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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Hurricane Laura Wrecks Vinton, Louisiana Lodge


by Christopher Hodapp

The brethren of Vinton Lodge 364 in Vinton, Louisiana report that their building was severely damaged by Hurricane Laura last night when the storm made landfall just after midnight.



Vinton is located about thirty miles northeast of Port Arthur, Texas, just north of the Gulf coast, and the town suffered major damage. 

The lodge room was recently remodeled. This 'before' photo shows its former appearence.
Vinton's members had just put the finishing touches on their meeting room this summer.

The Vinton Lodge sits on the main street of town.
The brethren of Vinton Lodge had recently completely updated and remodeled their lodge room, and all of that work has now been destroyed. Fortunately, they are not reporting any injuries or loss of life to their members or families.

Hurricane Laura was a Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 miles per hour, and over half a million residents in Texas and Louisiana were under mandatory evacuation orders before the storm hit. The hurricane brought catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding to portions of Louisiana, killing at least one person. The storm weakened rapidly as it moved through the state Thursday morning after landfall, downing trees and power lines, and knocking out power to more than 415,000 people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Iowa's Masonic Library & Museum Highlighted



by Christopher Hodapp

The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa yesterday featured a substantial and nicely written piece about the Grand Lodge of Iowa's magnificent Library and Museum and its curator/librarian, WB Bill Krueger. It doesn't get the attention that the venerable Masonic museums and libraries in America's northeast often do, but Cedar Rapids is arguably one of the top Masonic research resources in the world. The original library's home was erected in 1884 and was the first Masonic-specific library building in America. The present 1955 facility today has more than 155,000 volumes, in addition to its fine museum collection.

The reporter asked Bill to name the top five treasures in the Museum today. His choices were: 



•The Sargent Table
Built in the early 1900s by Cedar Rapids Mason Philip J. Sargent, this stunning marquetry drop-leaf table features 37,000 tiny pieces of inlay from 100 kinds of wood, and scores of Masonic symbols.




•"The First Three Degrees of Masonry" painted by artist Grant Wood in 1922.
A stunning triptych symbolizing the Masonic degrees and stages of man.




•Benjamin Franklin’s 1734 printing of James Anderson's 1723 'Constitutions of the Freemasons'

•PGM Theodore Sutton Parvin's diaries
Parvin was one of the founders of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, and started the Iowa Masonic Library in 1842 with a $5 gold piece.

•Joseph Smith’s Ledger
Smith's final ledger book from the Mormon community in Nauvoo, Illinois that was being kept at the time of his death at the hands of a mob in 1844.

The entire article with photos can be seen HERE.


Please call the Grand Lodge of Iowa Library & Museum to ask about visiting hours, especially during the COVID shutdowns. I called several times in the last couple of months, but the building has been closed for much of the year. In fact, it's always a good idea to call before visiting any Masonic library and museum. They are generally staffed infrequently by volunteers, and can often have erratic hours.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Masonic Symbols On Mothballed Planes Bring Out the Crazies


by Christopher Hodapp

It doesn't take much these days to send the conspiracy lovers into orbit.

A story appeared on the website of Australia's 9News TV station in Sydney on August 19th, reporting on financial losses for Qantas Airlines. Many international flights between the U.S. and Australia have been temporarily halted this year because of the international COVID shutdowns and restrictions. So at the beginning of the report, a half-second long shot showed a mothballed Qantas airliner being towed into storage at the Mojave Air and Space Port as part of a cost-cutting move by the airline. 

Some eagle-eyed viewers looked closely at the fleeting opening shot and spotted black engine storage covers on one jet that were adorned with a giant All Seeing Eye and a square and compass. Consequently, social media had a brief blowup over the last couple of days over the Masonic symbols on the plane. 




A YouTube conspiracy video entitled 'Qantas busted' has already racked up more than 10,000 views over the weekend. And no, I'm not linking to the thing.

Qantas’ loss of AU$1.9 billion is the greatest drop in revenues in the Australian national airline's 100 year history, and represents a 91% drop in profits. Some 20,000 employees have been laid off, and 6,000 have been pressured to retire (in the chilling English parlance of human obsolescence, "made redundant"). So naturally, lots of people have lots of reasons to look for someone or something to blame. 

