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


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Pennsylvania Grand Master Reacts to Fox Nation's Freemason Program

by Christopher Hodapp

The Right Worshipful Grand Master of Pennsylvania, Jeffrey M. Wonderling, has posted a message on Facebook following the airing of the Fox Nation streaming network's program, Freemasons: A Society of Secrets with Tom Shillue. The show premiered this week, featuring interviews with Grand Master Wonderling, Pennsylvania Mason Salmon Sheikh, and Scottish Rite SJ's Grand Archivist, Arturo De Hoyos.

(NOTE: Many Masons have been commenting online without actually having seen the whole program, and several have seen only a 2- or 5-minute promo for it that's laden with all the conspiratorial comments they could manage to squeeze in. The complete 25-minute show can ONLY be seen with a subscription to FoxNation.)

It's enormously frustrating to sit and talk on camera for an hour or more with an interviewer, only to have a total of two or three minutes appear in the show – if that. From the tenor of his note below, it would appear that this was the GM's first experience with a media interview, and he was less than enthused with the result:

Foxnation is airing a piece on Freemasonry. I was interviewed at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia in June and the 25 minute piece was released yesterday. I understand it was on Fox News nationally this morning. The piece Tom Sillhue and their crew put together is the same old, same old, talking about the “conspiracy theories”, “new world order” and “cultism”. My friends, if were (sic) any of the above were true and we were in control, the World would mirror our integrity and values, and be a much better place. Tom didn’t mention that we kneel before GOD and stand for the flag. He didn’t mention that you must be able to be trusted with our wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, and wallets to gain admission into our organization. He didn’t mention the 2 million dollars PER DAY we contribute various charities in the USA that in no way benefits our organization. He didn’t mention that you must have a servant’s heart to gain admission.

Can you guess why?


It may also be important to note that a member of the production crew who saw the 90% of the interview you didn’t see asked for direction on petitioning a Long Island NY Lodge.

Respectfully submitted,

After having been in more than a few of these types of programs over the last two decades or so, I sympathize with the Grand Master. 

Permit me an illustrative anecdote. The very first History Channel show I was in was about the so-called 'secrets of the founding fathers.' At one point, the offscreen interviewer asked me an offhanded question about the history of England's infamous Hellfire Club in the 1700s, a topic I was totally unprepared to discuss at the time. He wanted to know if I knew anything about Ben Franklin being a member, but I really didn't. And I told him so.

"Wow, the Hellfire Club. I actually don't know that much detail about them, apart from the basics. You know, Sir Francis Dashwood and his buddies, dressing up like monks, getting blasted on weekends, and running a creepy sex club down in some cave under his mansion..." 

And that was the end of it.

When the show aired six months later, the Hellfire Club part of the show began with creepy lettering, creepy photos, creepy music, and a creepy announcer giving creepy narration. Suddenly out of nowhere, they cut to a shot of me saying just three words: 

"Creepy sex club."

Not even a full sentence. A sentence fragment. I wasn't entirely surprised, because I'd been a film editor for much of my adult life. I even try very hard with these interviews to talk in short, complete sentences instead of the usual pause-filled, comma-laden, run-on sentences that end in a different zip code which normally characterize my conversations. (Rambling answers are deadly in video and audio interviews.) But even that didn't protect me from the editor.

Creepy sex club? Three words? Seriously?

Unfortunately, the reaction of lots of Masons online today immediately took on the usual reflexive partisan venom that characterizes so much of anti-social media conversations these days on Twitbook, Facegram and Instatwit: "Whaddya expect from Fox News? Only an idiot would talk to those clowns! They're in cahoots with the far-right conspiracy mongers!" Etcetera, etcetera, et.al. They hate the messenger, so there's no reason to actually watch it, because it must be trash.


