Wednesday, August 21, 2019

X-Rated Freemasonry

Freemasons — those never kiss-and-tell pillars of society always adhere to the values of ethics and high-morals, observing the promises of their obligations.  Well... almost always.  There have been instances where society, depending upon the social mores of the day, may have judged Brethren harshly for "crossing the line."  Some of those occasions by today's standards may seem as tame as a sleeping kitten while others might raise the eyebrows of the most iniquitous among us.  Read on, and judge for yourself.

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American Gothic

Brother Grant Wood (1892-1942), of Mount Hermon Lodge 263, Cedar Rapids, painted the acclaimed American Gothic. Released in 1930, the painting shocked many when Wood said it was a portrait of a married couple.  The scene depicts an elderly man holding a pitchfork standing next to a much younger woman.  The age difference caused the scandal, so Wood eventually said the woman represented the man's daughter.  He would, in fact, change that story and say she was his wife, depending on how he perceived the audience would react.

Four Too Many

Brother Tom Mix, a member of  Utopia Lodge 537 of Los Angeles was one of the earliest film superstars.  In an era where moviegoers were unaccustomed to some of the antics of Hollywood actors, they were shocked at what one might call his practice of "serial monogamy." Mix had five wives — at a time when that number was considered just about four too many.

Bare Facts

After visiting the Soviet Union Brother Will Rogers wrote a book entitled, There's Not A Bathing Suit In Russia, And Other Bare Facts.  Suggestive by the standards of the day, the publisher declined to put the second part of the title on the book's cover.

Stephen Austin's  Nemesis

Anthony Butler (1787–1849) was a lawyer, a politician, a diplomat, the ward and friend of Brother Andrew Jackson and, yes, a Freemason.   Jackson appointed Butler his secret agent in a surreptitious plan to purchase Texas for the United States.  Upon arriving in Texas, Butler crossed swords with Brother Stephen F. Austin who was establishing colonies there.  While there, Butler became interested in and began courting the daughter of a prominent Mexican family.  Austin was a friend of the family.  Upon hearing what Butler was up to, he exposed him as a man who had a wife and three children back in the US., thwarting the plan to purchase Texas and fueling a lifetime of animosity between the two Masonic Brothers.

The Bestseller

Charles P. "Chic" Sale (1885-1936), Urbana Lodge 157 (IL), was an actor and humorist in vaudeville and a character actor in movies.  He never achieved a great amount of fame, however, until he became an author and published The Specialist.  The book sold 200,000 copies in three months and went on to be a million-seller.  Its subject: outhouses.  Considered risqué for its time, the book was nearly banned, but Brother Sale chose his words just carefully enough to avoid having it censored.

A One-Glove Striptease

Glenn Ford, a member of Riviera Lodge 780 in Pacific Palisades, California, got his big break when Humphrey Bogart turned down the role of Johnny Farrell in the 1946 blockbuster, Gilda.  In one scene his co-star, Rita Hayworth, was to take swing at him.  She misjudged the distance between them and broke Ford's jaw.  That was only the beginning of the scandal the film generated.  In it, Hayworth performed a strip-tease in which she removed nothing more than one glove.  That and a rumored affair between the two co-stars nearly caused censors to ban the movie.


Brother Henry Lieferant (1892-1968), Lodge unknown, was a Polish-born and educated immigrant to the US who became a prolific author with several books and magazine articles to his credit.  As Editor-in-chief of True Story magazine, he was responsible for its rise to popularity — and reputation as an "off color" magazine — when he developed the story format whereby a heroine "violates standards of behavior, suffers as a consequence, learns her lesson and resolves to live in light of it, unembittered by her pain."  True Story magazine still survives using Brother Lieferant's tried-and-true, if not slightly salacious format known as "sin-suffer-repent."

Panty Raid

A Grand Lodge of California account from the mid-1960s describes a crime in which a Brother had been convicted of the theft of clothing, including 181 pairs of women's undergarments.  The official police report described the incident as a "panty raid," stemming from the popular (and self-explanatory) hi-jinx occurring on college campuses at the time.  The Brother came up on Masonic charges.  In order to distinguish his serious crime from some youthful indiscretion, the Grand Lodge of California Proceedings for that year included the following: "We do not wish to be misunderstood as overemphasizing the gravity of that specification against the accused in which he is charged with a ‘panty raid.' Indulgence in such conduct by boys of college age for the purpose of displaying either skill or courage, if that be the purpose, differs from the conduct of the accused here, in that the theft of 181 pairs of ladies pants is not merely a playful prank."

