Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Attic


In 1816, General William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) built what was one of only a few brick houses in St. Louis. Clark used the lower floor for business. Missouri Lodge 12, with its Tennessee charter, met in a room on the second story there from the time Clark completed the house until late 1817. Masons described the house as "poorly adapted for Masonic purposes and inconveniently located." They approached Brother Thompson Douglass, who was constructing a two-story building in the center of town, and persuaded him to add an attic, which the Masons could use. Were that building standing today where it stood in 1817, at its spot in the center of old St. Louis, it would be directly under the gleaming Gateway to the West monument, better known as the St. Louis Arch.

Upon its completion, the Masons moved into the thirty-eight square foot room to conduct their business. There they also founded Missouri Royal Arch Chapter No. 1, and, in 1821, organized the Grand Lodge of Missouri, chartering what today is St. Louis Missouri Lodge 1.

Frederick L. Billon was raised at the age of twenty-two in that very room. Born in 1801, Billon lived to be 94 years of age in a life that spanned virtually all of the 19th century. He served as Missouri's Grand Secretary for many years and thoroughly chronicled Missouri Masonry during that time. In his memoirs, he talks about one particular meeting in that third-story room which he attended on Friday April 29, 1825.

That evening, the young Brother, still a relatively new Mason, ascended the creaky wooden stairs and as he entered the Lodge room, he discovered two visitors. In Billon's words, "we were honored by a visit from our Nation's distinguished guest, our illustrious Brother General Lafayette, on the occasion of his visit to St. Louis, accompanied by his son George Washington Lafayette, on which occasion they were both duly elected Honorary members of our Grand Lodge." The United States had invited the 68-year-old French aristocrat, who had supported our country and commanded American troops in the Revolution, to tour the country.

Billon writes, "This room was used for Masonic purposes… until the close of the year 1833, when Missouri Lodge No. 1, under the pressure of circumstances, ceased her labors for a time, and the Grand Lodge was removed to Columbia Boone County." The so-called "pressure of circumstances" he mentions is a euphemism for the brutal aftermath of the Morgan affair.

For sixteen years that nondescript room provided an auspicious venue for the formation of the Grand Lodge of Missouri and served as its Grand Lodge offices. It also saw the formation of Missouri's first Lodge, the first Missouri Royal Arch Chapter, was a reception room for the great Lafayette, hosted the ceremony honoring him, and saw countless other Masonic ceremonies and events – all this in an attic that was conceived as an afterthought.

It's graphic proof that it doesn't matter where Brothers meet; rather it matters how they meet, act and part.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Anti-Masonic Apron


Have you ever heard of an "Anti-Masonic Apron?" Hold your horses before you get too upset at that nomenclature.

The aftermath of the set of events in 1826 known as the "Morgan Affair," was a trying time for the Masonic Fraternity. Feelings against the Masons became so intense it led to the formation of the first political third-party in the US, actually called the Anti-Masonic party. The Masons resisted the movement as best they could but anti-Masonic sentiment was intense.

One of the tools the Masons used to fight back was something called the "Anti-Masonic apron. It wasn't an apron per se, but a depiction of one in ads and flyers. Printed by William Cammeyer of Albany, New York during the 1832 presidential election campaign, the apron symbolically contrasts Masons and anti-Masons.

The left side of the apron shows a three-headed anti-Masonic hydra and the sandy foundation of the movement. The structure of anti-Masonry, shown collapsed in ruins, is built on broken planks of baseless fabrication and rottenness with associations to Benedict Arnold and even the likes of Judas. Spewing from the mouths of the serpentine hydra are the anti-Masonic traits of Vice, Perjury, Collusion, Slavery, Cowardice, Ignorance, Anarchy, Perfidy, Intolerance, and a host of other insipid characteristics billowing into a cloud called the "blackness of darkness."

The apron's right side illustrates a stone pyramid of Freemasonry built on the Rock of Ages. The pyramid's steps include Universal Benevolence, Equal Rights, Science, Sincerity, Fortitude, Charity, Honor and other Masonic characteristics. An eagle of victory sits atop the pyramid and, above that a Just and True square and compasses and the beacon of Perfect Light.

It's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the Anti-Masonic apron. In that 1932 election Andrew Jackson, former Grand Master of Kentucky, defeated Henry Clay, also a Freemason. William Wirt, the Anti-Masonic Party candidate, oddly, was also a Mason. He garnered only 3 electoral votes. Wirt's Anti-Masonic party dissolved eight years later, but the anti-Masonic sentiment of the Morgan Affair lingered on.

Perhaps one of the interesting aspects of the apron is that we can see, even as far back as the early 19th century, Freemasonry, as a whole, stood against slavery. It also promoted Equal Rights and Tolerance, subjects at the forefront today, nearly two centuries later.

