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


Thursday, April 18, 2024

Man Accused of Vandalising and Setting Fire To Chattanooga Masonic Hall Considers Plea Deal

Kadum Harwood's mugshot from Hamilton County (TN) Sheriff's Dept.

by Christopher Hodapp

Kadum Harwood (age 29) was arrested last September in connection with vandalism and an arson attack on a Masonic Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Harwood has been federally charged with arson, traveling in interstate commerce to carry on arson, and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, the indictment shows. 

According to a story in Wednesday's Chattanooga Times Free Press, Federal prosecutors have apparently offered a plea deal to Harwood. Details haven't been disclosed as yet, but his public defender, J. Damon Burk, filed an unopposed motion Tuesday to continue the case shortly before the federal courts closed. 

In an earlier hearing, he pleaded 'not guilty' to all counts.

Harwood's trial was scheduled to begin May 7th at the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and Courthouse, but Burk has requested the judge grant a 30-day extension so he and his client can more fully study the details.

The affidavit filed at the time of Harwood's arrest provides a few more details in the case (from the WZTV website on September 5th):

The affidavit says the Chattanooga Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at the Chattanooga Masonic Center around 2 a.m. on September 4th.
When crews arrived, the affidavit says they noticed forced entry at the front door as well as 2 separate fires on the property.

The affidavit says one fire was in the shrubs to the left of the front door and the other was in the cafeteria where a podium was set ablaze.

This was all caught on surveillance video, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says the surveillance footage also shows Harwood using a sledge hammer to vandalize several sections on the Masonic Center.

Harwood 'recklessly' discharged a large caliber firearm into the air before leaving, the affidavit says.

The footage shows a blue Toyota SUV at the center, which the affidavit says was know [sic] by police to be driven by Kadum Harwood based on his social media posts.

The affidavit says officers also found social media posts from Harwood of him threatening to "burn the Free Masons building downtown."

For several months before, he had written Facebook posts threatening to burn down local businesses, a fire station, and a Masonic hall. The night of the attack, when police and firefighters arrived at the scene to respond to an alarm, several walls, windows and interior decorations and furnishings had been smashed with a sledgehammer. There were two small fires smouldering, one inside and the other outside. 

Harwood fled the scene and crossed the border into Georgia to evade police. Local police there located him in a hotel near the border, and arrested him.

The Masonic Center is shared by Temple Lodge 430, Chattanooga Lodge 199, John Bailey Nicklin Chapter RAM 49, and Lookout Commandery 14.

Previous related stories

September 4, 2023: Tennessee: Another Masonic Hall Vandalized

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Indiana University Annual Giving Day Raising Money For the Center For Fraternal Collections & Research

by Christopher Hodapp

Three years ago, Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana opened the new Center for Fraternal Collections & Research (CFCR), headed up by Dr. Heather Calloway. The mission of the CFCR is to collect, preserve, and protect objects and ephemera of fraternal and religious groups for study and research in a permanent and accessible collection.

Today, April 17th is #IUDay at Indiana University, and the Center is attempting to raise $10,000.

During the "Golden Age of Fraternalism" from the end of the American Civil War until the Great Depression in 1929, over a thousand different fraternal, ritual-based or "secret societies" formed in the U.S. For too long, American fraternalism wasn't considered to be important enough for respectable historians to investigate. Yet the fraternal movement with its so-called "secret societies" was critical to the building and strengthening of American communities, and every bit as important as churches, political clubs and parties, social activist groups, and other local institutions. Masons, Elks, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Knights of Columbus, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Red Men, Woodmen - these were the most widely known. But there were hundreds and hundreds more.

"Indiana University's CFCR works to collect, preserve, and make accessible historical and cultural materials related to fraternal organizations and their membership, with an emphasis on organizations that are extinct or without stable historical repositories. They promote research into the history of fraternal organizations in service of the university’s teaching, research, and service mission."

                CFCR Board Menber Seth Anthony

These societies epitomized a commitment to community and personal advancement. So many of these once-vibrant fraternities have now slipped into obscurity, putting their rich legacies in jeopardy. But as these organizations merge or shutter their doors, precious records and artifacts face the threat of permanent loss. What becomes of their enduring legacy when these groups fade away?

 The Center for Fraternal Collections & Research provides three types of scholarly support to IU students and faculty, non-IU scholars, and the public:
  • Collecting and stewarding rare fraternal organization materials donated to Indiana University for the sake of scholarly research. 
  • Creating and supporting research related to fraternal studies at the student and faculty scholarly levels.
  • Disseminating research and information related to fraternal studies via public events, academic symposia, exhibitions, media presentations, and publications.

Items donated to the CFCR are unique or rare due to their content, subject, and other special importance; therefore, they're considered special collections. Unfortunately, materials that are not protected with preventative measures will eventually deteriorate. It is their goal to save this history.