Nine News contacted the airline and the Mojave storage facility to get to the bottom of this 'controversy' (which means it's been a realllllly slow news week in Australia). The covers are giant plastic tarps stuck to the engine cowlings with high-visibility yellow tape. And according to the airline, it seems that the ground crews occasionally become artistic or bored, and create designs on the covers with tape, as the smiley faces and other markings show in the photo below.


According to the report today, officials said,
"Aircraft engine cover art is a thing," they said.
"As you can see, the yellow tape can sometimes be used quite creatively.
"We've obviously got a few engineers who are fans of The Da Vinci Code, but we've asked them to stick to emojis and smiley faces."
Something in me thinks the brethren in Barstow are toasting each other and cheerfully singing the Stonecutter's anthem tonight. 

Whether the Masonic symbols were installed by an arty lodge member, or by a prankster who was just trying to excite the Internet crazies, there's no way of knowing. But "the Freemasons" didn't have anything to do with Qantas’ bad fortunes this year.

But then, that's just what you'd be expecting me to say.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

New Books: 'The Craft' by John Dickie; 'History of Esoteric and Anagogic Doctrines' by Cihangir Gener



by Christopher Hodapp

A new book about Freemasonry is getting a lot of positive coverage in the press. The Craft: How the Freemasons Made the Modern World by John Dickie was published several weeks ago in the United Kingdom, and was just officially released in the U.S. this week. My copy just hit the doorstep on Thursday. This is not a book review, because I haven't had a chance to read beyond the second chapter yet. But the press coverage of the book has been both curious and encouraging.

To answer a question that several brethren have asked, no, Mr. Dickie is not a Mason — his grandfather was, but he is not a Mason himself. He is a University College of London Professor of Italian studies, and the author of several books about the Italian Mafia, most notably, The Cosa Nostra (2005) and Blood Brotherhoods (2014). And from what I've read of The Craft so far, it is an ambitious history and survey of the fraternity around the world, told in an informal manner, with the author telling his own first-person experiences and thoughts throughout. It feels like a very personal book.

The English edition of The Craft got the far more eye-catching cover

In the English press, stories about Freemasons and the fraternity are all too frequently told from a sneering point of view, laden with giggly references to 'dodgy handshakes and rolled-up trouser legs', usually coupled with accusations of improper (and sometimes criminal) activities and beliefs, and almost always including an unrelated, lurid anti-Masonic accusation from the past, just to add 'background.' The word 'sinister' is almost a requirement. The fraternity is uniformly treated as both comically useless AND darkly nefarious and powerful, which is a tough balancing act to make a case for. In other words, finding a dispassionate or even respectful article about the Masons in an English newspaper or TV news network is like stumbling across a unicorn grazing in your garden with a leprechaun on his back. That was why UGLE Grand Secretary David Staples started the #EnoughIsEnough campaign last year, to combat the problem. 

Consequently, Professor John Dickie's new book has been almost uniformly greeted there with what seems like astonishment by English reviewers that the author found the fraternity to be both honorable and worthy of respect. 