Unchristian Conduct

The Presbyterian Church in 1831, sanctioned Nathaniel Beverley Tucker (1784-1851), second Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri, for shocking "unchristian conduct." Certain parties, it seems, claimed he "partook of the amusement of dancing" on three occasions. There is no record of any action taken against him, but shortly thereafter MWB Tucker became an Episcopalian.

Keeping It In the Family

Brother Will Rogers asked his wife Betty to marry him in 1906.  Betty, apprehensive about a life in show business, turned him down.  A year and a half later the persistent Rogers changed her mind and they married.  In the meantime`, Rogers dated every one of Betty's six sisters.

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Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of obscenity, "I can't define it... but I know it when I see it."  That might apply to each of these little scenarios.  As you form your opinion about their appropriateness, you might do well to drag your Bible off the shelf and read Matthew 7:1-3;  And, while you're at it, ask yourself if the title of the article piqued your interest.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Cowan

A few years ago at Missouri’s Grand Lodge session, the Grand Secretary asked me, with approval from the Grand Master, to take some photographs of the tiled Grand Lodge meeting.

We held the meeting in a large conference center jam-packed with over 1,000 Brothers.  As I walked around the room trying to figure out the best angles for the photographs it became apparent I wouldn’t get a good photo from the convention floor.  Fortunately, there was an office area above with a bank of draped windows overlooking the cavernous meeting room.  That, I figured, would give me the best vantage point for the shot the Grand Secretary wanted.

I hauled my equipment upstairs and entered the office.   There, I peeked out of each window to determine the best angle for my impending work of art.  I selected the appropriate window, opened the drapes just enough to stick my head and camera through, knelt and started snapping pictures.

When I lowered my camera I noticed a flurry of activity on my end of the room.  Right below me, Brothers were waving their arms and pointing at me. Some were even heading toward the door.  Momentarily, the meeting stopped.  The Brothers had exposed a cowan in their midst… and it was me!

Being a man of decisive action, I decided it was time to make a quick exit.  “Feet,” I thought, “don’t fail me now.”  I grabbed my stuff, whirled around and prepared to make myself scarce.

Too late.

As I stood up, the office door flew open.  There, holding his angled rod in front of his body with both hands, legs planted apart, silent and ready for battle, stood the Grand Pursuivant. 

Do I need to mention it was an uncomfortable moment?

I didn’t know the man but it was pretty obvious he was a Brother.  As a few others began to show up behind him, I introduced myself and told him what I was up to.  It didn’t take too long to convince him I was legitimate and the crisis quickly ended.  A few smiles even broke out.

I suppose there are some things to be learned from the incident… like, for example we probably should have announced that the photos were being taken.  Mainly, however, I learned some Brothers apparently have eyes in the back of their heads, since they were all facing away from me when I took the pictures.

Although I edited the Missouri Freemason magazine at the time I never published the photo, but it now hangs in the Masonic Museum at the Masonic Complex in Columbia.

That Grand Pursuivant was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri in September, 2016.  We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well and every once in a while we share a smile recalling the way we met.

For the Whence Came You podcast, this is Steve Harrison with the Masonic Minute.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Was Cole Younger A Freemason?

Sometime back in the fifties my Lodge, Liberty #31 in Missouri, had a fire. It's a familiar story: the fire destroyed nearly everything including precious membership records. Members, as usually happens, rebuilt the building but the membership records were lost forever... or so we thought. Then one day back in 2004 our secretary was rooting through our "junk room" and came upon an old box. When he opened it he discovered membership logs from the mid 19th century. What a find!

Rummaging through the records proved fascinating and before our next meeting — for what it's worth I was Master at the time — the secretary and I sat there going through some of them. We were mainly looking to confirm the names of some of our previous Masters and also trying to see if any of the members had been prominent citizens of the era.

Cole Younger
Suddenly the secretary slid a book across the table to me and pointed at an entry, "What do you make of that?"

The name on the line read, "C. Younger, Entered Apprentice." Underneath that was another entry, "Littleton Younger: rejected." The entries were from the records of 1852.

We were both thinking the same thing: "C. Younger." COLE Younger? The notorious bandit turned Confederate Civil War guerrilla Cole Younger? In my opinion, Cole Younger wasn't exactly Freemason material, but I had to find out.