Rest assured: History, AHC, Discovery, PBS, NPR, CNN, MSNBC – every one of them has done the very same thing. And the print world is no better. The NY Times and the Wall Street Journal have reduced hour-long interviews with me to a single sentence in superficial Masonic stories (and I promise, we're not special). By the way, just to answer a point that several brethren have tried to bring up, no news organization is ever likely to let you see the final edit of a program before it airs, and NO ONE is going to let you have final approval of their edit.

Admittedly, one possible lapse in judgement was in not being familiar with the interviewer's past work – Tom Shillue thinks he's a laugh riot, so all of his interviews have an air of sarcasm to them, not serious curiosity or even a desire to inform. It's kind of like watching a bad Catskills comic giggle while telling his own jokes because he knows the punch lines and just can't contain himself.

But in fairness to the program itself, Art DeHoyos actually did get the $2 million a day figure into the show, and the Grand Master is being much too hard on himself. Overall, the show did no harm, the three brethren onscreen were perfectly fine spokesmen for the fraternity. The GM's remark that "Masons stand for the flag and kneel before God" was an incredibly succinct way to diffuse allegations that we are somehow secret traitors and Satan worshipers. Brother Sheikh talking about being a Muslim Mason was ultimately an effective shorthand for explaining our religious diversity in a positive way. Art proved that a Catholic rosary wouldn't burst into flames if a Mason held it in his hand. And Tom Shillue clearly demonstrated why he can't get a better gig than an occasional, obscure Fox Nation assignment that few will actually watch.

There are lots of Masons who criticize brethren who appear in TV and print interviews, saying the world was a better place back in the days when Masons shut the hell up in public and kept the whole fraternity mysterious. But the reason why Masons like Art, Brent Morris, Akram Elias, myself and others agree to be on these programs is because if we don't, the producers will find someone else who may not be as enthusiastic or truthful about the fraternity. The world has enough disgruntled, and downright angry, former Masons with a bone to pick against their former brethren, or who nurse a desire to present us in the worst possible light. Notorious conspiracy peddler Alex Jones has spent two decades making up absurdities about Freemasonry, and he got plenty of air time for a long while dishing nonsense until producers finally figured out his lucrative motives. (You might have seen him several years back manage to get cast members of Brad Meltzer's Decoded arrested on camera after sneaking them onto the property of the Bohemian Grove, then fleeing before cops could collar him.)

Dr. David Staples served as the CEO, Grand Secretary, and chief spokesman for the United Grand Lodge of England for several years, and he was quite forceful about demanding fair and honest coverage of the fraternity by the media, answering every critical story immediately, and doing his level best to take back control of the narrative. You might recall his '#Enough Is Enough' campaign in the light of a wave of anti-Masonic stories in the press.

The truth today is that we are now almost three generations away from when a typical man's father or grandfather was a Freemason. The combination of time, smaller and smaller families, fatherless households, the generational loss of respect for longstanding institutions, the plunging rates of believers in organized religious traditions, unstable adult careers, and the growing isolation of men working in an online environment with little or no personal contact – all of this and more has broken the traditional ways Freemasonry was historically passed from one generation to the next. We're not special — all voluntary associative organizations have taken a painful spear to the gut in a straight-line decline now for 60+ years. So when the media gives us a chance to beat on the coffin lid and let the world know who and what we are, we have got to seize that opportunity when we can, and communicate our story within the confines of their storytelling. Or make our own.

So, kudos to the Brethren who appeared in the Fox Nation program for answering the call and presenting us in a positive light on camera. If it piques the interest of even a single man in every state enough to knock on the door of a lodge, it was a resounding success.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Fox Nation Network Premieres 'Freemasons - A Society of Secrets'

by Christopher Hodapp

The Fox Nation streaming service today premiered a new 30-minute program, Freemasons: A Society of Secrets, featuring Fox personality (and barbershop quartet singer) Tom Shillue.

The show features interviews with Pennsylvania Brother Salmon Sheikh and Grand Master Jeff Wonderling at the Philadelphia Masonic Temple, and Grand Archivist Arturo DeHoyos at the Scottish Rite SJ's House of the Temple. 