Besides camaraderie, the groups often provided insurance benefits, mutual aid, funeral funds and more. These groups weren't just for white, middle-class men or college students – there were societies that supported immigrant and ethnic communities, religious denominations, women, children, even certain professions or occupations, such as traveling salesmen (National Travelers) or logging workers (Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo).

The CFCR is located in the IU Collections, Teaching, Research and Exhibition Center, located in the historic McCalla building on the IU Bloomington campus. Following a $6 million renovation of this one-time elementary school building, the Center now provides a safe, climate controlled facility for collections, plus seven display galleries, meeting areas, and a state-of-the-art media digitization and preservation department, all under one roof. 
Last year, the Center played host to the Scottish Rite Research Society's Fall presentation of papers.

Current generations have little or no understanding of the very existence and importance of these organizations, and too many of their publications, artwork, artifacts and jewelry disappear into the garbage or get melted down for their precious metals. The CFCR is now a welcome and secure repository for the quickly vanishing ephemera of American fraternal history.

So if you're interested in helping to support this new center, CLICK HERE to donate for #IUDay.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Meet, Act & Part Podcast Interviews Indiana PGM Roger S. VanGorden

by Christopher Hodapp

The brethren from the Meet, Act & Part Podcast featured a long chat with Indiana Past Grand Master Roger S. VanGorden several weeks ago (Episode 62: Roger Van Gorden). Roger was my first contact with Indiana Freemasonry (back in 1999, during the Pleistocene Epoch when dinosaurs ruled the Earth), but his involvement with the fraternity goes back to his time as a DeMolay. 

If you don't know Roger (or know OF him), he's currently the Active member of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite NMJ for Indiana, the Magus for the Indiana College of the SRICF, and most important for this particular discussion, president of the Masonic Renewal Committee of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons In North America.

Never heard of the MRC? Well, that's partially something Roger and the Committee are trying to change, to make sure grand officers, lodge leaders, and rank and file Masons DO know who and what they are, and how they are providing programs and information to raise awareness of the fraternity. 

Their Masonic Education Resources page alone is well worth taking the time to go through, as it is a collection of programs, lessons, and other practical information collected from all over the Masonic world. Year after year, grand lodges come up with new programs, oftentimes reinventing the wheel over and over, instead of availing themselves of resources that already exist.

Roger also delves into recent research regarding demographic trends, generational differences, and how they affect Freemasons, in particular. Roger turned me on to Robert Putnam's seminal work, Bowling Alone, more than 20 years ago, and he sees great hope in Putnam's most recent studies, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again.

Give the show a listen. (And BTW, Bill Hosler, get well soon.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Speaking at New York's Pelham Lodge 712 on City Island, April 16

by Christopher Hodapp

Next Tuesday night, April 16th, I'll be speaking at Pelham Lodge 712 on City Island in Bronx, New York. I had originally been scheduled to be here last September, but a decidedly UN-scheduled broken ankle rent everyone's best-laid plans in twain. My thanks go out to the brethren there for their kind understanding and for rescheduling this event.

For those who are so inclined, I should have plenty of books on hand.

Pelham Lodge is in the beautiful Bronx District of the Grand Lodge of New York, and located in the City Island Masonic Temple at 241 City Island Avenue. Dinner will be at 6:30pm, and lodge opens at 7:30pm. Master Masons only for the meeting itself. Please RSVP to Brothers Muñoz or Cuthbert at the numbers listed on the poster.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024


by Christopher Hodapp

Just in case you came to this site wondering if all of us "High-Ranking 33rd Degree Knight Templar Supreme Pontiff Freemasons" got safely transported off the Earth by our reptilian allies during Monday's total solar eclipse, the answer is no. I haven't checked in with members of the Royal family in England yet, but at least stateside, all of us 33rds here somehow managed to survive the ordeal. I realize that if you look at my garage and see the piles of home repair and building supplies, boxes of odds and ends, lawn equipment, unused TVs and refrigerators, old furniture, aging paint cans and mismatched tools, you might think I had been raptured up just as I commenced work on a major remodeling project. But no.

When it comes to the recrudescent rounds of conspiracy theories involving world destruction and the purported involvement of the fraternity of Freemasonry, the eclipse brought out a whole cavalcade of loons, buffoons, kooks, crazies, moonbats, asshats, bedlamites, basket cases and the perennially paranoid, all eagerly panting for updates from the usual gang of infernal, yodeling blowholes who peddle these portentous pronouncements of puerile pish posh as deliberate clickbait. Usually for profit.

RW Cameron Bailey, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Washington (state) had a column on his substack site this week on this very topic. See I'll Send Your Orders In The Morning.

During times like these, I usually find myself whistling the tune of "I've Got My Tinfoil Hat On, Hip-Hip-Hip Hooray."

