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in partnership with the Masonic Lodge, purchased a five acre tract of land in rural Salem for a cemetery. Acquired from Reverend David Leslie and his wife Adelia Judson Leslie, the land encompassed the original family burial ground and was laid out on a gently ascending slope set back from the west side of the Territorial Road, a mile and a half from the Salem town center. The earliest grave memorialized is that of Mary Kinney Leslie, the first wife of Reverend Leslie, who died in 1841.

In keeping with the basic tenets of their brotherhood, the I.O.O.F. “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” In Salem, that mission to bury the dead was realized in the purchase and development of the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Historic records show that all lots in the original 5 acre plat of the cemetery, comprising sixteen grave spaces, were sold by the Lodge at an average price of $20.00 per lot, or $1.25 per grave. The founders excluded no one from their sale of lots. Burial records and newspaper notices document 43 African-American men, women, and children buried in the cemetery. In the northern margin of the cemetery, in a sparsely marked field, Marion County held “paupers plots” for the burial of orphans, indigents, vagrants, and inmates of public institutions. Also within the northern margin was a little square or plat reserved for the Chinese of Salem for temporary burials in accordance with their custom of recovering the bones of the dead to be returned to their homeland after a number of years. Several Japanese-American families occupy burial spaces in five adjoining plots located in the northeast corner of the cemetery.

The cemetery is also the final resting place of 286 veterans of United States military service, the greatest number of them Civil War veterans. Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery became the city’s first focal point for observances of the national day of remembrance that had been proclaimed by General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1868 for fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. In time, Decoration, or Memorial Day, May 30, came to honor all the nation’s war dead. The Daily Statesman, June 1, 1884, described the procession which formed at the town center before making its way south on Commercial Street.   A detailed account was given of the proceedings, including prayers and addresses by Grand Army of the Republic Post officers and chaplain, musical selections from band and chorus, and scattering of flowers upon a symbolic grave.

“Memorial Day was observed in Salem Friday with the usual parade and splendor. Promptly at the hour of one o’clock, the various societies assembled in their respective halls, and, after due preparation, began to assemble upon the streets. By the hour of two the column was formed on Commercial Street, in front of Marion Square, in the following order:

  • Band,
  • Capital Guards,
  • Fire Department,
  • I.O.O.F. Lodges,
  • A.O.U.W. Lodge (Ancient Order of United Workmen),
  • Knights of Pythias,
  • Sedgwick Post No. 10, G.A.R.,
  • Thirteen girls in Liberty car,
  • Ladies Relief Corps in carriages,
  • State, County, and City officers,
  • Citizens in carriages,

The procession then moved promptly up Commercial Street to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, where the exercises were held.”

The photograph accompanying this article is dated 1885 and is believed to be one of the earliest dated photos of a Memorial Day observance in Salem. The crowd is facing away from the photographer, with the exception of seven men at the back dressed in Civil War uniforms. The photograph is labeled with the name Ethel Veatch Timmerman. Ethel is the daughter of James Pinckney Veatch and Alcinda E. Lawrence, pioneers of 1863. The Veatch family purchased plot no. 722 of Odd Fellows Cemetery in the year 1880 following the tragic deaths of two daughters; baby Minnie Myrtle on February 23, 1880 and their eldest daughter, sixteen year old Jeannette May on April 11, 1880 following an eight week illness. It would not be far-fetched to assume that the photograph represents the family attendance at the Memorial Day observance in 1885.

In future years Odd Fellows Cemetery would expand to a total of 17.05 acres, city growth boundaries would grow to encompass it, the name would change to Salem Pioneer and ownership would be deeded over to the City of Salem.

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