(Curiously, either the time period was too short or the editors didn't think it was important to point out just what the Scottish Rite is and how it's different from the local lodge brand of Masonry, so the audience is left baffled about Masonry and Supreme Commanders and the House of the Temple's sanctum of its Temple Room.)

It's mostly benign, superficial ('C'mon, show me the handshake!'), and apart from a brief attempt to gin up a little controversy over Brother Sheikh's short period of resignation over anti-Muslim insults in his first lodge, the show ultimately does no harm. 

Not really worth signing up for a month of Fox Nation just to see this one, but it's at least good natured. Or to borrow the expression from the Encyclopaedia Galactica, "mostly harmless."

Friday, August 12, 2022

Indiana Grand Lodge Vault Yields Buried Treasure

by Christopher Hodapp

On Thursday, Indiana Past Grand Master Mike Brumback let it slip that he had the combination to the massive Grand Lodge vault in the basement of Indiana Freemasons Hall. Such a revelation could not go unchallenged, and when he opened it, sure enough, it yielded up treasures. 

Treasures, at least, for history nerds.

The room somehow seemed to have escaped any flooding over the years. It's packed with hundreds of printed copies of old Indiana annual proceedings, but it looks like the last things put inside were in 2012. 

The paw prints of Dwight L. Smith are evident. At some point on or before the GL's 150th anniversary in 1968-69, Dwight had apparently put out the word that he wanted to collect and protect copies or originals of the oldest physical documents he could find from lodges around the state. 
There's an entire shelf of early 19th century handwritten minute books with notes inside stating they had been microfilmed by the Indiana Historical Society in 1969. 

In the top photo by Bill Sassman, Mike and I peer into the Grand Lodge December 24, 1838 handwritten minutes. They were written by then-Grand Secretary Abraham Harrison, and probably not been looked since at least the 1960s, and likely even before that. 

GL used to meet twice a year, and this was just fifteen years after the City of Indianapolis was created in the wilderness. They used to meet the day before Christmas (I'll bet wives were thrilled over that) and then a second time in May. The minutes noted that the May meeting was to be held on the Thursday before the General Assembly convened (since many of our early members were also part of state government).

These minutes also predate the first purpose-built Masonic hall in the city by about thirteen years. They were usually meeting in the public room of a local inn and tavern, Blake and Henderson's Washington Hall, which was also the usual meeting spot for Centre Lodge 23, the first Masonic lodge chartered in the new capital city. 

Indiana's first official Grand Lodge Masonic Hall was finally built in 1850 and opened the next year. It would be deliberately built on the corner of Washington and Tennessee (now Capitol Avenue), diagonally from the statehouse. Before the Masons even moved in, we turned the use of the hall over to the State of Indiana to use for the delegates to the constitutional convention who were writing the new Indiana State Constitution at the beginning of 1851. The statehouse across the street was too small to accommodate both the General Assembly and the convention at the same time.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Reading, Pennsylvania Scottish Rite Cathedral Damaged By Fire

by Christopher Hodapp

West Reading fire officials are investigating a suspicious overnight blaze at the Scottish Rite Valley of Reading, Pennsylvania. The Scottish Rite Cathedral suffered extensive smoke damage from the fire that was confined to the lobby. It is currently being investigated as arson.

According to a story in the Reading Eagle by reporter Steven Henshaw, West Reading police and fire departments were dispatched at 1:20 a.m. Tuesday to the Cathedral at 430 S. Seventh Avenue when smoke was spotted pouring out of several windows. The fire was located in the west end of the lobby, and most of the furniture was ablaze when fire fighters arrived.

Thankfully, there were no injuries, but damage to the Cathedral is expected to be significant. 
According to WB Seth Anthony, the fire fortunately did not reach the offices or the Children's Dyslexia Center.