The trouble with “end o’ the world!” conspiracists is that, sooner or later, they have to be right just once, or their gulled followers might begin to suspect them of crackpottery. The world didn't end after Adam and Eve got their eviction notice for pissing off the Landlord, and it never has ever since that time. So the doomers and gloomies who trot out their 'The End Is Nigh!' sandwich board signs every couple of years just don’t seem to have a winning record.

No, I'm not going to link to any of the daffiest anti-Masonic claims online because I don't want them to benefit from any more undue attention than they have already received. But I did sort of wonder why the Masons, NASA, the entire national security apparatus, Starbucks and The Government™ planned to precisely launch some sort of non-specific "attack" on the citizenry under the cover of momentary darkness, during the few brief minutes of totality. Last I checked, I do believe that the world gets dark for at least 10 or more hours at a stretch, every single night, depending on where you live. Plus, the odds of those usual suspects pulling off some sort of cataclysmic event timed to precisely coincide with just a few minutes of darkness at any point along the shadow's path are astronomical. Neither The Government™ nor the Freemasons have never done anything on time in their lives.

As for me, I haven't had this much to not worry about since Comet Kohoutek, New Coke, the Y2K Virus, and the night I threw away my battered Mayan Calendar.

Nevertheless, I do have to say this linked website from the Butler Eagle newspaper in Pennsylvania provided what is now officially my favorite headline of this festive End Times occasion:

I'm here to blow up the Earth. It obstructs my view of Venus.

It seems the brethren of John E. Mair Masonic Lodge 729 in the Earth-bound borough of Mars, Pennsylvania hosted an eclipse viewing party. Because of the town's astronomical name, a pretty decent sized clot of eclipse watchers poured into the area just so they could say they watched the solar light show from their position on Mars. 

Teaming up with a pair of local businesses, the event included free pizza, soft drinks, Moon Pies (natch) and an ice cream truck. The person showing up with the best solar-themed shirt even won a telescope.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Guthrie Scottish Rite: Backdrop for new Ronald Reagan Movie

Dennis Quaid as Ronald Reagan (Photo: Rawhide Pictures)

by Christopher Hodapp

An article appeared on the Oklahoman news site yesterday announcing that a new biopic of former president Ronald Reagan will be released in August this year.
Reagan is directed by Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer) with a modest budget of $25 million and stars Dennis Quaid as the actor, governor and president. 

For Freemasons, the important news here is that much of the filming took place in and around the Guthrie Scottish Rite Cathedral. 

Guthrie Scottish Rite Cathedral

According to the article, filming took place four years ago, between September and November of 2020, but COVID shutdowns and other issues delayed the final release until this year. The film tracks Reagan's impoverished youth in Illinois, service in the military, his unlikely patch to Hollywood and career as a movie star (making more than 50 pictures between the late 1930s and into the 50s) before entering politics in the 1960s. The John Voight character is a fictional composite of soviet agents who began tracking Reagan when he served as the head of the Screen Actors' Guild and became a fierce opponent of communism. While serving two terms as the 40th U.S. president between 1981 and 1989, Reagan stared down the Soviet Union and its then-president Gorbachov, essentially bringing the post-WWII Cold War to an end.

A few production photos from the shoot:

©Rawhide Pictures

©Rawhide Pictures

©Rawhide Pictures

The script is written by Howard Klausner ('Space Cowboys') and Jonas McCord (2001's "The Body"), based on Paul Kengor's book, 'The Crusader: Reagan and the Fall of Communism.' Director Sean McNamara was brought onto the project after the film's original director, John Avildson (who directed 'Rocky'), died unexpectedly in 2017. 

©Rawhide Pictures

The production team used Guthrie's Scottish Rite Cathedral for its base of operations, and you'll see much of it on screen. Its magnificent interiors were used to recreate the Oval Office and the Situation Room of the White House; several scenes in Cold War-era Soviet Russia; the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub (which was inside of the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood); and Germany's Brandenburg Gate between East and West Berlin, where Reagan famously demanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Reagan's 'Brandenburg Gate' speech in Berlin is
recreated in front of the Guthrie Scottish Rite.
(Photo: ©Rawhide Pictures)

Masonic Buildings As Film Locations

Masons with unique temple rooms and buildings — large and small, old and new — would do well to reach out to their state film commissions, submit detailed photos to them, and offer building tours to their officials on a regular basis. Film commissions have employees who make themselves familiar with potential shooting locations and unique visual attractions in their state so they can effectively answer the requirements of film productions and location scouts. That can translate into money and other benefits to owners of unique properties, including Masonic temples. 

Local economies are given a tremendous boost as well, when a major production comes to town. Oklahoma got picked for this particular film because the state's Film Rebate Program kicks back up to 37 percent of qualified expenditures on productions. According to a 2021 Newsweek article written when the film wrapped production, "Reagan spent 24 days filming in Oklahoma, plus three months of pre- and post-production work, employing 155 locals, not counting a few hundred extras in scenes such as a union strike in the 1940s and the night Reagan won the California governorship in 1966."

