A Glimpse into the Utility of the Odd Fellows and Other Secret Societies
Alexander Hemsley was one of the most prominent men in Baltimore in the late 19th century. He was born in 1850 to Isaiah Hemsley and Viola Wilson, both Baltimore residents. Hemsley started out as a cabinet maker along with his wife, Ella V. Sorrell, but soon after developed his own business as a funeral director. He lived and worked in the parlor he owned along with William Willis Madden on Biddle Street in East Baltimore. Samuel Chase was an embalmer who worked with his son, Perry, to make coffins for Hemsley's business. Hemsley used hearses owned by John William Locks, another black entrepreneur, who was in the hack business. Thus, three black-owned businesses collaborated together, epitomizing the sharing of resources that characterized East Baltimore.
Samuel Chase was also Deputy Grand Master of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, which was the second oldest organization in the country in 1842. The Odd Fellows established 61 lodges in the North, and there were over 400,000 members. Peter Ogden, a sailor, was responsible for starting the whole organization. The Baltimore Chapter included William C. McCard, Edward H. Morris, Jarece E. Force, Chase and Alexander Hemsley.
Alexander Hemsley was one of the best known Odd Fellows in Baltimore, as well as in the state of Maryland. Hemsley died in 1912. After his death, his son, Samuel T. Hemsley took over the business of his late father in the same place and continued to reside there.
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