"The Craft is a superb book that often reads like an adventure novel. It’s informative, fascinating and often very funny. Dickie, a professor of Italian studies at University College London, recounts the history of freemasonry by breaking it down into beautifully written stories rooted in places crucial to the organisation. The depth of research is awe-inspiring, but what really makes this book is the author’s visceral understanding of what constitutes a good story..."
The Times also had a separate review by Dominic Sandbrook:
"Despite being a Cowan, as masons call non-members, I enjoyed this book enormously. Dickie’s gaze is both wide and penetrating; he is just as good on black American Freemasons, whose ranks include the basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, as he is on the intricacies of French or Italian masonry. He makes a persuasive case for masonry’s historic importance, from its Enlightenment origins to its influence on the mafia, Mormonism and the Ku Klux Klan, all of which copied its rituals. He treats the conspiracy theories about masonic influence in the British police with commendably withering scorn, lamenting that “such stories regularly make it past the bullshit detectors of reputable newspapers”. And, most refreshingly, he makes masonry sound like an entirely sane, reasonable way to spend your time.
"For all the jokes about handshakes and rolled-up trouser legs, masonic rituals are no stranger than the traditions of the football crowd. And at the heart of the Craft, Dickie thinks, lies something much more powerful than orgies or devil worship: community."
Reviewer Dominic Greene in The Spectator likewise greeted the book with accolades:
"The Craft is a shadow history of modernity. Though more sober than most lodge meetings, it is, like its subject, ingenious and frequently bizarre. Freemasonry, John Dickie argues, is one of Britain’s ‘most successful exports’, along with other club activities such as tennis, soccer and golf. It is ‘a fellowship of men, and men alone, who are bound by oaths to a method of self-betterment’. If this ideal of tolerant fraternity sounds modern — the absence of women aside — it is because it is."
He goes into much greater detail about the book's contents (DeGroot's seems more like he skimmed the book and relied on the press release for his, but I've since been told that his was severely edited down for publication). Greene's final take on it is:
"The Craft is well-crafted and sensible, making good use of English archives which have only recently been opened. By offering a new way of socialising, freemasonry laid the foundation of our commercial society, providing a sense of purpose to its practitioners — but also to its enemies, who confuse it with their own fantasies of power. ‘I am utterly opposed to it and to the influence of other secret organisations, because I believe them to be deeply corrupting,’ a Labour backbencher told the Commons in 1988. Who was that brave speaker of truth to power? Jeremy Corbyn."
Dickie himself was given a substantial space to write about the Masons and his book in the Daily Express.  And in the BBC History Magazine, Dickie was interviewed by Ellie Cawthorne, and he addresses the problem of lurid press coverage.
“In Britain, I think there are two competing stories that dominate discussions of Freemasonry. On the one hand, they appear in the public imagination as a shady organization with something to hide. And this is what fuels the newspaper coverage they get—outlandish stories in which they are responsible for cover-ups of the sinking of the Titanic, or the Hillsborough disaster. People put two Freemasons in a row and make a conspiracy. Counter to that runs the Freemasons’ own narrative of their history, one of a noble, honorable tradition of brotherhood and altruism. This, admittedly, is much more dull. But somewhere in between these two stories is a vast, untapped world of extraordinary tales about what Freemasonry has meant to people, about the things it has got involved in and the paranoia that Freemasons have generated throughout their history, and also how Freemasonry has been hugely historically important.”
On this side of the Atlantic, he was also featured in Time Magazine last week, writing 'What the Freemasons Taught the World About Secrecy.' And now that the U.S. release has officially kicked off, he just received a positive review by Alex Beam in the Wall Street Journal today.

I gotta get the number of this guy's publicist.



Meanwhile, the United Grand Lodge of England has recommended his book, and they will feature a webinar with Professor Dickie on August 31st at 7:30PM London time. (GMT) To sign up for this event and get the access information for their BrightTalk webinar system, CLICK HERE.

Any time there is positive buzz about the fraternity on a large scale, there are opportunities for us to tell our own story and answer the queries of the public. So I'm reading his book as quickly as I can.






Also in my stack of summer books is History of Esoteric and Anagogic Doctrines by Turkish Freemason Cihangir Gener. Brother Kenan Kolday was kind enough to drop a copy by the house a couple of months ago, and I have been remiss in getting to it before now. If you regard yourself as a more esoteric-minded Mason, interested in philosophy, ritual, symbolism, the origin of ideas and the merging of the physical with the spiritual, this book will provide you with much to absorb and ponder.

Brother Gener has written an extremely thoughtful and complex work that examines common esoteric threads of monotheistic beliefs and religions and how those concepts enhance - not conflict - with rational thought and the Age of Reason. That's the simplistic summary. The book is religious, mythological, historical, philosophical, scientific. It is partially encyclopedic, partially speculative, and all thought-provoking. Gener himself says that he set out to frame the theory of quantum physics among thousands of years of esoteric doctrine.

My thumbnail sketch does not do such a complicated and detailed work justice. I am still slowly working through it, but I wanted to mention it here because I haven't been timely about it. My understanding is that this book is used as a text in several Turkish universities, and it has been published and revised several times there. This is a new English translation of the book, and it is available from Amazon.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Special Promotion for 'Freemasons For Dummies' Now Through December



by Christopher Hodapp

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been working with the good folks at Wiley Publishing to find a way to offer a substantial discount to lodges and grand lodges who wish to order copies of Freemasons For Dummies for their new petitioners and candidates, without being required to buy large quantities. 

Beginning August 1st, you can order multiple copies of the paperback edition of Freemasons For Dummies directly from the publisher at 30% off the $19.99 list price. This special offer will extend from now through December 31st, 2020.

