"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Site of Harry Truman's Historic Masonic Visit Damaged By Fire


THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED 7/11/2019

Fire broke out at about 3 AM Monday morning at Beech Grove Lodge 694 on the south side of Indianapolis. 

Beech Grove Lodge is noteworthy in Indiana’s Masonic history, as well as to the cultural heritage of the fraternity. 
In 1948, President Harry S Truman famously snuck away from the press during a campaign stopover in Indianapolis to attend the Master Mason degree of Donald Bauermeister, a young sailor from Indiana who was his physical therapist on board the Presidential Yacht back in Washington. The President was crisscrossing the Midwest on a whistle stop campaign tour, and was traveling through Indiana at the time. Don and his father had attended Truman’s stump speech in Kokomo earlier in the day, and were invited by the President to ride in his private railroad car the rest of the way into the city. While underway, Truman suddenly informed his staff that he wished to visit the Beech Grove Masonic lodge that evening. 


Harry Truman was an enthusiastic Freemason. Before becoming President in 1945, Truman had served as Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Missouri, and remained an active supporter of the fraternity all his life. 

Rumors of the President’s ‘secret’ trip to Beech Grove that night spread like wildfire, especially among the railroad community. The Secret Service had taken pains to convince the press that Truman had gone to bed early aboard his train at Union Station, and even used a body double decoy to convince them. Nevertheless, over a thousand people gathered in the streets outside of the lodge to try to catch a glimpse of the President entering the Masonic Hall at 7th and Main Streets.


He arrived just before the second section of the degree began, and nearly three hundred Masons packed into the lodge room, the social areas, and even lined the staircase. Because Masonic degree rituals are considered secret, Truman’s non-Mason security agents were not permitted to actually enter the lodge room during the ceremony. Forced to wait nervously outside, the President assured them he was in the safest possible place on Earth. Inside, Truman was invited to preside over the ceremony, and sat in the Master’s chair. When asked how he wanted to be formally introduced to the gathered members and visitors, he humbly declined the presidential title and instead asked to be identified simply as a Past Grand Master of Missouri.
 


Monday's blaze started on the second floor near the East in the lodge room, and authorities have determined the fire was caused by an electrical problem. Thankfully, there were no injuries. The lodge room and about a third of the roof and attic area are a total loss, but the flames were confined to those areas by the closed Tyler's and Preparation room doors. 



The present hall of Beech Grove Lodge was dedicated in 1942. Because of the major structural loss and tremendous water and smoke damage, it is expected that the building will be gutted and rebuilt, but the exterior facade will be retained.




Charters of the lodge and the Eastern Star chapter were both consumed by the fire. On Wednesday members and work crews were hurriedly attempting to remove all surviving paper records and any other salvageable items, as the building is now unstable.


Members of the lodge report that the famous meeting’s 1948 register book with the President’s signature suffered smoke damage from the fire, along with original photographs from the event. The Master's chair that President Truman sat in is currently buried under the collapsed portion of the roof beams, but a preliminary look holds out the possibility that it can be salvaged. 




Local news station WXIN Fox 59 aired a follow up report by reporter Nick McGill about the lodge on Wednesday, featuring an interview with Worshipful Master Kevin Upshaw. SEE IT HERE.



The Masonic ring given to Don Bauermeister by his parents and handed to him by Harry Truman himself, along with his Masonic Bible signed by the President are still safely on display at the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana, located in the Indianapolis Masonic Temple.










Details about Truman's visit to Beech Grove Lodge in 1948 can be found in Dwight L. Smith's Goodly Heritage (1968), Allen E. Roberts' Brother Truman (1985), and most recently in my own book, Heritage Endures (2018).

1 comment:

  1. Wow,Idid not know that about The President.I hope the lodge can be saved

    ReplyDelete

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