Monday, October 2, 2017

Man's Best Friend


Although a crime of passion, by now it would have faded forgotten into history but for the impassioned and eloquent words of a Freemason. The facts of the case were never in doubt. The killer admitted firing his gun in anger and leaving the body where it fell. The morning after the crime, the killer's neighbor, Charles Burden, found the body. Enraged, he began a year-long battle to bring Leonidas Hornsby to justice for killing Old Drum, Burden's hunting dog.

Leonidas Hornsby was an angry man. Something was killing his sheep and he wanted it stopped. Any of the predatory wildlife in the area around his Kingsville, Missouri farm could have killed the sheep but for some reason, Hornsby was certain dogs were responsible. "I've had it," Hornsby told a neighbor, "I'm going to kill the next dog I see on my property." Then, on the evening of October 28, 1869, Hornsby found Old Drum wandering on his farm and made good on his promise.

Hornsby's brother-in-law, Charles Burden, lived on the adjoining farm. On occasion, Burden and Hornsby had gone hunting together with Old Drum and Hornsby had even called him, "one of the best hunting dogs I have ever seen."

That October evening all of Burden's dogs came home except one, Old Drum. The next morning Burden went in search of his favorite hunting dog and discovered the body. Hornsby never denied shooting the dog and Burden did the only thing he could in order to gain some degree of justice: He sued Hornsby for damages.

The trial turned into one of the most convoluted circuses in Missouri legal history. Through the original trial and three appeals, the dispute finally reached the Missouri Supreme Court on September 23, 1870. Along the way, the case attracted a bevy of high-profile lawyers including David Nation, husband of temperance zealot Carrie Nation, and Brother Thomas Crittenden, a future Missouri Governor whose "dead-or-alive" reward led to the killing of Jesse James.

Burden's attorney throughout was Brother George Graham Vest, member of a Lodge in Frankfort, Kentucky and also a member of the York Rite in Sedalia, Missouri. Vest, a future US Senator from Missouri, easily got Hornsby to admit he did not see Old Drum doing any harm to his property, nor was he certain it was dogs that were killing his sheep.

Although the crime was vicious, it was nonetheless a misdemeanor. Its record was destined to fade unnoticed into history until Brother Vest stood for his closing argument. His inspired words now stand as legendary to dog lovers and have been cast in bronze on monuments to those faithful companions. What he said was so powerful that acclaimed author William Safire said it was one of the greatest speeches of the millennium, "[Vest's oratory] ranks with that of Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln and, maybe, God. "

Laying the facts and arguments of the case aside, Vest addressed the jury:

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have... the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.... He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains.... and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death."

History records that when Brother Vest returned to his seat "there was not a dry eye in the courtroom." The Supreme Court of Missouri later upheld the jury's verdict: Leonidas Hornsby was guilty of the killing of Old Drum, and was to pay Charles Burden damages amounting to the sum of $50, the maximum amount allowable.

In 1958, the area Chamber of Commerce, with backing from dog lovers across the country, erected a monument to Old Drum on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn in Warrensburg, Missouri, near the site of the crime. It pays tribute to Old Drum and George Graham Vest, a backwoods Missouri lawyer and Freemason who was the first ever to call a dog "man's best friend."


The following is the surviving text of Brother Vest's closing arguments. The final half of his speech has been lost to history. The same words are inscribed on the monument to Old Drum in Warrensburg, Missouri:

Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us — those whom we trust with our happiness and good name — may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world — the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous — is his dog.

"Gentlemen of the jury, a man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.


Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons. Vol. 1. Richmond, VA: Macoy & Masonic Supply, 1957. Print.

"Cedarcroft Farm Area Guide: The Story of Old Drum - A Man's Best Friend Is His Dog." Cedarcroft History Guide. Web. 26 Jan. 2012..

Safire, William. "Faithful, Even in Death." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <>.

Old Drum. Television documentary. Distributed by KSHB-TV, Kansas City, ~1985.
A court case in Johnson County Missouri brought us the phrase “Man’s best friend” to describe our canine companions.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Absolute Power

Power corrupts. Absolute power, they say, corrupts absolutely. We in Freemasonry, however, elect men to whom we then hand absolute… well, nearly absolute power. Apparently, that's the way we like it.

