Friday, November 02, 2007

National Treasure II and the Booth Diary

National Treasure II: Book of Secrets is due out on December 21st. Despite all of the Masonic symbols used in the teaser trailer above, who knows if there will be any Masonic connections or references in it. I hope so.

NOTE: Brand new trailer up here as of today. They're almost showing too much...

In finishing the manuscript for Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies, we talk about the true story of what is the central Maguffin to NTII: Book of Secrets – the very real diary found on John Wilkes Booth's body, and the pages that went missing after it was found. Union spy Lafayette Baker was hand-picked by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to be the head of the National Detective Police in 1862, and quickly played fast and loose with the almost unlimited powers of arrest he was given during the war. He lost the plum job after he went just a little too far – tapping Stanton's private telegraph lines. Baker was brought back by Stanton to find and arrest John Wilkes Booth after Lincoln was shot. Twelve days later, Baker and his men traced Booth to Garrett's Farm, where Booth was shot. Baker found his diary and delivered it to Stanton personally, who promptly locked it away.

During Congressional hearings that attempted to link Lincoln's vice president Andrew Johnson to the assassination, Baker came forward and revealed the existence of the diary, which an embarrassed Stanton was forced to produced. When he handed the booklet to investigators, 18 pages were missing from it. Now, the diary was actually a date book, and it's possible Booth had used pages from the center as scrap paper, and torn them out himself. Or Baker may have torn them out, figuring to accuse his old boss out of revenge for firing him. Or maybe Stanton removed the pages, because he was actually implicated in the plot. Baker then said he had ciphered pages that proved Johnson was a Southern agent, and accused Johnson of ordering the pages torn out (or did it himself). Stanton was no friend of Johnson, so it's unclear who would have benefitted most from the removal of whatever may have been in the diary. In any case, Baker never produced his coded papers, and was dismissed by Congress as a somewhat spectacular liar.

Baker died 18 months later of arsenic poisoning, coinciding with several private visits from his brother-in-law – who just happened to work for Stanton. Coded messages were found in the 1960's written in a military manual once owned by Baker, and when deciphered, revealed that he had feared for his life, and that he believed Stanton would have him killed. Modern analysis of his hair samples revealed the arsenic – officially, he was said to have died of meningitis.

Go to the NTII: Book of Secrets website and see the longer trailer. Seems to be gold involved, along with Ed Harris as a Southern bad guy. I'm guessing the Knights of the Golden Circle are implicated, along with a stash of the gold of the Confederate treasury...

And the missing pages of the diary? They've never been found.

4 comments:

Mark said...

Brother Hodapp mentions in relation to the movie: "Despite all of the Masonic symbols used in the teaser trailer above, who knows if there will be any Masonic connections or references in it."

Actually, after the symbol-filled trailer appeared in June of this year, I obtained a full copy of the script, dated January 5, 2007. (Don't ask for copies. Don't ask how I got it. Let's just say that Hollywood is 'porous,' and leave it at that.) The script is labeled “Current Draft.” At least one comic line is different from the final script, as shown in the trailer for the motion picture; in addition, the script has the subtitle, “The Book of Secrets,” while the movie as currently subtitled is just “Book of Secrets.” However, certain minor changes are business as usual in Hollywood. If the date of the script is accurate, I have every reason to believe that this script is substantially accurate as a reflection of the film to be released in December.

Perhaps the most interesting of various benign references are the following (page numbers refer to the script; capitalization as in the original):

• Ben Gates is asking his friend, FBI Agent Sadusky, about ‘the President’s Book,’ the Book of Secrets of the subtitle. This book supposedly lists secrets only U.S. Presidents are authorized to know. Sadusky asks why Gates is asking Sadusky about this, to which Gates replies, “Because of the 43 men who have ever been President of the United States of America, 15 of them are confirmed freemasons. You’re a 33rd-Degree Master Mason, a mason of the highest order. If anyone knows if this book exists, you do.” (p. 77)

• At the conclusion of the movie, Ben asks Sadusky why Sadusky helped Ben obtain access to the President’s Book. Sadusky responds: “Well, when you become a 33rd-degree master mason, you wonder if half the stuff they tell you is true. (shrugs) I was curious.” (p. 126)

Summary

The script for National Treasure: Book of Secrets is benign towards Freemasonry; Masons are portrayed as being more code-oriented than is the case in real life, and the Scottish Rite 33rds are portrayed as being the all-knowing secret masters of wild-eyed conspiracy theories, but at least in this movie the 33rds are benign, helpful good guys--which is a substantial improvement over the usual hysterical conspiracist nonsense.

Recommendations

In light of the foregoing, I suggest the following:

• If the first movie's performance is any guide, the premiere of National Treasure: Book of Secrets will put the words “Mason,” “Freemasonry,” and “33rd-Degree” in front of 20 million people during its first run. This is sufficient reason to try to capitalize on the spirit of the moment by local Blue Lodges, Scottish Rite Valleys, and York Rite bodies holding an Open House.

In the Open House, it will be worthwhile to address such points as the following:

• What do Masons really do? Do they really engage in international conspiracies—even “good” ones?

• What is the real deal about Masons and cyphers? And cornerstones?

• What is the real deal with the legendary 33rd-Degree Masons?

• What is the relation between the Knights of the Golden Circle, in the movie, and the Scottish Rite and York Rite degrees involving Knights?

I suggest handing out flyers advertising your open house near theatres showing the movie. Good fortune to all, brethren.

Grayson said...