The Reading Scottish Rite's lobby before the fire 
{Photo from their website)

The Scottish Rite Valley of Reading was established in 1906. Their current Cathedral was built in phases, beginning in 1983 and completed in 1988. The auditorium seats 1,300, and it is an important venue in the community for theatrical presentations, music, seminars, and community events like high school graduations.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call West Reading police at 610-373-0111 and talk to Criminal Investigator Karie Good.

Photos: Bill Uhrich for the Reading Eagle
H/T to WB Seth Anthony - alas, this is his home Valley.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Only 3 Days Left to Enter Pennsylvania's Grand Lodge Art Exhibition!

by Christopher Hodapp

Masonic artist Ryan J. Flynn

by Christopher Hodapp

Calling all Masonic artists! Deadline is this Thursday!

The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is sponsoring the Grand Exhibition Art Competition: Embodying Masonic Values.

According to the Call For Entries posted in May, all artwork entries must display a visual interpretation of some aspect of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, whether it be philosophical, historical, scientific, social, fraternal, charitable, architectural, etc. Selected artwork will be exhibited in the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia.

This competition is open to any artist over 18 years of age, and membership in the Masonic fraternity is not required. Deadline for submissions is Thursday, August 11, 2022.

All artwork entries must display a visual interpretation of some aspect of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, whether it be philosophical, historical, scientific, social, fraternal, charitable, architectural, etc. Selected artwork will be exhibited in the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia.

Any amateur or professional artist or college art student may enter, but all will be judged as equals for competition purposes. Artists must be at least 18 years of age. All submissions must be original; they may have been created within the past two years and may have been previously exhibited. No work previously produced on a commission will be accepted. All submissions must be available for purchase.

Oil, Three-dimensional, Drawing and Print-making, Water-Based Medium, Digital Imagery


$200 Prize per winner, per category
$500 Grand Master’s Prize
$1,000 Best in Show Prize

Entrance Fee
First entry: $25
Second and Third Entry: $10
(Limit of 3 entries per artist)

If the artists in the Grand Exhibition choose to participate, their entered works may be auctioned off at the Exhibition Gala, with 80% of the auction value going to them and 20% to The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. The artist may set a reserve price, as well as a direct purchase price for the original work to be revealed AFTER the auction.

Brother Travis Simpkins, Artist
John McDaniel, Artist
Elaine Erne, Artist/Teacher

Entry Deadline
Thursday, August 11, 2022 by midnight, E.D.T. Submissions must be made online through Call For Entries

Opening Reception
The Grand Exhibition Gala will be held at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia on Friday, October 7th, featuring a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception, live music, announcement of winners and a silent auction of selected artwork.

Public Exhibition
The Grand Exhibition will be open to the public for viewing starting on Tuesday, October 11, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesdays – Saturdays, until November 12th. The exhibit will be at the Masonic Temple, One N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-2598.

For more information CLICK HERE.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Minnesota's Mankato Lodge 12 Complete's Major Remodeling

by Christopher Hodapp

Mankato Lodge 12 in Mankato, Minnesota has just completed a major remodeling project, funded partially with a $25,000 grant from the city, plus matching funds from the building's tenant organizations. The local Masons wanted to improve their own spaces in the building, but also make their historic Masonic Hall attractive as a venue for local weddings, social and business meetings, and other events. They've officially rechristened the temple as Historic Masonic Hall. 

Built in 1856, it is reported to be the oldest standing building in Mankato.

According to an article in The Free Press by Michael Lagerquist, the lodge currently has 110 members. They share their temple with an Order of the Eastern Star chapter and a Job's Daughters chapter.

The hand-painted cloud image over the lodge room had long been in deteriorating condition. Because of roof leaks over the years, the dome had to be repaired first. Artist Wendy Waszut-Barrett from Historic Stage Services was brought in to touch up the mural in spots affected by the repairs. She specializes in the restoration and recreation of scenery for historic theaters, and has been hired by several Scottish Rite valleys all over the country to repair or restore their many elaborate stage backdrops used in their many degrees.

Mankato Lodge 12 was chartered in 1856, two years before Minnesota statehood was achieved.