Tuesday, May 7, 2019


One evening in the fall of 1975, my parents, Robert and Alice Harrison, went out for an early dinner with friends. Returning home, when they pulled into their driveway, they saw two men in suits standing on their front porch. One of the men had just taped a note to their front door and they had turned to leave. The note said simply, "Please call Bob Sabol, FBI," and gave a phone number.  Dad stopped the car halfway down the drive, got out and greeted the men. Sabol introduced himself as an agent with the Indianapolis office of the FBI. Then he asked, "Mr. Harrison, what do you know about Lynette Fromme?"

Dad knew exactly who she was. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme was all over the news. Earlier that week she had aimed a gun at President Gerald Ford and was apprehend without firing it.  Other than that, Dad knew nothing of her.

Agent Sabol asked Dad a few other questions wanting to know where he worked and what his position was with the company.  Dad was an executive with Wallace Expanding Machines. Wallace was a company that started as a small tool-and-die shop. It had developed a machine known as an Expander, which was able to stamp large metal shapes in one operation. That invention took the company to the big-time as it was subsequently used to manufacture car doors for Ford and appliance housings in a matter of seconds.

Dad was in charge of the company's purchasing operations and was Secretary-Treasurer of the corporation. In this position he earned a listing in Standard and Poor's Directory of Corporate Executives, national edition. 

Sabol went on to explain that in searching Squeaky's apartment after the incident, they found a mass mailing she was preparing and all of the envelopes used Dad's home address as the mailing's return address. The mailing also listed Dad's title as "President, US Natural Resources." Dad told them he had never heard of that company.  Sabol informed him their investigation had determined the Standard and Poor's directory had shown Dad as its president. It didn't take much in the discussion that followed to determine Dad had no relationship with either Squeaky or US Natural Resources. S&P affiliating him with the USNR was, in fact, a clerical error.

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, aside from being a kooky follower of Charles Manson, was a rabid environmentalist. In fact, she had gone to the Ford rally where she was arrested to try to plead with him to stop harvesting redwoods. Apparently, she thought US Natural Resources had something to do with the environment, had looked it up in the S&P directory and that is how she got Dad's name.

The conversation with the FBI sent Dad to his office where he had filed the proof copy of his S&P listing without paying much attention to it. Sure enough, right there under "Other Current Affiliations" he found himself listed as the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of US Natural resources. He filed the note from the FBI with it as a souvenir.

Courts found Squeaky guilty of the attempted assassination of the President of the United States and sentenced her to life. She was paroled in 2009. The great irony for her is US Natural Resources is a company that deals in sawmills and equipment to harvest trees, not save them, as the Squeakster must have assumed.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I Have A New (Old) Skill - Cursive Specialist

Latin is a dead language
Dead as dead can be
First Latin killed the Romans
Now it's killing me.

There were times I felt as if that little ditty was my anthem during the four years of Latin I took in high school.  Latin?  Four years?  Why?  I had my reasons… beyond openly exhibiting the fact that I was a pathological masochist.  Even back then, however, I knew — and others did not hesitate to point out — I was studying a language no one had spoken for centuries. 

"Impractical," they said.

Maybe so, if I was looking for a functional language; but not if I was interested in the Roman history that went along with studying the language; not if I wanted to study a language that formed the basis of many others and led to a better understanding of English.  Besides, when I took my college entrance exam, I tested out of all language requirements.  Take that, ye naysayers.

Still, I would never have advocated Latin should be a required subject.  To some it was, and remains, unnecessary… irrelevant… maybe even useless.  Today, many high schools don't even offer it as an elective.  I think that's unfortunate but I guess it's a sign of our times… and school budgets.

So now, it seems a new subject is the target of those who think it's unnecessary, irrelevant or maybe even useless: call it cursive, longhand, script or, in my case, scribble.

"Irrelevant," they say again, "We're all typists… uh, make that keyboarders," as they toss it onto the junk heap of forgotten subjects along with music, art and God knows what else – maybe Freemasonry; lots of people think that's archaic, too.

This, too, I think is unfortunate.  There is something to be said for studying subjects beyond the "Three Rs" — to broaden our cultural backgrounds.  But, sigh, I understand.  We must be practical.

I recently spent the bulk of a year transcribing the Masonic memoirs of Frederic L. Billon, a 19th century Grand Secretary in Missouri.  Written in fading longhand, this was a difficult task, but well within my capability — and probably yours, given the fact schools didn't ditch cursive before our time.

As I went through this exercise I realized, in years to come, what I was doing would be a specialized skill.  Without its use being universal I can see cursive becoming a prerequisite for someone wanting to study history, as long as history doesn't fall off the educational cliff, too.  Those Founding Fathers didn't use keyboards. 