Anne Boleyn and Freemasonry


Anne Boleyn was Queen consort of England from 1533-1536, and the second of Henry VIII's six wives. Her time in the King's court was tumultuous and, as most know, did not end well… unless you were King Henry who probably thought the ending was just peachy. The events of her reign and demise are filled with swirling speculation and likely no one will ever know the full story. But there is one thing about it that may be easier to conclude: she may have had a significant and lasting effect on our gentle craft.

Anne was born in about 1504, to well-to-do parents in Kent, a seacoast county southeast of London. When she was about 18 she parlayed her family's status into securing a position as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife.

King Henry, a man with a roving eye and a stable of mistresses to prove it, chased after her but the crafty gal put a stop to his advances telling him, "I will be nothing less than queen." This caused a problem for Henry because… he already had a queen… and you're only allowed one, especially under the strict rules of the Catholic Church, with its pesky rule against divorce.

Henry became increasingly infatuated with the forbidden fruit that was young Anne and was upset by the fact that, in 24 years of marriage, Catherine had not given him a male heir. How to solve what many were calling "the king's problem?" Well, he decided his marriage to Catherine, who happened to be his brother's former wife, was "blighted by God," and he petitioned Pope Clement VII for an annulment.

Long story short, the pope said no. So Henry formed the Church of England and, not surprisingly, appointed himself to be its Supreme Head. The pope excommunicated Henry but – no problem – he had his own church. This paved the way for dumping Catherine and in 1533 the 42-year-old king finally married Anne who by now was in her mid-to-late twenties. Anne quickly had a child. Unfortunately for her, a girl… Elizabeth… who eventually became queen.

Anne, like Catherine, was male-child-challenged, which dampened King Henry's infatuation with her. On top of that, a guy named Henry Norris became smitten with the queen, who was overheard telling him, "Look to dead men's shoes for if ought came to the king but good you would look to have me."

Speaking of the king's death was considered treason. Henry accused Anne of being a traitor and used other innuendo and rumors to pile on charges of incest and adultery. After three years of marriage, he had Anne executed and moved on to Jane Seymour in his unsuccessful quest for a male heir.

So what does all this have to do with the Freemasons? Well, when Henry formed the Church of England, the Catholic church obviously stopped expanding there. Henry stopped building or expanding cathedrals, convents and monasteries. The market for stone masons dried up. Under those circumstances, what's a skilled stone mason to do? You're either out of work or you, "travel in foreign countries, receive Master's wages, and be thereby the better enabled to support yourself and family, and contribute to the relief of distressed worthy Brother Master Masons, their widows and orphans."

This put operative lodges in an uncomfortable position. Some think this situation may have contributed to the lodges, for survival, to begin opening their doors to speculative Freemasonry.

It is possible then, had Anne Boleyn never come along, and the Reformation never happened or been delayed, the movement to speculative Freemasonry would also have been delayed.

Now, this is just food for thought. Don't overthink it. And for God's sake, don't lose your head over it… like Anne did.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The 50 Year Jewel



Sometime last year Midnight Freemason founder Todd Creason wrote a piece about a Brother who had objected to being called "Bro." It brought to mind a somewhat similar experience I had when I was editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine.

As do many Masonic magazines, ours included a section in the back containing news and events from Lodges around the state. Many of these were stories about Lodges which had recognized Brothers for 50 years of service.

On one occasion I got a rather scathing letter from a Brother with an intense objection to the fact I had called the award a "50-year pin." In his letter, he was adamant about the significance of the award and insisted it should always be called a "50-year jewel." He made impassioned points about how Brothers receiving that award had served the fraternity for nearly a lifetime and deserved more respect than having the award called a "pin."

The fact is I agreed with everything he said about the 50-year members. They were, in fact, among our most esteemed Brothers and they had served the fraternity well. They deserved every bit of the respect the author of the letter called for.

So I wrote him back and told him that; but I added that I didn't see the word "pin" as derogatory, and said I didn't think it detracted from the significance of the award. I noted it is the term Brothers commonly use when they talk about or present it. I also pointed out I didn't write those articles. Rather, the members of the Lodges themselves wrote them and sent them in. The articles almost always referred to the award as a "50-year pin," confirming how common that terminology was. I might also note Ray Denslow, one of our most prolific and respected Masonic authors, called it a "50-year button."

So, in the magazine, I continued to allow authors to use the terminology, "50-year pin;" but that isn’t the end of the story.