I began checking the next morning. It took about fifteen seconds to figure out C. Younger was not Cole. Thomas Coleman "Cole" Younger was born in 1844 and would have been a kid at the time. But who was C. Younger; and, in fact, who was Littleton Younger and why was he rejected?

Charles Lee Younger
We found no records to indicate our C. Younger advanced beyond the First Degree. He was not Cole's father, whose name was Henry. His paternal grandfather, however, was named Charles. Cole also had an uncle named Charles Younger. Nothing in my research led to any concrete conclusions. Cole's Grandfather, Charles Lee "Cole" Younger, died in 1854. He wouldn't have been a Mason for long, but perhaps that might explain why he only received the First Degree. Since Cole's Uncle Charles was not as old, it may be more likely he was Liberty's Entered Apprentice. If he advanced, those records might be among the items still lost. Once Cole's escapades as a thief, murderer and member of Quantrill's Raiders began, Uncle Charles moved out of the area.

Born in Virginia, Littleton Younger, also one of Cole's uncles, moved to Kentucky where he met and married his wife, Eliza. From there, the couple moved to Liberty, where they had five children. After their children were born, they moved to an area northeast of Eugene, Oregon. There is no record as to why his petition for membership was denied. Once described as a sportsman, perhaps he shot something other than the white-tailed deer indigenous to the area. Whatever the case, once established in Oregon he did, in fact join the Fraternity. His gravestone shows he was born in 1816, died in 1893, and it bears that familiar symbol... the square and compasses.

It is almost certain Cole Younger was never a Freemason. At the age of eighteen he had already committed his first murder and had a $1,000 bounty on his head. He is known to have killed 17 men and was shot so many times he once said of himself, "I guess you could strike lead in me in almost any place you drilled." He died peacefully in 1916, at the age of 72. In all he was one of the most notorious men in the country, along with another famous Clay County, Missouri resident, Jesse James, whom he hated... but that's altogether another story.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Swimming in Masonic Education

The Grand Lodge of Missouri has on occasion conducted surveys asking the Brothers, among other things, what they want from Masonry. It probably won't shock you to discover the number one thing on the list is "Masonic education."

So, hats off to the Grand Lodge of Missouri — it listened to the Brothers, went to work and came up with a Masonic education program. It works this way: On a regular basis the Grand Lodge sends an information packet to each Lodge Secretary. Included within that packet is a document containing a piece on Freemasonry. Then, at a stated meeting, the Secretary, Lodge Education Officer or any Brother can read the piece and perhaps conduct a discussion afterward. Note that the program also has the added advantage that Lodges across the state are all working on the same subject simultaneously.

There you go… Masonic education handed to you on a silver platter.

What more could you ask for?

I'll tell you exactly what: you could ask for the Lodges to make use of it. I attend my share of Lodge meetings. While "reliable sources" tell me there are some Lodges that do, I have never sat in a Lodge that uses the material.

So let's recap. The number one thing Brothers want is Masonic education; the Grand Lodge provides it; and (generalizing) the Brothers don't use it. It's a bit of a paradox, isn't it? Maybe the next survey should ask, "What do you really want?"

So, I have a suggestion. If you want Masonic education more than anything, appoint yourself your own personal education officer. Read, research, write, learn everything you can; but don't stop there. Make a commitment to take it to Lodge. It doesn't take much. Maybe start by reading an article from the Midnight Freemasons Blog, or maybe an excerpt from MNF founder Todd Creason's Famous American Freemasons book. (Modesty… ahem… prevents me from mentioning you could read something from one of my books). Likely as not, just a few minutes on a subject will spark a discussion. If my experience is any indication, your Brothers will thank you for doing it. Try it: just a few minutes of Masonic education can turn a mundane meeting into a memorable meeting.

If that works, take it a step further. Ask your Brothers to do the same. Maybe think about "upping your game" and turning it into a presentation. Take it to other lodges. Ask those Brothers to do the same.

In the words of that great litterbug Arlo Guthrie, "Let's start a movement." Before you know it, we might be swimming in Masonic education.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Ten Rubies

In 1919, 28-year old Frank Land ran the Scottish Rite Masons Relief Committee in Kansas City. As the successful program grew, Land hired 17-year old Louis Lower to help with its increasing workload. Louis had just lost his father.  Land understood how much Louis missed his father due to his separation from his own Dad as a youth.  He was so impressed with young Louis that in February 1919, he suggested forming a club at the Scottish Rite temple in Kansas City for Louis and some of his friends.  Over the course of the next week, Louis rounded up eight friends to become members. Those nine boys and Frank Land met for the first time on February 19, 1919, having no clue that their little "club" would eventually become a worldwide organization known as DeMolay International.