Because of the COVID virus shutdowns, Masonic lodges throughout the United States have been largely forbidden from meeting in person and conferring degrees on new candidates. 
In my own state, we've been prevented from conferring degrees at least until the end of the year. At the other end of the situation, thousands of interested men who have been trapped at home by the shutdowns have been contacting grand lodges directly or logging on to the www.BeAFreemason.com website expressing new interest in joining the Masonic fraternity. The result has been a growing group of potential new Masons stalled and unable to move forward until states fully reopen and lodges can once again meet together in person. 

So, click Read More below for the 30% discount code, the website you must order through,  and the rest of the grisly details:


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Journal of the Masonic Society 50th Issue: Twelve Years and 24,000 Pages Ago



by Christopher Hodapp


It began in a bar, as only the finest, dazzlingly harebrained schemes should, over watery glasses of well-brand scotch. It was predictably frigid in Washington, D.C. that February on the Saturday night of Masonic Week, too cold to sit outside and smoke pipes and cigars while weaving plans within plans with fellow plotters and organizers of secret cabals. 

Masonic Week of 2008 was one of those moments you can look back on and say that right then was when things changed. There was everything that weekend; shake ups, controversies, new books, exciting speakers, fresh new faces and wise old ones with fresh new ideas, the realization that some of those ideas were bearing fruit around North American Freemasonry, and the sort of intense frustration with the status quo that such a toxic combination inevitably leads to. Devious plans are usually deserving of lowered voices in dimly lit, book-lined studies, with cut glass ashtrays shared by Unnamed Superiors. But the Hilton Mark Center’s 80’s-chic lobby bar would have to do...

This coming issue of the Journal of The Masonic Society will be #50 and will feature papers from a few of the Brethren who founded The Masonic Society. These papers will recount the early days and actions taken by a handful of Masons with the goal of doing something different, something better, and something very needed in U.S. Freemasonry. It is a success story of doing what so many said could not be done — and setting a new standard for all Masonic publications and societies.

TMS President 
Jay Höckberg, Past President Roger S. VanGorden, Secretary/Treasurer Nathan Brindle, Journal Editor Michael Poll, Art Director John Bridegroom, and myself will share thoughts, opinions, plans, and actions that ended up being the revolution in how to create a - The - Masonic Society.

From our very first conversation, the Masonic Society was conceived with a strong eye on the thousands of dedicated Masons who read and write about Masonic history, symbolism, philosophy and more, but are never heard from outside of their local area. We wanted our society's publications and programs to feature the best from the world’s numerous Masonic research lodges and groups that would otherwise vanish into obscurity after being read at one of their too infrequent meetings, or possibly printed in some collection of papers no one would ever open again. Too much great, interesting, insightful, inspirational work is done locally that deserves a bigger audience. And we wanted to create a magazine that had at least three articles or features in every issue that interested you or me, a Grand Master or a new Mason, and everybody in between.

With that mission in mind, our little group stayed up through the wee hours of the morning engaging in the sort of “We can put on a Big Show in the barn and you can make the costumes!” conversation usually reserved for business startups and Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies. Fifty issues and 2,400 jam-packed pages later, the Masonic Society has indeed put on quite the Big Show in that little barn, and it came out pretty darned good, I must say. As the founding editor of the Journal, I can say with great satisfaction that it accomplished what we all had hoped it would do from the start — a rising tide raises all boats. Numerous Masonic magazines and journals across the country have stepped up their game to improve their looks, quality and content, and increase their value to their readers after we set the bar higher. That’s been good for all of us. 

To this day, the Masonic Society still publishes the most valuable, useful and beautiful Masonic magazine of original research, artwork, photography and essays anywhere.
After I was compelled to bow out as Editor in our fifth year to deal with health issues, I was ably succeeded at the editor's desk by my friend Michael Halleran, and my fellow Indiana Mason John Bridegroom shouldered the huge job of Art Director. When Michael also withdrew after a few years, Mike Poll brought his many years of editorial experience as a Masonic book publisher to the Journal, and all of us have been the beneficiaries of John and Mike’s unbeatable combination of talents ever since. This milestone issue provides a good excuse to look back and survey the fruits of twelve years of labor and devotion.


In its first dozen years, the Masonic Society has served the entire fraternity worldwide by preserving vital Internet resources like Paul M. Bessel's indispensable research site; created media references about Masonry for the press during the height of Da Vinci Code/Lost Symbol/Dan Brown mania; hosted seminars and symposia all across the country and in the U.K., and much more.