Oklahoma's Film Commission has a program whereby a town or community can be labeled as "Film Friendly," and Guthrie qualified for that status. The program educates local officials and business owners about how to roll out the red carpet when major productions come calling.

Fairfax, Oklahoma's Grayhorse Lodge 124 appeared in Martin Scorcese's
Killers of the Flower Moon (2023).

Not far from Guthrie, Grayhorse Lodge 124 in Fairfax, Oklahoma got used for scenes in Martin Scorcese's 2023 film Killers of the Flower Moon. In return, their lodge room got painted and other upgrades were added when the film crew came to town.

The George Washington National Masonic Memorial 
subbed for the Smithsonian in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

When the 2007 film National Treasure 2 was shot in and around Washington, DC, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial stood in for a lecture hall and display area in the Smithsonian Institute. The Scottish Rite SJ's House of the Temple headquarters, also in Washington, was the location for 2009's State of Play with Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren. The Grand Executive Director's office became a congressman's office, a political speech was shot on the front steps, while several other scenes were shot in seemingly mundane hallways and corridors. Location fees helped fund some major repairs to the building. (Thanks for the info, Brent.)

Whether you recognized it or not, the United Grand Lodge of England's magnificent art-deco Freemasons Hall on Great Queen Street in London has been used in movies and TV shows for decades. Freemasons Hall is very well known to UK film crews. The producers of the 1930s-era Poirot TV series with David Suchet as the Belgian detective seemed to be especially in love with the place, and it appeared in many episodes as wildly different locales. Just a few examples of its many on-screen appearences can be read about HERE and HERE.

While our most magnificent 'City Beautiful'-era buildings can stand in for government buildings, court houses, universities, theaters, museums and other monumental buildings of the past, that's not always what location scouts are hunting. Sometimes they're simply seeking out very simple locations that can be used for multiple settings, which can allow them to spend less moving time between sequences. Back when our company shot TV commercials, my own lodge's humble dining room stood in for a typical "church basement" meeting sequence, while our commercial-grade kitchen was the setting for recreating the kitchen of a fancy restaurant later the same day.

BTW, In Case You're Wondering...

President Ronald Reagan was NOT a Freemason. On February 11, 1988, the Grand Master of Washington, D.C. presented Reagan with a "Certificate of Honor". Both the Scottish Rite Northern and Southern jurisdictions presented him with a similar certificate, as did the Shriners, and they named him an "honorary member" (which confers no degrees and has no serious Masonic standing). But all of these were merely documents citing his commitment to charity, fortitude, temperance and prudence, and thanking him for his public service. 

Fourteen out of the last 46 U.S. Presidents have been verifiably Freemasons, and only 13 have been Master Masons. (The name missing from that list at the link is Lyndon Johnson, who was initiated in a Texas lodge as an Entered Apprentice, but never advanced further.)

President Gerald R. Ford, who succeeded Richard Nixon in the wake of his resignation over the Watergate scandal in 1974, is currently the last American president who ever held Masonic membership. He was initiated in Grand Rapids along with his three half-brothers: Thomas Gardner Ford, Richard Addison Ford, and James Francis "Jim" Ford on September 30, 1949, at Malta Lodge No. 465, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two years later he completed the second degree on April 20, 1951, in Columbia Lodge No. 3 Washington, D.C., and was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in the same lodge on May 18 of that year. He was also a Scottish Rite Mason in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and a Shriner in Saladin Temple in Kentwood, Michigan. Ford was made a 33° Scottish Rite Mason and Honorary member of the Supreme Council AASR, NMJ in 1962.

As an adolescent, Bill Clinton belonged to a DeMolay chapter in Arkansas, but never pursued Masonic membership. No U.S. president since then has had any official association with the Masonic fraternity.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Grand Lodge of Cuba Votes To Expel Sitting Grand Master Mario Carreño

by Christopher Hodapp

On Sunday, the assembled brethren of the Gran Logio de Cuba de AL&AM (Grand Lodge of Cuba) voted to expel their sitting Grand Master, Mario Alberto Urquía Carreño. From the HavanaLive website translated from 14YMedio.com on March 24th:

(Havana) The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba, Mario Alberto Urquía Carreño, has been expelled by the representatives of more than 300 lodges on the Island, shouting “Out with a thief, usurper, scoundrel, traitor.” The events occurred on Sunday, when Urquía, who continued to hold office after the controversial theft of $19,000 from his office, was preparing to preside over the semi-annual session of the Masonic Upper House.

The information, reported by CubaNet, was confirmed to 14ymedio this Monday by Ángel Santiesteban, a 33rd degree Mason – the highest step in the order’s hierarchy – and an independent journalist, who could not attend the event but knows the facts.

In his opinion, whoever succeeds the Grand Master – predictably the Deputy Grand Master, Gerardo Cepero Díaz, critical of Urquía – will stop the interference of State Security in the lodge, something that leaves room for optimism.

