There are two items in the October 2018 Knight Templar that caught my eye on the first flip through. The first is that the Knight Templar magazine will soon be available as a mobile app for use with smartphones and tablets. The entire library of every issue since Volume 1 No. 1 in August 1955 will soon be accessible and searchable when the app goes live. Phase II of the app will be to make translated issues available in every major language spoken by Grand Encampment members all over the world. The dead tree edition will still be mailed to members unless they choose to opt out. And it is currently readable on the Grand Encampment website, as well.
The second item is a fine article by SK James Marples of Texas about famed 19th century actor William J. "Billy" Florence (1831-1891). Florence was an active and enthusiastic Mason based in New York, and was one of the founders of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, today more simply known as Shriners International.
Born William Jermyn Conlin in 1831 to Irish Catholic immigrant parents, Billy Florence and Dr. Walter M. Fleming devised the Shrine, along with eleven fellow Masons around their regular table at the Knickerbocker Cottage in New York in 1872. The actor was legendarily inspired by an overseas trip to Morocco, and his later initiation into a Arabic-themed, quasi "secret society" at a Marseilles costume party.
Florence was also a 33° Scottish Rite Mason, who had his degrees conferred upon him by Charles T. McClenachan, author of the Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. And he was a member of the Royal Arch, the Cryptic Council, and the Knights Templar.
While the Shrine is known today primarily for its 22 Shriners Hospitals that provide burn care and orthopedic treatment for children, it's always important to know just when and how an organization began, and the society it inhabited at that time. Victorian stuffiness was the prevailing atmosphere in the 1870s. American had largely removed the alcohol from its Temples, and regular lodge night accompanying feasts were being phased out. Anything resembling frivolity was frowned upon in the lodge, and Masonic trials for unbecoming behavior out in public were on the increase, too. Grand lodge rule books began to fill up with all sorts of new restrictions on behavior outside of the lodge. So the Shrine was conceived from the start as a refuge from the sternness of the now stuffy lodges. Yet, the new Shriners were by no means considered drunken, wanton libertines. Billy Florence inspired the Shrine's original motto: "Pleasure without intemperance, hospitality without rudeness, and jollity without coarseness should prevail among all."
That didn't mean that the Shriners were un-serious about their Freemasonry. Quite the contrary. It is a shame that the Shrine did away in 2000 with their longstanding prerequisite that new members belong to a lodge, plus either the Scottish Rite or the York Rite first, or both, so that the fun Order was seen as an ally of Craft Masonry, Consistories, and Commanderies alike.
It was a bonus that I came across this article today. I had just read an absurd anti-Masonic article on a militant Catholic website falsely accusing Freemasonry by way of the Shrine for purportedly requiring members to be obligated on the Quran (absolutely untrue), thereby declaring that we're all infidels. It never ceases to irritate Masons when we encounter non-Masons who claim to know more about us than we do ourselves, including degrees that we have all experienced. So it was nice to discover that Billy Florence himself and founder of the Shrine and its rituals was a Roman Catholic Freemason. He was a major benefactor to Brooklyn's St. Agnes Parish, and upon his death, floral arrangements arrived bearing squares and compasses. The parish priest permitted the wreaths to remain on the altar, as long as Brethren did not attend wearing Masonic aprons or uniforms.