Land named the order after Jaques DeMolay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar who was martyred under the reign of France's Phillip the Fair. When DeMolay refused to admit to the charges Phillip and a corrupt Pope had manufactured against him, he was burned at the stake on March 18, 1314.

Much is known of Frank Land, who in his day became world famous as the founder of DeMolay. Less is known, however, of the original nine boys even though their memory is revered within the order. Today they are all gone.

Originally ten pearls surrounded the crest on the DeMolay pin. Frank decreed that as he and each of the nine Brothers passed away, the Brother's pearl would be replaced with a ruby.

With a bit about each of the original DeMolays, the rubies appeared in this order:

Ivan Bently (March 18, 1903 – July 11, 1933): Little is known of Bentley. Until recently even his date of death was in dispute. Early DeMolay records show he died in 1921. In fact, he was killed in an accident in 1933, when he became the first ruby on the crest. His only known accomplishment -  he was one of the first DeMolays to earn the Chevalier honor. Bentley is buried in Kansas City's Forest Hill cemetery with his parents.

Louis Lower
Louis Lower (February 2, 1902 – July 18, 1943): The first DeMolay was born and lived his entire life in Kansas City. Having received the Chevalier honor, Lower was the first member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. He was an up-and-coming civic leader who had a significant role in cleaning up the corrupt Kansas City political machine. After accomplishing this, the mayor of KC appointed Lower as manager of the Municipal Auditorium.  On his way home from a long day of work in the early July morning hours, a drunken security guard attempting to direct traffic confronted Lower for driving in the area.  Fully within his rights, Lower challenged the guard for directing traffic while under the influence.  The guard responded by pulling out his revolver and shooting Lower in the chest at point-blank range. The guard was convicted of murder, but served only three years of a fifteen-year sentence. Eight hundred people attended Lower's funeral, with a shocked and saddened Frank Land delivering the eulogy. Lower is buried in Mount Washington cemetery, Independence, Missouri.

Frank Land
Frank Land (June 21, 1890 – November 8, 1959): DeMolay's founder became the third ruby on the crest when he died unexpectedly of scleroderma, a buildup of collagen in skin and organs. In addition to his role with DeMolay, Land was Imperial Potentate of the Shrine. He held the thirty-third degree in the Scottish Rite and was awarded its highest honor, the Grand Cross. He was a great friend of Harry Truman and President Calvin Coolidge appointed him to promote his national youth program. Land is buried in Kansas City's Mount Moriah cemetery.

Edmund Marshall (September 29, 1902 – November 7, 1966): Awarded the Chevalier honor in 1920, Marshall graduated from the University of Missouri. He was the president of the Kansas City Board of Trade, an American commodity futures and options exchange. Marshall is buried in Mount Hope cemetery, Webb City, Missouri.

Clyde Stream (June 15, 1902 – May 13, 1971): Born in Warrensburg, Mississippi, Stream lived briefly in the Kansas City area, then moved to Springfield, Illinois where he worked for the Sangamo Electric Company until his retirement in 1967. A recipient of the DeMolay Legion of Honor, he was an active member of Springfield Lodge and other Masonic Bodies. He died in Bradenton, Florida and is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.

Gorman McBride (March 14, 1902 - November 10, 1973): He was the second obligated DeMolay and the first Master Councilor of the Mother Chapter. He received the Chevalier honor in 1920 and was a member of the International Supreme Council. McBride was the only one of the original nine to receive the Founder's Cross from Frank Land. He became a Kansas City area attorney. He is buried in Kansas City's Mount Moriah cemetery.

Ralph Sewell (February 27, 1901  - July 1976): Sewell was born and lived his entire life in the Kansas City area. He became the credit manager for the H. D. Lee Mercantile Company, makers of Lee jeans. He was a skilled pianist and organist. He is buried in Mount Moriah cemetery, Kansas City.

Elmer Dorsey (July 20, 1903- November 17, 1979):  Dorsey was a successful businessman who moved to Dallas, Texas and became an Advisor to Richardson DeMolay Chapter. He died in November 1979.