Not long ago I had dinner with a Brother who was indignant at the fact a Grand Master had expelled an officer out of the Grand Line, "He can't do that!"

What do you mean he can't do that? He's the Grand Master. I'm not bylaws expert but I believe he was well within his rights to do it. The expelled member, in fact, was appointed, not elected. I then gave the Brother a couple examples I've seen where a Grand Master and a Master of the Lodge of Research each had expelled elected line officers. We actually had one Grand Master who said no Lodge could have its own website and ordered all of them taken down. Can't do that? Of course they can. And do.

Absolute power — it's practically an aphrodisiac. You've been Master of your Lodge? You've had it, felt it, embraced it. Some use it wisely; some abuse it. Still, face the facts, we as Freemasons elect a benevolent (we hope) dictator.

When I was Master of my Lodge I tried to be reasonable as I swam in the seductive waters of absolute power. Oh, I made an "executive decision" now and then but all-in-all I think I controlled myself. Well, I controlled myself until…

...Monday, September 20, 2004. It was a week before Grand Lodge and three weeks before my final meeting as Master. I had practically the entire year behind me. I had wielded absolute power with a gentle hand but its siren song now called louder and louder. I was Clark Kent wanting to jump into a phone booth and become Superman. I was Thor unable to resist the pent-up urge to hurl thunderbolts. I was me, crazed, wide-eyed and drooling, ready to unleash my venom on the innocent, unsuspecting world of my Brothers.

"I'm going to do it," I told myself, resigned to the criticism that would surely follow. Who cares… I'm the Master, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, the Hulk, all rolled into one. I can do what I want. Damn the torpedoes, full-speed-ahead.

The unremarkable meeting neared its end. Business over, the Brothers sat on the sidelines ready for the standard closing. My next line, "Brother Senior Warden," which would set things in motion, never came.

Instead, I stood and rapped my gavel on the podium three times. The Brothers rose from their seats. I turned to my left, "Brother Chaplain, you will lead us in prayer."

The Chaplain was a little rattled. "What prayer," he whispered.

"The closing prayer."

"Supreme Architect of the Universe," he began and then ended with his usual flourish.

Then, awash in the intoxicating flood of absolute power, completely within my rights to do so, I skipped all other closing ceremonies, "Brethren, by the power vested in me as its Worshipful Master, I declare Liberty Lodge number 31 duly closed!" By God, I'm the Master. I have the authority. I can do it that way, and I did it. Live with it.

I gave a single rap of the gavel and waited for the onslaught of criticism that was about to come. I was ready. Give me your best shot.

Sometimes, in the ebb and flow of events, things don't happen exactly as we expect. Some call this "the law of unintended consequences." The thing is we usually think of that law implying a negative outcome where a positive outcome is expected.

Well, something unexpected happened here, but it was the opposite. I truly had expected a negative outcome. Instead, the entire Lodge erupted in cheers. Although the Brothers were already standing, I think it counted as a standing ovation.

Who knew giving in to the allure of absolute power could make a guy so popular? Or maybe they were just happy they could get to that second helping of dessert a little sooner. So mote it be.

Monday, September 18, 2017

George Washington's Invisible Ink


Brother George Washington was fascinated with the tools used in espionage and, in fact, there are books that delve into the subject. It's understandable... the man had a revolution to win. Invisible ink was one of Brother Washington's favorite tools, but it was fairly ineffective. Invisible ink of the day was made of a concoction largely comprised of lemon juice. The British were well aware of that type of invisible ink and knew all that had to be done to expose the writing was to subject it to heat. The process of heating the paper made it brittle and not many of the secret documents created that way survive today.

Realizing the fallibility of the lemon-based ink, Washington eventually used a special chemical ink which James Jay, brother of first US Chief Justice John Jay, had developed. Jay's ink was invisible until a second chemical agent revealed it, and was far more effective. This particular formula, known as "sympathetic stain," consisted of ferrous oxide (FeO) granules dissolved in water. A solution of sodium carbonate (more commonly known as baking soda) and water applied to the ink made it visible.

One rare surviving invisible ink specimen Washington sent involves another well-known aspect of his life: his troublesome teeth. It is a letter to his dentist, Dr. John Baker. In it, the General complains of a rough spot on his infamous dentures and requests the dentist send him one of his cleaning tools.