Over the years TMS conferences and symposia have been outstanding experiences (see this report from the 2017 conference in Lexington, Kentucky). And we continue to hold our annual meeting with a speaker at Masonic Week each year, true to our origins.


The Masonic Society's Quarry Project Masonic Writer's Guide established widely-adopted writing style guidelines for Masonic authors, historians, researchers, libraries and museums to achieve some sense of uniformity to abbreviations and capitalization questions involving our peculiar and specialized nomenclature. If you aren't sure whether to type Masonry or masonry; Grand Lodge or  grand lodge; St. or Saint; thirty-second degree or 32°; fellow craft or fellowcraft; Brethren, bretheren, or botheren; whether or not to use lodge numbers and how; whether to use honorific titles (like Most or Right Worshipful, Illustrious, PGM, WB, KT, WM, etc.), or just how to structure a Masonic footnote or citation, check out the Quarry Project Masonic style guide.


Not a member of The Masonic Society, or has your membership lapsed? Annual dues are a paltry $45 and include four quarterly issues of the Journal, a dazzlingly splendiferous certificate of membership, dues card and pin. Institutions, non-Masons and non-qualifying members of unrecognized Masonic organizations may also subscribe to the Journal at the same rate. For membership requirements and applications, CLICK HERE.

*One caveat about these full issues of the Journal being available electronically at this time - you cannot download or print from them, they are read-only. TMS has a reprint policy, and physical copies of almost every issue from the last twelve years can be purchased from the website. That policy is for the protection of  our authors to prevent wholesale piracy of their hard work, which is, sadly, a very real concern in this electronic age.

Friday, August 14, 2020

All Five Michigan Scottish Rite Valleys Vote To Merge



by Christopher Hodapp

On Thursday this week, it was announced that the five valleys of the Scottish Rite NMJ in Michigan have voted to merge to become one single Scottish Rite Valley for the state. The vote took place during the Michigan Council of Deliberation meeting, and now moves to the Supreme Council for final approval. 

Because of the COVID pandemic restrictions, the Council of Deliberation meeting was held this year as a virtual event.

According to the presentation made during the program, the combined Scottish Rite Valleys of Michigan are currently down to just 3,700 members statewide, and just 2,072 of those members (about 56%) pay full, regular dues. The other 44% of Michigan's SR members do not, for a variety of reasons — some are exempted entirely, some pay only the NMJ per capita, some are active military. But the bottom line is that 44% are largely getting a free ride. Moreover, a whopping 80.8% of Michigan's Scottish Rite members currently are over the age of 61, while just 1% are between 21 and 30.

All of that points a boney finger at the future if something isn't done to turn their membership around. Demographics don't lie, and Michigan isn't unique or an outlier. I suspect you are going to see this happen in more states with too many Scottish Rite and York Rite bodies to be supported by an ever-shrinking membership.

According to the presentation, the state will be divided into four regions, and each region will be expected to hold one reunion each year. The Lodge of Perfection, the Princes of Jerusalem, the Rose Croix, and the Consistory administrative bodies will be divided among the four regions - four bodies, but only one to each region. Each region would only have to concentrate on presenting the degrees of its assigned chapter (just to illustrate, imagine that Grand Rapids would do the Lodge of Perfection degrees, Detroit does Princes of Jerusalem, Marquette does Rose Croix, etc.). That way, the regions will cooperate to present more degrees, while concentrating their own efforts on the degrees of their body. 

My thumbnail description here does not do it justice. If you have a Facebook account, you can see the presentation and the merger details HERE.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Spain's Biblioteca Pública Arús



by Christopher Hodapp

At the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Fascist dictator Francisco Franco took power and would rule Spain for another four decades. Like his fascist contemporaries Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Franco outlawed Freemasonry. Lodges were shuttered, many Masons were persecuted, and more than a few Masonic leaders were imprisoned or killed. And for almost three decades, the top Masonic library in Spain had to remain hidden from view.



In 1895, the Biblioteca Pública Arús (or the Arús Public Library) opened on the second floor of a downtown townhouse in Barcelona as one of the city's first public libraries. The library was donated to the people of Barcelona upon his death by Spanish playwright, journalist, philanthropist and Freemason Rossend Arús for the education of the working classes. Located at 26 Passeig de Sant Joan in Barcelona, the Arús Public Library today is home to 80,000 books, booklets, manuscripts, documents, microforms and more. In addition to being one of the largest reference libraries on Freemasonry in Spain, it also houses one of the world’s most comprehensive Sherlock Holmes collections. It is also has extensive material about labor unions, social and cultural movements, and more. But because of its large Masonic collection, the rise of Franco resulted in the owners of the library closing its doors to the public in 1939, and it remained safely closed and hidden from sight for another 28 years.