The Freemasons considered that Urquía was illegally carrying out the position, since on January 25th he was expelled by the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree for the Republic of Cuba for his alleged “betrayal.”

A witness to what happened this Sunday told CubaNet that the Grand Master refused to leave the room, but he had to do so due to the almost unanimous demand of the representatives of the lodges.

“There was a lot of indignation accumulated over the actions of the Grand Master. “He came out saying that he would call the Registry of Associations (of the Ministry of Justice) to complain, but they have no authority here,” he said.

“That had never happened in Cuban Freemasonry,” he added, “not the painful aftermath of the robbery, nor the blatant interference of State Security, nor the expulsion of an acting Grand Master. “Today is the day of shame, the day in which Cuban Freemasons demonstrate our autonomy and integrity.”

The Grand Lodge had expelled Urquía for his “punishable and intentional” conduct, despite the fact that his responsibility in the theft of the money – which belonged to the Llansó National Masonic Asylum, in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo – is still being investigated. 

The Supreme Council then considered that his “entrenchment” was, in addition, leaving as a consequence a “major Masonic schism in the national territory.”

Urquía continued to cling to the position, despite the rejection of a large majority of Freemasons, some of whom had asked the United States to eventually deny him possible entry into the country for “being an active collaborator of the intelligence agencies of the regime of Cuba”.

This was stated by a Freemason residing in Colombia, Pompilio Portuondo, on his Facebook account, where he added the names of some alleged “collaborators.”

“Gradually we will continue to bring to light more names of people who are collaborating with Mario Alberto Urquia and all the HH (brothers) who in one way or another have hidden, supported, or support Mr. Mario Alberto Urquia Carreño in the next session of the Masonic Upper Chamber of the Grand Lodge on Sunday, March 24.

We will expose it to the knowledge of the entire international community and especially in the United States so that they are denied entry as agents of the regime,” he said.

According to CubaNet, once Urquía’s departure was achieved, and under the transitional presidency of the former Grand Master, Ernesto Zamora, all the Decrees that Urquía had formed after January 25 to date were challenged, “including those in which he sent to the Court to those who had confronted him.”

It remains to be known what will happen to José Ramón Viñas Alonso, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the 33rd degree, who was expelled from Freemasonry for seven years by a ruling by the Supreme Court of Masonic Justice of Cuba on Thursday, February 22.

His “punishment” was interpreted by many as revenge by Urquía Carreño against Viñas, for having reported the theft of the $19,000 in dispute.

F.O.B.s (Friends O' Brent) Meet Up in Central Indiana

by Christopher Hodapp

We Indiana Masons have the good fortune that author, editor, researcher, statistician, magician and Brother, Illus. S. Brent Morris, 33°, has family here in Brownsburg. That means once or twice a year, Brent and his bride Jocelyn wing their way here from their lavish manse in Maryland to visit for a few days, which lets us arrange for a lunch and to spend some time together. 

Here we are posing yesterday with our traditional mascot, just in case some so-called Masonic "expert" told you there are no goats in Freemasonry. Only a Complete Idiot would believe that. LtoR: Nathan Brindle, some bearded Dummy, Dave Hosler, Jim Dillman, Brent Morris and Heather Calloway. 

Missing today were Roger VanGorden and John Bridegroom who usually accompany us.

A photo (below) from last year's FOB gathering (otherwise known surreptitiously as the Brotherhood of the Goat; but don't tell anyone).

Monday, March 18, 2024

Guthrie, Oklahoma Scottish Rite Spring Reunion April 5-7

by Christopher Hodapp

The Guthrie, Oklahoma Valley of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite - SJ has one of the most magnificent Masonic buildings in the U.S., and they are understandably proud of their architectural treasure. But Guthrie also is renowned for its outstanding presentations of the complete AASR Southern Jurisdiction’s Pike-derived rituals of the 4th-32nd degrees.

Their Spring 2024 Reunion will be held April 5-7th. Registration opens Friday at 7AM, and the opening ceremonies will begin at 8AM. (Click the schedule below to enlarge.)

If you’re an existing Scottish Rite member in either the NMJ or SJ, don’t miss the opportunity to experience these degrees as they were meant to be staged, in person, in this beautiful temple, and in full pageantry. If you’re not a member and you are a recognized Master Mason in Guthrie’s jurisdiction, contact them directly and ask about membership.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

One Score, Five Years and a Couple of Days Ago...

by Christopher Hodapp

On Thursday night, Worshipful Brother Nathan Brindle and I were given our commemorative 25-year pins by the Master, officers and brethren of Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in Indianapolis. I guess the whole city was in on this event—just about the time we got pinned, the Civil Defense klaxon out in the lodge parking lot belted out a one-note fanfare for five solid minutes, followed by a half-hour of spectacular Stürm und Drang-like thunder and lightening. All that was missing was the accompaniment of Thus Sprach Zarathustra on the Wurlitzer.