It might at first seem ridiculous Washington would be so careful as to write a such an innocuous letter to his dentist in invisible ink, but Washington knew if the letter fell into the wrong hands it would provide British intelligence with the name of a pro-American dentist, as well as Washington's location — new Windsor, New York — in the return address. The British, in fact, did intercept the letter. Accounts differ as to the ramifications of its capture. Some say they were unable to read it, and that may have saved his dentist's life, some say they decoded it and were amused by its content, others say it provided valuable information as to Washington's whereabouts.

Whatever the case, Washington made ample use of invisible ink in secret messages during the American Revolution and even had an organized spy ring, the Culpers, to, among other duties, deliver those messages. George Washington's most important secrets, it seems, had nothing to do with the Freemasons.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Bob Evans


Most Freemasons know about two of our Brothers who founded successful, even iconic restaurant chains. We hear lots of stories about the deeds, Masonic and otherwise, of Colonel Harlan Sanders (Hugh Harris Lodge 938, Corbin, Kentucky) and Dave Thomas (Sol. D. Bayless Lodge 359, Fort Wayne, Indiana). I don't have to tell you those two men started, respectively, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy's Restaurants.

Did you know there is a third Brother who belongs in that elite group? Successful as he was, you may never have eaten at one of his restaurants unless you live in a specific geographic region. Legend has it that Bob Evans, founder of the restaurant chain bearing his name, would never open a restaurant where it would take more than a day to ship his "farm fresh" sausage by truck.

True or not, sausage was Brother Bob Evans' claim to fame. When he started a tiny diner in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1948 he was unable to get enough sausage, so he started making his own on his farm nearby. Over time, family and friends thought the sausage was so good, they encouraged him to make a business of selling it. Made with the best parts of the hog, however, restaurants and groceries judged his high-quality product to be too expensive. Unable to sell enough sausage elsewhere, Evans started his own restaurant chain, opening the first location on his farm in 1962.

From there, Evans expanded his culinary empire to become a $1.7 billion retail food products company with 480 restaurants in 22 states. Later, outside of his alleged delivery area, he purchased the Owens restaurant chain, based in Texas.

Raised in Morning Dawn Lodge #7 in Gallipolis, Ohio, Brother Evans was also a member of the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, where he received the 33°. Dedicated to the Masonic tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, Evans retired from the restaurant chain in 1986 to devote his life to humanitarian causes. He channeled his energies to helping youth in the 4H and FFA organizations as well as becoming a member of the Ohio Board of Regents where he supported higher-education. He was tireless in his efforts for the Heart Fund, the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Blindness, Arthritis Foundation and Easter Seals among others.

Brother Evans passed away in 2007 at the age of 89. Since his death his farm near Rio Grande Ohio has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is the home of the Homestead Museum which features items from his life and the company he founded. Although a big conglomerate has gobbled up his venerable restaurant chain, the food hasn't changed and you can still feel the presence of Brother Bob inside. The next time you're traveling through the Midwest, you might run across one of its distinctive red and white buildings in what is known as the"Steamboat Victorian" style. If you do you might stop in and remember our Brother as you have the same kind of meal he would have served you down on the farm years ago.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Suitable Proficiency


I've seen it often — a candidate enters the Lodge room to receive his Fellowcraft or Master Mason degree. In each, the Senior Deacon leads the candidate around the room, stopping at stations for an interrogation. The officers at those stations ask if the candidate has made suitable proficiency in the preceding degree.

"He has," replies the Senior Deacon… as he shakes his head "no." Muffled snickering from around the room usually follows.

You see, about 15 years ago my jurisdiction — Missouri — dropped the requirement for proficiencies. Many of our Brothers considered that decision to be the worst thing that had happened in our state since the Pony Express went belly up; and it's not exactly breaking news that the debate continues — those Senior Deacons aren't shaking their heads for nothing.

I recall receiving the pamphlet with the proficiencies when I became an Entered Apprentice. (Yes, in Missouri they're written down, in code, but still a practice some consider heretical.) Discovering I had to memorize the material gave the word "daunting" new meaning. Somehow, though, I "manned-up" and learned them for all three degrees.