I do not understand why some American Masons feel the need to assure the public and any potential candidates that there really are no secrets, conspiracies or anything worth protecting in Freemasonry. To build upon the interest sure to be generated by this film is fine, but it would be self-defeating to march in potential seekers before a presentation given by the worker bee beefsteak dinner guys who honestly believe that Masonry is as one dimensional, boring and "benign" as it is in their blue lodge. It is all subjective to the cognitive map and personal experience of individual Freemasons, but I can say that the most exciting part of the craft is the constant affirmations of secrets and mystery that I have experienced. I also think that remaining silent on the subject of this movie rather than holding public interest meetings to assure folks that we are not really that exciting, would be much more beneficial to the local craft lodges.

Freemasonry as a whole is very much entangled in international politics and the likes. One need only to travel to Serbia, Romania, France, Africa, South America, Mexico or the Philippines to affirm this. There are issues of spiritual warfare with people infiltrating Orders in invitational Masonry to control the currents, etc..

The SJ AASR reference to the pentagon in the center of the military encampment is an interesting allusion.
The theurgic elements of the higher orders whose membership depends upon the Master Masons of blue lodges are not generally known to the average American Master Mason, but this is largely due to the culture which breeds materialism amidst a sea of physical heroes. Children are not raised with mystical, artistic, religious or spiritual heroes in the US. It can be said that it is generally considered to be efeminite to be cultured in the US.

For some reason, most of our members feel the need to lay it all out...give tours of our buildings and assure everyone that all we do is march in circles and salute the flag. This is a self defeating psychology. The young men are knocking at our doors these days in search of spiritual truths and inner traditions. When we insist there is no mystery, then we lose many of the sort of men we need in the Order.

It is very hard to convince other Masons that there are things going on behind veils in Masonry, but Freemasonry is a veiled society. Most folks seem to like to hang out on the porch and are content with their speculation that there isn't anything of interest going on inside the temple. Some guys make a lifetime out of insisting this is so. These men function as dwellers on the threshold and obstructions in the path of the seekers who must demonstrate perseverance.

In LVX,

Bro::+Grayson

Chris Hodapp said...

Brother Grayson,
I don't disagree with your point of view.

Young men seeking out this fraternity are looking for something legendary, something mythical. They're looking for the Freemasonry they read about. They are NOT looking for bean suppers, card parties or a memorization club.

I absolutely agree that any lodge putting on a public program of any kind (and I'm not so sure they should be) needs to bear that in mind, and stop trying to "assure" everyone to move along, nothing to see here. But then, we also need to be providing more within our lodges so there IS something to see here.

Movies like National Treasure and others, books and other cultural references can encourage new men to knock on or doors. But if they don't find anything close to what they are hunting, they won't come back. My same point has always been this about Grand Lodge programs. They can bring men to our doors. But it isn't up to Grand Lodge to keep them coming back. That's up to us.

Elle Smith Fagan said...

Thanksomuch for the Booth Diary data. It answered my questions, and more. It genrated interest in further study of the times, and the story.

One thing, though: I am en route to my Catholic monk friend for counseling. I thought that the old days hatred between Catholics and Masons had gone the way of destructive medieval approaches to humanity and understanding. But two religious friends have grimly stated to me that I was not supposed to get excited about 'National Treasure' because of the Catholic/Mason issue. A Mason man-friend said it was perfectly ok.

Who is right?

I have no plans to stop being excited about 'National Treasure' movies. They are part of what America needs, because they regenerate patriotism and interest in American history, in a thoroughly entertaining way.

When one of my artworks, a crafted egg from girlhood training at the feet of my mommies, was part of the 2007 White House State Easter Egg Display,I played the 'National Treasure' dvd as passionate background, as I completed the final draft of my submission. A tiny National Treasure, was my little egg, and my Father's hands made gold mylar foil on NASA's LLM , long ago, and so I included a bit of it to line my submission, for the historical significance and love for my Dad, who had recently passed away.

My maiden name, Smith, means 'craftsman' and our family boasts of tons of crafts persons/ artisans, and one engraves plates, one does in wood, my art is all over the place, and all seven Irish uncles used to do that all-American car thing.

They did not talk much about Masons, but did not hate them.
I was taught by the nuns, that Freemasons was born, like the Guilds, of medieval times, to help upgrade the quality and integrity in crafts, there having arisen the issue of every form of fraud in crafts, in the world's populated areas. A client would give a silversmith a lot of good silver, to make a silver item, but the silversmith would substitute cheap metal wherever it could be hidden in the item, and keep part the good silver for himself.

I was told that this issue motivated the founding of Freemasonry, and that, soon, if a craftsman/artisan was a Freemason , you knew the job would be done well, and with integrity.

There were other issues, relevant to craftsmanship/skilled artisan businesses, but this one is the one they quoted to me the most.

And that, later, when our early leaders showed their Freemason membership proudly, it was motivated by a desire to show all that they were "top stuff" and that integrity and quality in all they made was bound to help make America a Grand sort of place.


Of course, later study did show links , but only POSSIBLY, to Templars , etc....and the way of things and treasures.

At the very least, I am entertained and as a former den mother, remembering patriotism in her upbringing, and NOT the panning of our own land, as the predominant path for child-rearing, I am just delighted to see any film that support our American for the best of it all!

Thanksomuch for reading this.

my site ellefagan.com is down for upgrades, but do try it next week.

And God Bless America and ALL its wonderful supportive organizations.

Elle Smith Fagan

p.s. I know that the women do not do with Masons, at least not recognized, but with Eastern Star,
and so I hope this note does not offend.