Todd's article eloquently talked about respect within the Craft. While I still believe calling the award a "50-year pin" is not disrespectful, I can't help thinking about that Brother's letter almost every time I see the award presented. I am persuaded that the word "jewel" may elevate its status, or the meaning behind it, just a bit. That pin and the Brother who wears it certainly deserve respect for his service to this fraternity. So, I find myself more and more referring to it as a jewel. That letter I received years ago was caustic in tone, but I am increasingly grateful to the Brother who wrote it. He gave me something to think about.

I might add, just a few months ago, I became eligible to receive my 20-year… jewel.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Freemasonry's Back Hole

You have made your journey to the East. Planning for this milestone consumed you. It saturated your life. Thoughts of budgets and programs bloated your brain until there was room for nothing else; and, oh yes, there was that big part you had to memorize. Then you got there. You brought those programs to life. You managed the budget. You were gut-punched by the unexpected. You punched back. You won.

Now your year is coming to an end. Where, you wonder, did the time go? It all went by so quickly. Suddenly you realize you are traveling near lightspeed toward the event horizon… that point of no return… of the great black hole of Freemasonry: life after being Master of your Lodge.

Maybe it doesn't hit you right away. Oh, those first few weeks after your term is over… that sweet era when the responsibility void hits, when the burdens of leadership rest on someone else's shoulders, when you get to go to meetings, plan nothing, do nothing, and wear that sporty new Past Master's apron… is a nirvana reserved for a precious few… the newly minted junior Past Master.

But it's an illusion. You eventually realize you've been sucked into the great void. Oblivion awaits. You can't sit on the north heckling the ritual performance forever. You can only take so much listening to debates about the menu at the next dinner, reading of the minutes and grousing about the outrageous bill to fix the air conditioner. You realize they can do all of this without you. Weeks ago you were the most important guy in the Lodge. Now you are, by your standard, irrelevant. You're not even the top-dog of all the Past Masters. You're at the bottom of the barrel. And like anything that reaches singularity in a black hole, you disappear. Experience shows us it happens to many, possibly the majority of Past Masters. They gradually stop coming to meetings, fade away, and leave us wondering whatever happened to them.

As you try to fight this trend instead of "whence came you," a new question pops up: "whence go you," or more simply, "now what?" The fact is most of us don't want to sit around doing nothing. We need relevance, something to do, a goal, a project, a responsibility, a raison d'ĂȘtre.

Part of your planning as you approach the east should be to figure out what you will do when it's all over. Your Lodge has many needs you can fill: maybe it needs a new Lodge Education Officer, an appointed office filled, a mentor for new initiates, a Lodge historian, someone to take the helm of a civic project or, God forbid, a new Secretary. There are also appendant bodies to consider. The York and Scottish Rites especially offer more opportunities for the Masonic education, fellowship and community service we crave. Grand Lodge committees always need staffing. You might even put together an article for the Midnight Freemasons.

Whatever you do, vow to stay active; and the activities you choose should include those that keep you coming back the foundation of our Fraternity – your Lodge.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Similar Crisis

It's not at all uncommon to hear someone on a news broadcast say, "I've never seen anything like this before," even when, in many cases, the event is not quite as unique as the news makes it out to be.

So along comes Coronavirus; and I've heard it said about a thousand times on news reports… say it with me... "I've never seen anything like this before." Maybe with a single exception… the AIDS epidemic… most of us actually never have seen something like this. There remain, however, a few centenarians who have experienced a similar crisis: the great Influenza epidemic of 1918, 102 years ago. In fact, I even saw a report of a 103 year-old woman in Italy who has now survived being stricken with both the 1918 flu and today's COVID-19 virus. I'm not sure if that makes her the luckiest person ever or the unluckiest.

The similarities between the two pandemics made me wonder how Masons reacted to the 1918 event. The documentation is spotty, but there are enough examples to indicate Freemasonry played a role in the relief effort.

In 1918, very few people had a telephone and even fewer towns had access to a radio station. Mass media and social media were from a single source: newspapers. As the virus spread the reaction from the press was surprisingly similar to things we are seeing in our current crisis. The United States Health Service issued guidelines that would be good advice even today. Newspapers printed that advice and issued calls for help to mitigate the fact public health facilities were being taxed to the limit. Sound familiar?

In similar fashion as today, Lodges and Grand Lodges alike suspended normal activities. Lacking email, Twitter, Facebook and other communications tools, those Lodges also posted notifications in their local newspapers.

Freemasons rallied across the country. In lieu of meetings, Lodges did what they were equipped to do. Masons opened their kitchens and made food for victims and health workers alike. Many other Lodges made their dining facilities available to the public and served meals. In Pennsylvania, the Grand Lodge moved healthy elderly residents of a retirement home into a Lodge where they could be segregated from those in the residence already stricken with the flu.