Having gone through the experience I consider it one of the highlights of my Masonic journey. I spent time with my mentor who not only took me through the rote memorization process, but also explained things along the way. At the end, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I also found all that memory work paved the way for learning other parts in the future. Frankly, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I'm still not sure, however, where I fall in the debate we're still having 15 years after the proficiencies went away. I think there is a feeling that the lack of proficiencies increases membership; or maybe a better way of putting that is having proficiencies might scare some men away. I have to say, in all those years we haven't had them, I've seen men come through who are some of the finest Brothers I know. We wouldn't want to do without them. But would they have joined anyway?

In the end, I probably fall somewhere in the middle of the road. I really think it should take more of a commitment to join the fraternity than it does, say, to become a member of your local Public TV station. We should require new Brothers to demonstrate at least a knowledge of signs, passwords and maybe even learn the obligation.

Going through some old Missouri records recently I noticed one more interesting fact to consider — historically, there were a lot of Brothers who were initiated, passed and raised in a matter of days — sometimes, in fact, on the same day. Meriwether Lewis, for example, was initiated on January 28, 1797, and received his Second and Third Degrees on the following evening. Obviously, he did not learn "suitable proficiencies" in that time span.

Lewis and many others who came into the fraternity that way served the Craft well. Don't we become a little more proficient in Freemasonry every day, with every meeting, every experience? Perhaps we should look at proficiency as something other than memorizing a boatload of material. To me, understanding that material is proficiency, and it doesn't come overnight.

I wonder what would happen the next time I'm asked if the candidate has obtained suitable proficiency if I responded, "Define proficiency."

You're right… maybe not a good idea.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Consultant

Congratulations to Very Much Most Worshipful Brother John Henry Doe, who has just been elected the Grand-Grand Master of all of Freemasonry. This is an opportunity he has long sought. He's been griping for years about the problems facing the Brotherhood and now he, and he alone, has the power to turn things around. So, now what?

VMMWB Doe: Well, first, I put on my gold jewel, gold apron, gold crown, grasp my gold baton of authority and sit in my gold chair in the East.

Then what?

VMMWB Doe: Oh, you mean that isn't enough? Well, talk, as you know, is cheap. So all the griping I've been doing has pretty much been hot air. If I have real responsibilities here, I guess I'd better hire a consultant who has a track record of turning organizations around… someone from outside the fraternity who can take an objective look at Freemasonry and make recommendations in the unlikely event we're doing something wrong.

Accordingly, VMMWB Doe, after much consideration, hires the best business consultant around, Edsel P. Highpower III, MBA, to analyze the Craft and recommend actions for improvement. Highpower studies the fraternity and reports back to VMMWB Doe.

VMMWB Doe: Well, Highpower, what do you think?

Highpower: I think you're nuts.

VMMWB Doe: Excuse me?

Highpower: Everyone says you have a membership problem. Membership has been declining for decades and continues to decrease. I understand you don't just want anyone to join, but, still, you really do have a membership issue. YET YOU EXCLUDE HALF THE WORLD FROM BECOMING MEMBERS!

VMMWB Doe: Are you suggesting we should admit women? You just don't understand us. I can assure you we will never admit women. What other bright ideas do you have?

Highpower: You lack strong consistent leadership. Throughout the world Freemasonry is a conglomeration of separate Grand Lodges loosely connected, each making up its own rules. It's even worse in the US — Fifty or so separate Grand Lodges sharing territories with fifty or so other Grand Lodges, some not recognizing others for whatever reason; and, frankly, a couple of Grand Lodges going completely off the rails.

VMMWB Doe: You just don't understand us. Freemasonry is a grass-roots organization. We will never have a universal central leadership. All they would ever do is raise our per-capita.

Highpower: You missed the point. Where is your single voice for Freemasonry?

VMMWB Doe: What about me? I am, after all, the Grand-Grand Master.

Highpower: You know very well this is a fictional piece. Let's move on to the next issue. This is not your father's world; this is not your father's Freemasonry. We live in a world steeped in promotion and advertising. It's everywhere. Google isn't just a search engine, FaceBook isn't just a social network; their very essence is all about advertising. Freemasonry does little to promote itself in a world that increasingly only responds to hype. The public usually only sees stuff from places like the History Channel with overtones suggesting creepy things are going on behind Lodge doors. You need to consistently, regularly get the word out about your real purpose and activities. You need to do it in a classy way and not come off like a bunch of snake-oil salesmen. To put it succinctly, you need a public relations program, and it goes back to needing that single voice for the Fraternity.