William Steinhilber (October 7, 1903 - October 28, 1992): He was the first captain of a DeMolay baseball team. Born in Arkansas, Steinhilber lived in Kansas City prior to moving to San Diego California, where he became a Stock and Bond broker.

Jerome Jacobson (October 05, 1904 - May 10, 2002):   Jacobson graduated from the University of Kansas and was a successful attorney in Missouri. The last survivor of the original nine DeMolay boys, he is the only member of that group to be inducted into the DeMolay Hall of Fame. A lifetime resident of Kansas City, he is buried in its Mount Moriah cemetery.

Some may not even realize that ten rubies now adorn the DeMolay Crest and every member's DeMolay pin. They are small and many may not even notice them, yet they represent a legacy of accomplishments and the bond of brotherhood of nine young men and their leader.

The author's DeMolay pin with seven pearls and three rubies. 
The rubies represent Ivan Bentley, Louis Lower and Frank Land.

Monday, June 17, 2019

DeMolay at 100

In September, 1914, the Kansas City Scottish Rite offered an energetic young Mason a job as Administrator of the newly-formed Mason's Relief Committee. A restaurant owner, the young Brother sold his business and went to work for the Masons. Frank Sherman Land didn't realize it but, at the age of 24, his destiny was now laid out before him.

In the years that followed, Land built the program into one of the premier relief organizations in Kansas City, helping secure hundreds of jobs for the unemployed and distributing food and clothing to the needy.  The organization grew and, in time, Land needed assistance, so he hired 17-year-old Lewis Lower to help him during evenings and weekends.  Lewis had just lost his father.  Land understood how much Lewis missed his father due to his separation from his own dad as a youth.  Land was so impressed with young Lewis that in February 1919 he suggested forming a club at the Scottish Rite temple in Kansas City for Lewis and some of his friends.  The following week, Lewis and his friends met there for the first time.

Over the next couple of months Land and Lower met with a core group of eight additional boys. Others joined and the little club began to flourish. They named this new organization after the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar who, rather than betray his God, defied the Pope and the King of France and was burned at the stake. Thus was born the Order of DeMolay which today, in 2019, celebrates 100 successful years of helping turn boys into men. My father, my brother and I are among the thousands who have benefited from its precepts. Also in that group are Frank Borman, Walt Disney, John Steinbeck, Fran Tarkenton, John Wayne and a host of others you would immediately recognize as leaders and role models.

To be sure, my experience as a DeMolay was somewhat different than boys who are members today. Like the Masons, the organization has suffered a decline in membership over the years. We had more members and more participation than typically found in chapters today. In fact, my chapter had so many members officers terms were limited six months so to give more boys a chance to advance. As Master Councilor I had a full line of officers – 22 in all.

I had the standard insecurities of any geeky high school student. My extra-curricular activities were church, Boy Scouts and DeMolay. Of all those it was DeMolay that best taught me I could be a leader. During my term we had a major event with Master, Senior and Junior Councilors coming in from all over the state for a Councilor's Night; and there I was, a 17-year-old kid, standing in the East with a Chapter packed with statewide DeMolay and Masonic Leaders. It was a big deal, and I was just a little too young and naive to recognize the support I had from the Chapter advisors who were really the ones who put it together. That's OK. Events like that gave me the confidence to be a leader, not a follower. And that is exactly what those advisors wanted.

I did not join the Freemasons immediately after being a DeMolay. I went off to college and never thought much about the Masons. When my father became a 50-year member, he asked me to attend the ceremony and present his jewel. As I walked into that Lodge room – my first time in about 25 years, the memories of my DeMolay experiences flooded back to me. Everything was as I remembered. It was all familiar, comfortable and even inspiring. Right then and there I decided I wanted to join, and I can say without hesitation if I had not been a DeMolay, I would not be a Freemason today.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that today's smaller groups of DeMolays get as much out of the organization as I did; and from what I've seen of many of them, they do. A recent survey showed about 9% of all Freemasons are former DeMolays. You could say that's not a high percentage. I prefer to look at it another way. You could also say fully nine per cent of our membership comes from DeMolay and in an era of falling membership any group that provides that percentage of our members is significant. Whatever the case, it wouldn't surprise me if many of those DeMolays who become Masons will also be among our leaders. Happy 100th birthday, DeMolay. May you flourish and have many more.