Why is it I can never find a comb when I need one?
Nathan, on the other hand, NEVER needs one.

So. One score, five years and a couple of days ago... 

It was a Saturday in 1999, and two days short of the 'Ides of March' when Nathan and I were passed to the degree of Fellow Craft, and raised as Master Masons at an 'All Degree Day' at Calvin W. Prather Lodge 717 on Haverstick Road in Indianapolis. 

I remember the day. Vividly. Just as every Freemason remembers his raising.

(This is where the picture suddenly goes all spooky and wavy, accompanied by the sweeping strumming of a harp, heralding the coming of a flashback.)

•   •   •

The surprise cake at my 40th birthday party in 1998 was a bit premature -
my EA degree would come later that week. But friends were already in on it.

Forty is a huge bellwether as life boundaries go. For the first time in my life, I had just bought my first Chrysler (deemed the Official Automaker to the Elderly back in the 80s and 90s), and it had two sets of golf clubs in the trunk, which was spacious enough to conceal several bodies. I had just been prescribed my first high blood pressure pills and found a gray hair in sprouting in my beard. A Midlife Crisis was certain to happen at any second. And so I joined the Masons. I later found out that 40 is almost exactly the average age at which most Masons have historically decided to join. 

Except for Nathan's balding pate, we looked enough 
alike in 1998 that Masons who couldn't remember which was which 
just referred to us interchangeably as Brindapp.

I had originally contacted the Grand Lodge of Indiana seeking membership through its website—one of only five US grand lodges that had such a newfangled thing at the time. The face behind the website answering these early Internet requests turned out to be RW Roger S. VanGorden, who would become Grand Master in 2002-03. He was also a Past Master of Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in Indianapolis. 

(Note: My lodge's odd name comes from a wide hook-shaped bend in the nearby White River that encircles this northside Indianapolis village; hence, 'a broad ripple.' It started life as a weekend holiday area, with an amusement park and boating on the river, but soon became one of the city's first true suburbs in the early 20th century. Today, Broad Ripple Village is loaded with restaurants, shops and nightclubs, and the recent addition of hundreds of new apartments.) 

Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in 1998.

Unbeknownst to us, Roger had a reason to point me and Nathan in Ripple's direction. Quite simply, Broad Ripple Lodge was a mess. They'd lost members and officers, current officers weren't doing their jobs properly (or at all), their 200 members were staying away in droves, their finances were a wreck, and the Grand Master was about to name a special deputy to investigate and find out "What in hell goes on at Broad Ripple??!!" They needed all the help they could get. So he sent us there. 

My initiation as an Entered Apprentice at Ripple came just three days after my birthday, and Nathan followed in January. For our Entered Apprentice degrees, Ripple had put out a distress call to other lodges for assistance in filling parts and giving the lectures. By the January meeting, there was a whole new slate of elected officers—many of them young and quite new to the fraternity—but the lodge still never could find enough of its own members to complete our FC and MM degrees. Meanwhile, the Grand Lodge special deputy delivered the news that the Grand Master was within an inch of yanking their charter from the wall. In the coming months, five of the lodge officers resigned, left town, or just disappeared. 

Already by February, Nathan and I were getting nervous about Ripple's future. We began visiting nearby Calvin Prather Lodge 717 for their Saturday breakfasts and got to know their officers, just in case we needed to find a different lodge. They seemed popular, stable, and they were the home lodge of the Grand Master in 2000, Robert E. Hancock. We figured at least THIS lodge wouldn't lose its charter anytime soon.

Then one Saturday morning, Prather's Past Master Cliff Lewis mentioned that GM Hancock was experimenting with the notion of "one day classes," wherein a group of initiates could experience the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees all together. He suggested we ask Broad Ripple to participate in that event so that at least we'd be able to finally complete our FC and MM degrees. He also mentioned that Broad Ripple's WB Donald C. Seeley was one of the finest ritualists in town when it came to the Worshipful Masters' parts. And so, that was our solution.

Former temple of Calvin Prather Lodge 717

It was a very long day for all involved, as Don insisted that his two Broad Ripple candidates (the two of us) would each have our MM work done individually, all the way through, and not as part of the large group of Prather's candidates—that was his pound of flesh, in return for conferring all of the degrees that day. He would sit in the East and go through the entire Master Mason degree separately for me, then for Nathan, and then all over again for a third time for the other candidates in a bunch. The Prather organizers grumpily agreed, because they didn't have anyone at the time nearly as proficient as Don to replace him. So Nathan and I became sort of one-day degree hybrids—we took the FC as a group, but our MM's separately.

I despise the term, but if one day classes make "McMasons," 
then Nathan and I were special grill orders.