VMMWB Doe: Highpower, you really don't understand us. Some of the stuff on TV and the Internet is such drivel it's not worth our response. And we certainly don't like people who blow their own horn. Advertising or, as you call it, promotion, is beneath us. You won't see that around here. Didn't you find anything I can use?

Highpower: I found this — most of your Lodge meetings are boring.

VMMWB Doe: How would you know? You're not a Mason and you're not allowed to attend our meetings.


VMMWB Doe: If our own members thought the meetings were boring attendance would be really low.

Highpower: I rest my case.

VMMWB Doe: Highpower, you're fired. I don't need you. I can come up with my own ideas to turn this Fraternity around. In fact, I'm planning to introduce one that will be great. I'm going to call it "Every Member Get A Member."

Epilog: After implementing his innovative "Every Member Get A Member" program, Very Much Most Worshipful Brother Doe continued to see membership decline, but at a slightly slower pace. He counts that as his greatest achievement as the Grand-Grand Master of all of Freemasonry.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Cement of Brotherly Love


On occasion I’m asked how many books I’ve written.  “Four,” is my quick and dirty answer, especially if I can quickly walk away from the person who asked.  In reality… I’m coming clean here, Brothers… I have written three books.  The fourth book, I edited.  It was as much work as writing a book but that’s a different story.

That fourth book, The Masonic Memoirs of Frederic L. Billon contained the recollections of a man who was Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Missouri.  He lived virtually the entire 19th century and chronicled Masonic events during that time.  He came to Missouri with his father, a Pennsylvania Mason and through his father’s eyes and his own saw the formation of the Grand Lodge of Missouri.  He knew Lewis and Clark, met The Marquis de Lafayette, went to the Baltimore conference and lived through the dark days of the Morgan affair — all the while with his journal in hand, recording those events for posterity.

His journal was lost for 75 years until a determined Brother tracked it down after a seven-year search.  Once found it became the passion of the Missouri Lodge of Research to publish it and preserve Brother Billon’s precious first-hand account of our history.
Written in longhand, the journal had to be transcribed and carefully edited.  Selected to edit the 275 page memoir, I knew from the start I needed help — and lots of it. Occasionally I’ve made the call for such help only to be met with the deafening sound of silence.  So this time I prepared myself to go out and do a major league sales job.

I personally started asking people to participate; but beyond that, once word got out, I was surprised to find people not just asking me to be part of it, but telling me they would be honored to do so.  Eventually, 18 Brothers and two Eastern Star Sisters signed up.  The group even included the sitting Grand Master.  Amazingly, I had to turn a few people down.  Twenty volunteers was plenty.
We divided the book into sections and I sent a draft transcript and a copy of the original longhand document to each volunteer.  They, in turn, made sure the transcripts were correct, complete and most importantly ensured interpretation of the tricky longhand script was accurate.
The entire process took the bulk of 2016, and the Missouri Lodge of Research gave a hardbound copy of the book to each member.

The point is that, while we are a fraternity of good men striving to become better, we are still human.  I'm sure that you, as well as I, have seen Brothers in conflict, sometimes expressing their discontent in un-Brotherly ways, sometimes bickering, sometimes escalating things beyond that.  Joe doesn't like something Tom said. There is too much conflict in the committee to get anything done. Frank is trying to ram some project through that's against the by-laws… even though I haven't read them. ; and, dear God, those greedy guys in the Grand Line are trying to raise dues again.  It happens in every organization… not just ours.

I don't know exactly what happened to inspire Brothers to embrace this project.  If I did I would bottle it.  And to be fair, I have seen this kind of thing happen more in our gentle craft than the arguments and bickering.  But it's an example of something a group of Brothers and Sisters did that exemplifies what can happen when we apply the cement of brotherly love and affection - that cement which unites us into one sacred band, or society of friends and brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, save that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree." 

It's a big part of why I… and possibly you… joined this fraternity.