I suppose I could be an old fogey and lament the passing of another "useless" subject, but I might as well accept it and take heart in the fact I have a new (old) skill: I am a cursive specialist.

Cursive is a useless thing;
I've other skills to hone.
They should have written the Bill of Rights
On an Android or iPhone.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Two Masonic Funerals

Years ago my wife Carolyn and I sat in a restaurant having dinner with my father, Robert, when an energetic man walked up to the table and introduced himself to Dad.  It seemed as if the pair were old friends; turns out they had never met before.  They were, in fact, both Freemasons and the man, Lester Brown, who came up to our table had seen the Shrine pin my father always wore.

They shared stories comparing information about their Lodges and other Masonic activities, and then Lester looked at me and asked, "What about this young man, is he a Mason?"

Lester was immediately a friend because he called me "young." Despite that, however, I gave him my standard answer about joining the fraternity — "Someday."  It wasn't too long after that when "someday" finally arrived and I became an Entered Apprentice.  Lester was at my initiation and so was my dad.

When I became Master of my Lodge, I asked Lester to be my installing Senior Deacon. That evening I asked him about the time we met in that restaurant, "When you asked if I was a Mason, what would you have thought if I'd have said I planned to join and someday you'd help install me as Master of your Lodge?"

"I'd have said you were nuts," he snorted.

A few years later, Dad passed away.  I had, by then, taken part in several Masonic services, but never with a speaking part.  That day the Master asked if I would like to be the Chaplain in Dad's service. "I don't know the part," I said, "but I would be honored to read it."

This year Lester, at the age of 100, entered that House Not Made with Hands.  Standing in line waiting for his Masonic service the Master asked if I would be Chaplain.  "I don't know the part," I said, "but I would be honored to read it."

Those are the only two Masonic funerals I have participated in with a speaking part.  As we were marching in procession out of Lester's service, I thought back to the dinner when we met.  Not yet a Mason, I eventually would take part as the craft said goodbye to two Brothers who were there for me at the beginning of my Masonic experience. It's probably just a coincidence it happened that way; insignificant, really.  However, for me personally, it has great significance.  They both helped start me on my Masonic journey and it was a humbling honor to give back just a little bit.

Friday, April 5, 2019

James Madison's Enigmatic Masonic Ties

James Madison has never been proven to have been a member of the Craft and is never listed among the presidents who have been; but evidence can be found to support the position that he was a Brother. So what's the final verdict… was James Madison a Freemason?

John Francis Mercer, a former congressman who eventually became governor of Maryland, wrote a letter to James Madison on February 11, 1795. In it, he asked Madison to encourage John Fenton Mercer, his nephew, to pursue a military career. In closing the letter, Mercer congratulated Madison on becoming a Freemason.

In addition to this letter, there has been some other evidence to support Madison’s membership in the Fraternity. John Dove, an early Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Virginia said Madison was one of the original founders of Hiram Lodge 59 in 1800, and became a charter member. All records of Hiram Lodge, unfortunately, have been lost. On Sept 20, 1817, Madison marched in procession with Charlottesville Lodge 90 and Widow's Son Lodge 60 to lay the cornerstone of Central College at Charlottesville (later the University of Virginia). Perhaps most telling, however, were the attacks made on Madison during the anti-Masonic period.

Mercer's letter is vague in places and his handwriting is sloppy. He clearly invites Madison to attend Lodge while his wife Sophia entertains Madison's wife Dolley. James and Dolley had wed just months before, prompting Mercer to wax not-so-eloquently on the institution of marriage, and to congratulate Madison on his marrying her. The paragraph in question reads as follows:

"I have had no opportunity of congratulating you before on your becoming a free mason a very ancient and honorable fraternity — I am sure you are now much wiser & I do not doubt you are much happier altho you were very wise & happy before, at least in my opinion — I hold a lodge on your road perhaps let me take you sometime by the hand in it & let Mrs. Mercer welcome the fair prophetess [Dolley] who but cements you to the true faith — a man who has got his head somewhat clear of a large load of lead in politics [Mercer had recently resigned from Congress] — feels of course a little light headed to that you must attribute my levity of this style which is only intended to apprise you of my respect of friendship for you."

So Mercer, definitely a Freemason, applauded Madison on becoming a member and invited him to go to a Lodge meeting. This letter, along with Madison’s other Masonic ties could confirm he was a Freemason; end of story.

Not exactly.