According to an article on the Daily Beast website, the closure of the library prevented it from being plundered. While books were destroyed or requisitioned from other libraries throughout Spain, the Arús Public Library’s collection was kept intact. The Library's concierge lived with his family in part of the property and would not let anyone in without express permission from the Barcelona City Council.

A close ally of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy, Franco’s sworn enemies included the labor unions, Communists, Jews, homosexuals, and any groups promoting liberal or anti-clerical values, such as the Freemasons. Franco passed specific legislation to outlaw Freemasonry, and thousands of trials were held, resulting in firing squads, extensive prison sentences, property seizures, and exile, for those found guilty of Freemasonry. Following the death of Franco in 1975, it took a further four years for Spanish Freemasons to be legalized and have their rights restored.
“At the end of the war, the library had a reputation for being ‘Red and Masonic’,” explains [Maribel Giner, Director of the Biblioteca Pública Arús]. “Red—or Communist—due to its backing of the labor movement and commitment to educating the working classes, and Masonic, because of the collection it inherited from the private library of its founder.”
[snip]
In 2011, it received a collection on Sherlock Holmes, donated by Catalan collector Joan Proubasta, consisting of more than 6,000 books in 42 languages, and more than 2,000 related objects, from comics to posters, stamps, statues, puppets and insignia. It is one of the most extensive collections in Europe and the largest in Spain. Why did Proubasta make this donation to the Arús Public Library? It turns out that Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was a Freemason.
For any library enthusiasts staying in Barcelona, Maribel Giner believes the Arús Public Library is worth a visit.
“This is a well-preserved 19th-century library that has maintained its original design details. Stepping in here is like being transported to another era, and also an opportunity to explore a piece of Barcelona's history,” she says.

Photos by Isabelle Kliger/Daily Beast 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Freemasons, Fairs and the Future



by Christopher Hodapp

There's an article this week on the Scottish Rite Museum's blog about an Order of the Eastern Star display at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1896. I love anything that combines fraternalism with my childhood fascination with World's Fairs. At the age of five and a half, my father took me to the New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadow. 


Flying cars, rocket packs, video phones, Moon rockets, robots - they were all there, and more. I glimpsed the future that weekend in New York, and I wanted in. The Fair succeeded at what world's fairs in those days were supposed to do - it inspired a whole generation of fairgoers about the exciting technology of the time, and the greater achievements we would make in the future that was closer than we thought. 

It's a shame that world's fairs lost their ability to do that in the decade after New York's, because we seem to have given up on our ability to be optimistically inspired in the last 50 years.

Freemasons used to think a lot about the future, too. They thought about their past achievements, but they also planned big for the future. World's fairs were a part of that big thinking for Masons. Back in April, the Whence Came You podcast featured a paper from the Illinois Lodge of Research by Alphonse Cerza about the Freemasons who brought the 1893 Columbian Exposition to life in Chicago. It also talks about the building of the Chicago Masonic Temple, the tallest building in the world and the 'Engineering Marvel of the Age.' 

Masons assembling at the Chicago Fair in 1893 held a 'fraternal congress' in the new Chicago Temple, a meeting of the world's Masonic grand lodges to discuss issues facing the fraternity. You can hear about it below. 





The Columbian World Exposition at Jackson Park in Chicago, Illinois celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. Organizers built more than 200 new, mostly temporary structures and pavilions that spanned over 600 acres on the South Side of Chicago. Nicknamed 'the White City' because of its gleaming white plaster, classical Greek-revival construction, the Chicago fair ushered in almost three decades of the City Beautiful Movement in America. Motivated by that architectural movement, Freemasons all over the U.S. embarked on massive building campaigns with magnificent new temples that remain standing to this day, unmatched by any buildings we would ever construct before or since.



Chicago's Freemasons had built the tallest building in the world


A decade later, the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, and that city pulled out all the stops just as Chicago had. (If you know of the old musical Meet Me In St. Louis, it is a story about a family and events around that particular fair.) The St. Louis Fair came at the height of the Golden Age of Fraternalism in the United States, and unlike the Masonic events at Chicago, some sought wider participation from all fraternal groups to demonstrate a global mission of universal brotherhood. Little could any of them know that the first truly global conflict, World War I, was only ten years away.