A family friend of many years, Richard Finch, who hadn't been inside of a Masonic lodge for a very long time, made it a point to be there for me that day. It was amazing how many of my parents' friends turned out to be Freemasons, something I wasn't aware of until after I joined. So, too, were countless men I had admired as a child and a teenager. I would discover so many of them to be brethren decades after first encountering them. Most Masons will tell you the very same thing.

•   •   •

Prather's old lodge building in the Nora area of Indianapolis (actually their third home) is gone today, but the lodge still thrives on the city's east side. 

Gone, too, is James Lindsey, who had only been a Mason for a few months, but acted as the Senior Deacon for the day. 

So is Dave Bosworth, who cooked breakfast and gave all of us candidates crash courses in Masonic education between the breaks. He was actually the Grand Lodge Special Deputy who investigated Broad Ripple Lodge, and we became good friends for the next few years until his death.

PGM Bob Hancock
So is the gregarious Grand Master Robert E. Hancock (photo), who was promoting this one-day class program at the time, along with a lot of other 'crazy ideas,' to the chagrin of many disgruntled Indiana Masons. Little things like requiring business meetings to be opened on the EA degree so all lodge members could attend and participate. Reasonable outreach to invite honorable, worthy men to join instead of just hoping they would ask someday. Encouraging more mutual cooperation with Prince Hall brethren. And once a lodge meeting was closed, reopening the Bible at all times to the passage, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." He was right on so many things, yet the rank and file despised him for it at the time. ("Geez. Opening on the EA degree means ALL of our officers have to attend a stated meeting, AND it adds almost 5 minutes to the opening and closing! That's outrageous!") Every single one of his proposals that year was voted down by the grand lodge membership. And then, ironically, so many of those very same practices came to fruition in our grand lodge, after he was gone. 

"A prophet is without honor in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house..."

Gone, too, is WB David King, Prather's oldest living Past Master at the time. He had been the general contractor back in the 70s who had helped bring Prather's Nora building in for half of its estimated building cost. David gave the Middle Chamber lecture so movingly that day, so perfectly, and with such demonstrable understanding of the words of that long and complex ritual. I was astonished throughout the degree to hear it for the first time that afternoon. 
I was even more shocked to discover afterwards that David had gone almost completely blind at that point in his life, yet he led us through those 'winding stairs' to the Middle Chamber because he had done it with so many Masons before us. 

So is Ripple's then-Secretary Jerry Cowley, the ever cheerful, always optimistic, always outgoing promoter, defender and champion of Broad Ripple Lodge, who greeted every petitioner like a long-lost relative and was a constant fountain of suggestions to keep members coming back to lodge. Nothing ever phased him, and he was always the first to volunteer. Jerry made sure that the rest of us understood that we are all connected to each other, and to never stop inviting and welcoming every Mason we met, to remind ourselves and each other just what this fraternity is supposed to be about. When our lodge was teetering on closing, he always found a way to involve other lodges' members in our activities to shore us up until we could fix ourselves. And as we rebuilt, those very same visitors wound up enjoying our lodge even more than their own, often transferring to us, or becoming dual members. And that wouldn't have happened without Jerry.

So is our then-Treasurer Irv Sacks, the wise old Jewish uncle I never had, and whose warm humor and counsel I valued to the very end. Irv had the unique ability to gently stop arguments, or to encourage brand new members to try new programs and solutions while slipping in just the right amount of advice and caution, followed by a hilarious story.

So is Ripple's then-Senior Steward 'Big John' Gillis, whose sonorous, folksy voice the whole city of Indianapolis knew from his many years on radio stations WIBC and WNAP, often giving traffic reports from a helicopter high above the city. How shocked I was when it was him who appeared with his lavish mustache and lamb chop sideburns to "propound three important questions" to me!

Past Master Don Seeley is gone, too. I really never believed that would happen—he will be King Solomon for all eternity in my mind's eyes and ears, and each time I experience the degrees, it's his voice I always hear. During the MM degree, when a particular aspect of our obligation is demonstrated and explained, Don would look into a candidate's eyes, then softly say, as he turned and gestured to every single Mason in the room, "...and I will inform you, my Brother... That every. Single. Master. Mason... Is under a like obligation... To YOU." With such simple inflections and mannerisms, suddenly the weight and import and meaning of the fraternity's core teachings all became so clear, so embodied in that one, simple message.

And my old family friend Richard Finch is gone, too. He was maybe hardest of all, because Dick and his family have been part of my family for more than 50 years now. Because of our connection as Masonic brothers, I found myself standing in a remote southwest Pennsylvania churchyard five years ago, surrounded by members of his family and my own, beside a group of local Masons, where we laid him to rest beneath the silent clods of the valley.

fully realize that this sounds to outsiders and to younger men like a long, maudlin dirge of the dead—a cut-rate Hamlet despairing over a whole bowling team of deceased Yoricks. It might sound to the uninitiated that Freemasonry is little more than a slow march to the graveyard. Or the tar pit. Or both. But it's quite the contrary. 