Mercer himself notes the letter is written in the spirit of levity. The question is, where was he joking and where was he serious? He was clearly serious about asking Madison to intervene with his nephew, but in the next paragraph was he serious in his delight Madison has become a Mason? It's too bad Mercer didn't use emojis.

Some scholars believe Mercer was lightheartedly comparing marriage to the act of joining the fraternity – a stretch, to be sure. Such scholars must not be Freemasons, who don't consider joining the fraternity a joking matter. Still, "I hold a Lodge on your road" might refer to Mercer's home, and he might have been inviting Madison and the fair prophetess Dolley, clearly meant to be humorous, to visit. As a result, one might conclude Mercer is joking about Freemasonry. One might also conclude Mercer had one strange sense of humor.

The overthinking that has gone into this letter negates the Occam's razor principle which would quickly lead to the conclusion Mercer thought Madison was a Freemason – and he was.

There is yet another possibility. Mercer thought Madison was a Freemason but he was not.

To further confuse the matter, another letter exists which contradicts Mercer's letter. In 1831, Madison wrote Stephen Bates in response to Bates' inquiry about Madison's involvement in Freemasonry. A little context regarding this letter is helpful. First, it is in no way related to Mercer's letter, written 36 years prior; second, Madison was in ill-health at its writing and actually dictated the letter to his secretary J.C. Payne; finally, the letter was written at the peak of the anti-Masonic fervor sweeping the United States at the time. Madison begins the letter by apologizing for a slow response, citing his health as the reason. He then addresses Freemasonry:

"...ignorant as I was of the true character of Masonry and little informed as I was of the grounds on which its extermination was contended for, and incapable as I was and am, in my situation of investigating the controversy. I never was a mason, and no one perhaps could be more a stranger to the principles, rites and fruits of the institution I had never regarded it as dangerous or notorious (noxious?); nor on the other hand as deriving importance from any thing publicly known of it. From the number and character of those who now support the charges against Masonry I cannot doubt that it is at least susceptible of abuse outweighing any advantage promised by its patrons."

So, to paraphrase this cornucopia of run-on sentences, Madison says he is in no position to investigate the anti-Masonic movement. He claims never to have been a Freemason, and says he really doesn't know anything about it. He says he never regarded it as dangerous. He concludes, given the character of those who are against it, its disadvantages outweigh its advantages.

So, that does it. Madison was not a Freemason and even appeared to be jumping on the anti-Masonic bandwagon; end of story.

Not so fast.

At the writing of this letter anti-Masonic sentiment was oozing out of every crevice in the country. According to William R. Denslow, in his iconic series 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Madison was under pressure, being taunted by the anti-Masonic movement. In that context, this might be interpreted as a politician's answer. Politicians lie today and no doubt politicians lied then:

"I am not a crook…"
"I never had sex with that woman…"
"I never was a Freemason…"

It may also be significant that Madison did not write this letter himself. J.C.Payne, his secretary, was the author. He may have transcribed it word-for-word or he may have advised or persuaded Madison, 80 and in ill-health at the time, to deny membership for political purposes.

This is not a settled matter. Those claiming definitively either that James Madison was or was not a Freemason are off base. Denslow and others have documented the fact Madison over time had been involved in activities with Freemasons. It is just not certain what the extent of those activities was.

One final thing… no one likes unanswered questions, but for now, there are no good answers. Suppose, however, membership documents from Hiram Lodge or some other proof comes to light showing Madison to be a Mason. Here is a man who not only publicly denied his membership but said the bad outweighs the good in Freemasonry and sided with the anti-Masonic movement. If Madison is a Brother, that's disappointing.

Still, if the aforementioned Occam's razor principle comes into play one could conclude that Madison said he was never a Freemason, so he was not a Freemason. Period. Pending other documentation proving otherwise, perhaps it is best to leave it at that.

Full transcripts and copies of the letters in question are available at:

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Madison / Mercer / Bates Letters

Appearing below are transcriptions of two letters. The first is from John Francis Mercer to James Madison written in February, 1795. The second is from James Madison to Stephen Bates written January 24, 1831. Full copies of each letter appear below the transcriptions.

Source: National Archives
Transcription Assistance By: Carolyn Harrison and Lloyd Lyon

From John Francis Mercer to James Madison:

Marlbrough, Feby. 11th. 1795.

Dear Sir

Mr. John Fenton Mercer the bearer of this is the eldest Son of my late Brother. By a clause in his fathers Will his Estate cannot be divided for three years to come, & that time he proposes to pass in some of the Armies of france probably the Northern Army. I know no situation more improving for a young Man than the family of an old experienc’d General Officer, & from my knowledge of this young Gentleman’s talents & disposition I have great expectation of the benefits he would derive from such an opportunity. He only wants prudence to make a most valuable man & that can only come from experience. Your forwarding him in this view if in your power will be an additional obligation to many which I acknowledge.