The Temple of Fraternity at the St. Louis fair was the brainchild of Charles Folsom Hatfield, who was an ardent joiner of fraternities. At the time of the Fair, he was a member of the Masons, Odd Fellows, the Knights of Maccabees, the Royal Arcanum, the National Union, Modern Woodmen of America, Woodmen of the World, the Tribe of Ben Hur, and several other lesser known orders. Hatfield's plan for the fair pavilion united not just the Freemasons from across the U.S., but more than 60 different fraternal societies with a combined national membership of more than 8 million. Consider that the population of the country was 82 million at the time.



Built at a cost of $62,000 (approximately $1.8 million today), the Temple of Fraternity contained 40 different rooms, two 600-seat auditoriums/assembly halls, and hosted 56 different national conventions of fraternal societies during the St. Louis Fair. A corner suite of rooms were specifically set aside for a general Masonic headquarters, York Rite bodies, and the Order of the Eastern Star. In fact, the entire pavilion was carefully designed so each fraternal group had its own private area, completely separate from the others. The combined Masonic grand lodges and appendant orders eventually gave $15,000 to the project ($432,000 today).

From a communication sent to all Masonic grand lodges by the Temple Association in 1902:
“The Temple of Fraternity to be erected is an adaptation of the Parthenon of Athens, the standard of Greek architecture. It will be 200x300 feet surrounding a court which will be decorated as a tropical garden. It will be two stories high, with porticoes sixteen feet in depth on the exterior and interior, ornamented with Doric columns. Rooms will be set aside in this beautiful structure for all co-operating societies, where they will make their headquarters during the World’s Fair, and maintain a place for rendezvous and refreshment for the members from all parts of the country. The immense porticoes will be free for the use of all. Rooms will also be set aside for reading, writing, smoking, toilet purposes, ladies’ parlors, lounging, etc. Telephone, telegraph and postal service will be supplied, and a check room for parcels, as well as a free dispensary, attended by a board of competent physicians. The site selected for the Temple of Fraternity is one of the most commanding on World’s Fair grounds.”
The Temple of Fraternity was a huge success. The fraternal organizations measurably brought more visitors to the city and Fair than any other group or association. It was even featured on souvenir boxes of cigars sold at the Temple.




When the Fair ended, most pavilions were destroyed. The Temple of Fraternity, however, lived on. It was dismantled and shipped to New Mexico, where it became the administration building for a sanitarium for the treatment of tuberculosis, supported by an association of fraternal organizations.

When plans were underway in 1960 for the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York, the Freemasons of that state had great ambitions, too. U.S. Freemasonry had just peaked in membership in 1958 with 4.1 million members. Little would they know that the fraternity had already begun its long, downward trend in a world that lost its desire to join voluntary social organizations. With great confidence and unbridled optimism, the Grand Lodge of New York erected a pavilion to tell the story of Freemasonry to the millions who came to the Fair. 

Just 60 years after St. Louis, the Masons were the only fraternal group represented at the New York Fair.


From the incredible New York World's fair website:
"The Masonic Center showcased Masonic history and memorabilia going back to medieval times. The Center, which stood across a reflecting pool from a 50-foot high model of the builder's square and compass, symbols of the fraternity, was sponsored by the Grand Lodge of New York. It included a hall for exhibitions, a lounge, office and outside patio. Dominating the hall was an 11-foot high statue, in Masonic regalia, of George Washington, first of 14 American Presidents (till 1964) who belonged to the brotherhood. Events from his life were portrayed in three-diminsional scenes, and the Bible on which he took the oath of office as President was on display. Documents on view dated back to the 14th Century, when the Masons were the cathedral builders of Europe. Among them was a Plan of Union for the colonies written by Mason Benjamin Franklin in 1754."

