CEDAR RAPIDS — As you entered Cady Auction Gallery over the weekend, you’d come face-to-face with “Chuck.” That’s the nickname Deb Cady, co-owner of the auction house, gave the genuine 1890s human skeleton reclining in a wooden coffin.
“At first I was creeped out about it,” Deb says. “I’ve gotten used to him.”
“Chuck,” held together by bolts, screws and wires, used to reside at the now closed Independent Order of Odd Fellows chapter in Shell Rock. He came through a couple of owners to the weekend auction that centered around the sale of items collected by the late Virgil Crofter of Mount Vernon to benefit Camp Courageous.
While many collectibles, from old vending machines to autograph books to movie stars’ clothing had been Virgil’s, the skeleton was among other items in the multi-consignor auction.
As people paid $250 for a Marilyn Monroe jacket, $120 for a Drew Barrymore necklace from the “ET” movie and $120 for a Judy Garland ring, raising several thousand dollars for Camp Courageous, “Chuck” caused bidders to balk.
“He sure attracted a lot of attention,” Deb said before the auction. “I had a gentleman call from Ohio who wanted to know how much it would cost to ship to Ohio.”
It would cost about $600, she figured.
That didn’t stop Jake Ooley of Phoenix, Ariz., from bidding $2,000 via the Internet and to pay extra to have the boxed skeleton shipped home. No one locally even bid on it. Jake also bought an old cash register.
“I am excited about getting the items here,” he wrote to Deb in an email. “I am a reseller and plan to open a shop here in Phoenix. We specialize in antiques and vintage clothing, and thought the skeleton and the register would work great in the store!”
These old skeletons in their coffins have showed up all around the country as people investigate closed up Odd Fellows Halls. A Los Angeles Times story a decade ago said they were turning up from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. I remember one discovered in Alburnett, above the former Rockwood General Store, in 1999.
The Odd Fellows, which began in 17th Century England and came to America in 1819, legally acquired the skeletons, which could have come from deceased indigents or have been people who donated their bodies to science.
The skeletons were used in initiation ceremonies as symbols of mortality and to remind members of the charitable organization to pay their dues.
In a darkened room, a blindfolded candidate draped in chains would be led to the skeleton, illuminated by candlelight, and then have the blindfold removed.
On Halloween, that seems so appropriate.
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