I have had no opportunity of congratulating you before on your becoming a free mason — a very ancient & honorable fraternity. I am sure you are now much wiser & I do not doubt you are much happier altho’ you were very wise & happy before, at least in my opinion. I hold a lodge on your road pray let me take you some time by the hand in it & let Mrs. Mercer welcome, the fair prophetess who has converted you to the true faith. A Man who has got his head somewhat clear of a large load of leaden politics — feels of course a little light headed to that you must attribute the levity of this style which is only intended to assure you of my respect & friendship for you & yours.

John F Mercer

From James Madison to Stephen Bates Written by J.C. Payne:

Bates Stephen 24th Jany, '31

Dear Sir

I received long ago your interesting favor(?) on the 31st of Oct with a pamphlet referred to, and I owe an apology for not sooner acknowledging it.  I hope it will be a satisfactory one that the state of my health crippled by a severe rheumatism, restricted my attention to which seemed to have immediate claims upon it, and in that light I did not view the subject of your communication, ignorant as I was of the true character of Masonry and little informed as I was of the grounds on which its extermination was contended for, and incapable as I was and am, in my situation of investigating  the controversy.  I never was a mason, and no one perhaps could be more a stranger to the principles, rites and fruits of the institution I had never regarded it as dangerous or notorious (noxious?); nor on the other hand as deriving importance from any thing publicly known of it. From the number and character of those who now support the charges against Masonry I cannot doubt that it is at least susceptible of abuse outweighing any advantage promised by its patrons.  With this apology and explanation I tender you Sir my respectful & cordial salutations.
James Madison

The Letter From Mercer to Madison:

The Letter To Bates from Madison, Written by J.C. Payne:

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Pipe Organ

When Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany he was determined to squash any people or groups he perceived as a threat. Among those groups were the Freemasons, who were among the first to feel the impact of his ruthlessness.  In 1935, there were 80,000 members of the Fraternity in Germany, with many majestic lodges throughout the country.

The temple in Frankfurt was one of the premiere Masonic halls there.  The Lodge hall was on the top floor. It was beautifully decorated with the pride of the Lodge, an elaborate pipe organ standing in the southwest corner.  The dazzling instrument supplied the music and added to the majesty of every Masonic occasion.

When Hitler dissolved the Masonic Lodges, his thugs moved in and gutted the buildings, taking records, books, furniture and paraphernalia, either destroying what they had taken or selling it.  In the wake of this, the Brethren in Frankfurt learned their great pipe organ had been dismantled and taken away. The Brothers attempted to find what had happened to the instrument, but their requests were only met with scorn. The great organ was lost and its music, along with the Frankfurt Lodge itself, had been silenced.

A decade passed. Finally the war was over, Hitler defeated and Lodges in Germany and, for that matter, all over Europe were able to take up labors again.  One of the first orders of business in Frankfurt was to attempt to locate and reclaim the magnificent pipe organ. Brother Karl Nuckell, organist and Grand Secretary led a group of Brothers in the search.  They appealed to the company that built and maintained the organ, feeling it would have been employed to maintain the instrument wherever it had been taken. The company refused to cooperate until Brother Nuckell threatened to sue.  With that, the company's management told him they had installed the organ in a small Catholic Church in Wiesbaden.

Nuckell and his Brothers traveled to Wiesbaden where they found their precious instrument.  The head priest there refused even to discuss the possibility of returning it.  The Brothers then filed a claim with the government which, conducted an inquiry.

Karl Nuckell at the Frankfurt pipe organ
The priest claimed he was the rightful owner of the pipe organ, having legally purchased it from the government in power at the time. It came out, however, that the Nazis had sold the organ to the church for a fraction of its value. With that, the inquiry ruled the instrument had been illegally seized and returned it to its rightful owners, the Lodge.

Once the organ was returned and installed, the Brothers gathered to hear its music fill the Lodge hall once again. Brother Nuckell selected a piece he thought appropriate for the occasion and which would emphasize the grandeur of the priceless instrument.  As the Brothers waited with anticipation, Brother Nuckell sat down and struck up the booming notes of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. The great pipe organ was back home.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Three Encounters of the Close Kind

My seemingly never-ending quest into Masonic research has taken a strange turn lately. I blame Google; promising links gone bad. We all know there is some off-the-wall stuff out there about Freemasons, but lately I just seem to be hitting an abundance of space/alien/Masonic connections. It's not always a direct link, but I've found mysteries with multiple theories where the author spirals into a shotgun approach that ends up with, "If you can't blame the Freemasons, blame it on aliens." The treasure buried on Oak Island is a perfect example: "If the Freemasons didn't put it there, ET did." Then there is my personal favorite — Freemasons get mystic powers from the hexagon on Saturn. Really, I wish these creative conspiracy theorists were right. I could use a few mystic powers.