The three-dimensional scenes discussed above were two diaramas, one depicting General Washington and General Lafayette (both Masons) at Valley Forge; the other showed Washington taking his oath of office in Federal Hall, New York City, as first President of the United States. Also shown was his apron as Master of Alexandria Lodge (Alexandria, Va.), a tuft of Washington's hair, and the Square and Compass which he personally used in laying out the lands of Fairfax County,Va. There were also displays about Governor DeWitt Clinton, Governor and Grand Master of New York; Lewis and Clark;Admiral Byrd; General "Blackjack: Pershing; Will Rogers; and other distinguished Masons in history. A map of the world showing the location of all 112 recognized Grand Lodges was displayed.
The theme of the entire pavilion was "Brotherhood, the Foundation of World Peace."
(You can view the entire souvenir guide book for the Masonic Brotherhood Center HERE)
The monumental structures over the decades that have remained around the world after the fairs themselves have been scraped from the Earth always attract my attention, along with the bright and joyfully optimistic futures each of these fairs always projected - Paris' Eiffel Tower, New York's Unisphere, Seattle's Space Needle, Chicago's Grant Park and Museum of Science & Industry, and many more. But world's fairs themselves were always meant to be temporary, fleeting, making way for ever newer innovations and greater human achievements yet to be celebrated. 


Two items remain today of New York's 1964 Masonic pavilion - the top portion of the tall fiberglass square and compass that stood on the corner of the Fair's Avenue Europe and Avenue of the Americas beckoning visitors now stands in front of the Masonic Home in Utica, New York. 



And the bronze statue of George Washington in Masonic regalia created by the sculptor Donald DeLue stands today on the approximate site of the pavilion in Corona Park, appropriately surrounded by cherry trees. It alone remains in the park today to tell the world that the Masons once were there.

World's fairs were developed and flourished at the dawn of the Industrial Age until they limped to a shadow of themselves by the 1970s. Something changed and we stopped celebrating the dazzling, life-changing achievements of Mankind. 



But I've been back to the New York World's Fair site in Queens as an adult, and it all comes rushing back. That moment of standing under the mighty engine nozzles of the first stage of a Saturn V rocket that would soon propel Man to the Moon and beyond might just as well have happened yesterday, it is so vivid. But, to paraphrase Rod Serling, the optimism and wonders of the fairs have been pushed aside by the flow of progress, the passage of years, and the ferocious travesty of Fate.

G. K. Chesterton once said that the world would never starve for wonders, but only for the want of Wonder. The world is not a better place since civilization lost its sense of wonder and bigger dreams for more magnificent tomorrows. Maybe it's time we Masons took up that mission once again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Masons and Community: County Court Uses Masonic Hall for Jury Duty



by Christopher Hodapp

I spotted an interesting tidbit in the news today that demonstrates how a Masonic lodge can be of unique service to its surrounding community. The Masonic Center in Clinton, Iowa is being leased by the Clinton County Court as a venue for jury pool selection. According to the article on the Clinton Herald website, state and local COVID regulations about social distancing in government venues forced the court to find another, more spread out location for choosing jury pool members. The courthouse could not properly accommodate the required safe distances needed for gathering large groups of people in one space. So, the Brethren of the Clinton Masonic Center came to the rescue.

Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf says the county will lease the space for jury selection at a cost of $400 for each week the county needs the site. The rate includes set up on Friday, storing equipment at the site over the weekend and selecting the jury on Mondays. The actual trials will be held starting Tuesdays in the County Courthouse, as usual.


The Clinton Masonic Center is the home of the Clinton Valley of the Scottish Rite Bodies, York Rite, Western Star Lodge #100, and Emulation Lodge #255. The article doesn't say, but I suspect their 'Red Room' will be the probable location because of its size and horseshoe seating.




In similar news, David Bloomquist on Facebook reports that the Scottish Rite Valley of Lincoln, Nebraska's spacious lodge room is being used for Lincoln and Lancaster County court trials.


And Joe Schumate, Jr. tells me that Denham Springs Lodge #297 in Denham Springs, Louisiana is also being used by their local court system for trials during the COVID pandemic.

The point to be made from this is that the public at large really isn't aware anymore that our buildings have these large, unusually arranged spaces that work out perfectly for trial/jury/spectator uses. It's worth reaching out to your local courts to inform them. Back in the days when we had members from every walk of life, they knew. We have to spread the word now.

Back in the day, our downtown temple's auditorium in Indianapolis was used for swearing in new immigrants. We could be doing that again.


A couple of guys have groused online that $400/day sounded too cheap. It's a token amount, sure, but it'
s $400 more per week than the room was making when it sat empty. Plus, it gets the local Masonic hall back in front of literally hundreds of eyeballs that otherwise knew little or nothing about us. That's more important than anything these days. We will never rebuild this fraternity as long as we are invisible and a forgotten mystery to the community around us.