Freemasonry teaches us to live and celebrate each day as if it were our very last one, to learn from, give to, and cherish each other, young and old. To build instead of tear down. To put aside whatever petty nonsense divides us as individuals, and instead unite to become something larger and better than ourselves. To learn from each other's differences and similarities, and to celebrate those differences, instead of recoiling from them, or branding each other as enemies. To leave the world a better place than we found it. Apart from houses of worship, there aren't a lot of institutions left in the world trying to keep that mission alive. 

But the big difference between a church and a Masonic lodge is that religion concerns itself with the afterlife and the disposition of the soul, while Freemasonry is concerned with mankind's life right here on Earth, gently teaching its members to be a better father, son, brother, husband, neighbor, worker or teacher. A better man than he might have otherwise been had he never knocked on a lodge door.

•   •   •

As for the rest of the story? After Broad Ripple continued to hemorrhage officers in 1999, Roger Vangorden would step in at the last second to be Worshipful Master in 2000. In case you're one of those Masons who sneers at 'One-Day McMasons' for being lazy underachievers, I was elected as Roger's Senior Warden, just over a year after my EA degree, and Nathan his Junior Warden. I became Master in 2001, just two years after my initiation, and Nathan followed the year after, during the first half of Roger's term as Grand Master. We were charter members when Lodge Vitruvian 767 opened Under Dispensation in 2001, becoming Indiana's first 'European observant-styled' lodge. Nathan served as Secretary for both lodges, and I'd become Vitruvian's third-serving Master in 2005. Grand Master Richard J. Elman recommended me to the For Dummies people to write a book about the Freemasons in November of 2004, and I'd serve as Master of Vitruvian in 2005. Nathan would eventually serve as Secretary of at least seven Masonic organizations, and became an active officer in the Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite. And we've done a couple of other things here and there since then. 

And Broad Ripple Lodge? It would soon become one of the top lodges in the state when it came to activities, stability, proficiency, and creating lifelong friendships among its members. Less than five years after we almost lost our charter, the state's Grand Lecturer said at our Lodge of Instruction that he'd absolutely place Broad Ripple Lodge among the best he'd ever inspected, and enjoyed visiting more than any other. So maybe joining at its worst made us all stronger, more determined to get it right. 

That's because we had great role models to learn from. 

The lodge room that day back at Prather in 1999 was packed with Masons of all ages. And lots of them went on to remain active and to become leaders in the fraternity in the coming years. But it was a function of the demographics of a fraternity of mature men who overwhelmingly did as I did, and didn't join until their 40s and later. Yes, there were plenty of young men that day, but the wise, older Past Masters who were running the show had more than twenty years of Masonic experience on me then. And it's a full quarter of a century later now. Prather's Past Master Cliff Lewis tells me he will soon receive his 50 year pin, yet he looks to me just as he did at that breakfast so long ago.

My friend, WB Jeff Naylor once lamented, “When you're young, all you ever want to be is older. No one ever explains that the price you pay for that is in the numbers of people you lose who were important in your life.”

And yet, with all of those friends and brothers who were there that day now gone, you would think this is some maudlin, weepy lament over the past. It's not. 
Each of us is the sum total of our experiences and those who shaped our character. Every single one of those men taught me important lessons about Masonry, and people, and life itself. Lessons I never would have learned in a hundred years on my own without men like them, and countless others. 

The central metaphor of Freemasonry is its very premise. Each one of us is capable of being a Temple to God, and we choose to make our ourselves worthy or not. But that Temple isn't built by us alone. It's built, stone by stone, with the help of all those around us, everyone we encounter. Especially Brother Masons, fellow craftsmen engaged in building, not tearing down.

Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry has been the greatest life-changing experience of my 65 years on Earth, and I say that without exaggeration. In 25 years of membership, I have traveled all over the world and met and gotten to know quite literally thousands of men from every walk of life. Every sort of profession. Every economic level. Every race, color, nationality, education, personality, temperament, religion, and every other brand of classification humans beings cook up to categorize and file away strangers we normally don't know or would never otherwise associate with on a bet. Those tribal distinctions that we all arbitrarily use to ignore the people around us are meaningless when it comes to basic human coexistence. That's what being "on the level" is all about, which has been one of the primary principles of Freemasonry from its very beginning.

That 'Undiscovered Country from whose bourn no traveler returns' always seems just out of reach—as Hamlet said, it "puzzles the will." None of us need be in any hurry to actually get there. But such an amazing journey it has all been so far, with the greatest crowd of traveling companions it's ever been my privilege to know. As Cunard used to advertise its shipboard vacations, "Getting there is half the fun!"

I can't wait to see what comes next. Check in with me in 2049, when I get my 50 year pin. I'll only be 90 by then. Perhaps I'll be less inclined to ramble. But don't bet on it.