In our Masonic Lodges we are not to discuss politics or religion. I think we should add UFO discussions to that. I have learned differences in opinion about the nature of UFOs can lead to big trouble between two people who are otherwise friends. Suffice it to say, I'm a skeptic. That's all you get. I don't want any big trouble.

Having said that, hitting a bonanza of links about Masons and aliens lately has given me reflections about my three UFO experiences. That's right, I've had three encounters of the close kind. All three happened when I was in college. I should add, none of those experiences were enhanced by any recreational chemicals so prevalent on campuses then... and now.

Trash Bag UFO
Encounter One: Strange Lights I personally never saw the strange lights hovering over the campus, but I knew people who did. For a few days talk of the lights was all the rage. They were rumored to appear just after dark. I made a couple of rooftop excursions with friends. We didn't see any UFOs, but at least it was a diversion from studying... which was good enough for me. Apparently, the lights just hovered in the sky. Some saw one light, some saw a group of lights. It remained a mystery until one of the lights "crashed." Turned out to be a prankster or group of pranksters who fashioned miniature hot-air balloons out of garbage bags, and launched them in the same manner as Japanese sky lanterns. The flame at the bottom created the mysterious light and kept the contraption airborne. As I heard it, their first effort was an experiment with one balloon, but the fact that it attracted attention inspired the perpetrators to expand their efforts. Mystery solved.

Encounter Two: A Cover-Up My roommate during my sophomore year was a level-headed guy. He was, in fact, the president of our dormitory's student government group (I understand it's debatable any politician could be level-headed, but let's move on anyway). One night he raced into our room and announced he had just seen a UFO. Mr. Levelhead went into great detail describing the thing, and said he was convinced it was the real deal. According to him it had a flashing light, moved in three dimensions, turned at right angles and changed direction rapidly. He finally decided it should be reported, so he called the Campus Police (not exactly the FBI, but again I digress). He gave them a description in great detail. When pressed further about the object's appearance he said, "I guess you could say it looked kind of like a helicopter with a strobe light." The next day, much to our initial delight, the story appeared in the campus newspaper (never in danger of winning a Pulitzer). The writers there checked the campus police logs daily and got the story from my roommate's report. It pretty much followed his description of the object and the way it moved, but we were a bit surprised when we read the last line: "Authorities determined the object was a helicopter with a strobe light." If that's not proof of a cover-up, I don't know what is.

Encounter Three: Contact! Then there was the night my friend Carl (That's his real name. This is, after all, non-fiction) came running down the hall banging on doors yelling that he had seen a flying saucer. Carl was not a levelheaded guy. It seems he and his girlfriend had been out in a remote area... uh... collecting plant samples for biology class... nocturnal plants. "We saw it land," he assured us. Well, it was either keep studying or save the world from space aliens, a no brainer. So a few of us grabbed cameras and headed for the hinterlands. We soon found ourselves on farmland a few miles outside of town. It was a moonless night and pitch black. Good thing we remembered cameras. Too bad we forgot flashlights. We spread out to search the area. I headed for a dim light which turned out to be some kind of outbuilding. I stumbled up to the side of it, felt my way along to a corner, rounded it and... There wasn't enough light to see how big the spaceship actually was. I could see it was made of metal and had rounded edges. Even though it was completely dark, the thing almost gleamed in front of me. I froze. I couldn't hear any of my friends who were out there somewhere hunting the amazing thing I had found. It was just me and the space aliens. I didn't know what to do, so I just stood and stared. As I did my eyes became more accustomed to the dark. Gradually I could see more of it until I saw its entire shape. No space alien was going to get me. Boldly I walked up to it and smacked it with my open palm. It made the metallic ping I had expected. Suddenly I heard one of my buddies yell and ask if I had found anything. I smacked it again. "Naw," I said, "just this propane tank." Can't fool me, no sir.

So that's where my Masonic research has taken me lately: to sites linking us with space aliens — and fuzzy memories of encounters long past. I think I'll resolve to sticking to the first few hits on Google searches. You never really find much worthwhile on page 27. But I am happy to know about the hexagon on Saturn, which is, in fact, very real. That's cool.