Far and away the main thing Freemasons did during the pandemic was to convert their Lodge buildings into hospitals, many in towns that had no hospital at all.

In short, the country was knee deep in a crisis and Freemasons were there to help. That begs the question, what are we doing today?

In spite of the similarities between the two pandemics, our response, or anyone's response for that matter, would have to be different. While hospital beds are in short supply in many areas, Masonic Lodges are not well-suited to be hospitals. Other large facilities such as arenas, hotels, and even temporary buildings are filling that gap.

We can't open our Lodges to serve as eating places given the quarantine regulations, and many Lodges are not equipped to cook and deliver meals. Besides, restaurants have taken over that function by delivering carry-out meals, sometimes at no charge.

Things are further complicated by the fact that in virtually all jurisdictions, Lodges can't meet. In my jurisdiction that means we can't vote on any distribution of funds or other activities that would require the Lodge's consent. Also, today, as opposed to 1918, there are far more large and coordinated relief efforts taking charge and providing assistance. Still, there are areas of need where Grand Lodges or individual members can step in.

The Grand Lodge of Ohio issued a report that enumerates some of its activities on the local and state levels. There, individual Lodge Brothers are delivering food and supplies to those who can't get out. They are also deferring payment for those items if the recipients are unable to pay. One Brother has set up an online audio books library using his own collection of books for members, their families and widows to access and enjoy. Still another Lodge is calling not only its members, but others in the community to do wellness checks. Another Brother with access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) he has accumulated in his job through the years is donating it to the medical community.

Any one of these ideas or something similar (like individual donations to food banks) would be something a Lodge can do as a grassroots effort by its members, without requiring a vote in a stated meeting. We are Masons and one of our great tenets is relief. We don't always need formal votes and large-scale programs to pitch in. We need Brothers who will do it because… that's what we do.

A century ago, Masons stepped up to be among those in the forefront during a devastating pandemic. A century from now, what will they say about the Masonic effort in this crisis?

* * *

Note: The author's grandfather, Cord Harrison, died in the 1918 pandemic. He was a druggist, likely infected by a customer. He died early in the crisis, before its impact was fully understood.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Herbert Hoover and Freemasonry


A few accounts claim certain famous men who were not Freemasons intended to join the fraternity but circumstances did not permit them to do so. Notable among these are Dr. Martin Luther King and President Abraham Lincoln. Some reports say King was to have been made a Mason upon returning from his tragic trip to Memphis. Lincoln actually petitioned Tyrian Lodge No. 333 in 1860, but decided not to join until after his presidency, thinking becoming a Mason would look like he was doing so for political purposes.

There has never been any doubt about President Herbert Hoover's Masonic status. He was not a Freemason. History nor Hoover himself have never had much to say about why… he just wasn't.

In the memoirs of prolific Masonic author Ray V. Denslow, however, we learn there is more to the story. Former Secretary of Agriculture, Arthur M. Hyde, lived in Trenton, Missouri, near Denslow's home. After his presidency had ended, Hoover visited Hyde at his home and a few guests were invited to the affair. Denslow and his wife Clara were among those fortunate to receive an invitation and he gave the following account:

"Mrs. Denslow and I were both invited to the Hyde home to meet both Mr. and Mrs. Hoover. The evening proved to be in the nature of a reception. I had opportunity to talk privately with Mr. Hoover for a time and to study him and his wife at close range. Mr. Hyde said to him 'this is the young man I spoke to you about.'

I never did learn what he was speaking about, unless it was that Mr. Hyde told me once that Mr. Hoover would petition the Masonic fraternity if he thought he could get in. The inquiry came before campaign time and I assured Mr. Hyde that he knew, as well as I, that any attempt to present a petition at that time might be regarded as campaign propaganda. He said Mr. Hoover wouldn't consider it in that event and the matter apparently dropped.

Another interesting thing Mr. Hyde said to me, was that when Hoover attended college in California he was not a member of any college fraternity. Several fraternity men attempted to keep him from going with Miss Lou Henry, later his wife, who was a sorority girl; this angered him to such an extent that he always regarded fraternities with a questionable eye. Not until after his experiences in Europe and this country did he assume a favorable attitude towards them."

Hoover's situation, then, was somewhat similar to Lincoln's — political reasons may have prevented him from becoming a Freemason. What's more, he may have put off thoughts about joining until it was too late due to a prior negative experience with fraternities. It's not clear how seriously Hoover may have thought he wouldn't "get in," but it is a near certainty he would have been elected to receive the degrees had he done so.

Lincoln, King, Hoover and probably many others have considered knocking at the outer door but for whatever reason just didn't take that first step; and in the vast majority of cases it's a shame. The craft most certainly would have been all that much better having them as Brothers.