Tuesday, July 17, 2018


A fraternity that performs so many charitable acts is bound to be the target of fraud. Those impersonating Masons for financial gain and those appealing to Masonic charities under false pretenses have been around almost as long as the order itself. Today, with the Internet and mass media, word can spread quickly when a charlatan surfaces. In times past, such communication was slower and more difficult. In 1859, Rob Morris, founder of the Eastern Star, published "The Prudence Book." Updated annually, it was an attempt to publish information about impostors, but was discontinued after a short run. It was found easier to print and distribute "broadsides" as Lodges discovered impostors. Here is an example of one notice warning Lodges of an impostor from the 19th century. It reads (sic):

CAUTION! MASONIC Lodge OF RELIEF, MASONIC TEMPLE, Baltimore, July 24, 1877. A man calling himself "HERBERT SYDNEY," professing to hail from Langthorne Lodge, Stratford, Essex, England is an IMPOSTER. Information has been received from Langthorne Lodge that no such person is known there. DESCRIPTION. Height about 5 feet 6 or 7 inches: complexion dark: black hair and eyes: bald patch on top of head; hair somewhat thin: black mustache. Professes to be a portrait painter, and ruined by the fire at St. John's, Canada, in June 1876. Reports from Masonic Lodge at St. John's, say that no portrait painter of that name ever lived there, but there had been one named Sydney Herbert Gadsen. The Fraternity is hereby warned against this person, and is furthermore advised to have him arrested, if possible, for obtaining, or attempting to obtain money under false pretenses. He was in Baltimore about a month ago, and succeeded in swindling the Fraternity to a small extent. He then went to Washington, DC. He is believed to be now tramping about, victimizing Masonic Lodges, and the St. Georges Societies. ALBERT LYMAN., M. D., Secretary.

Even with the instant communication we have today, we can still encounter such deception. And I might add, that can work both ways — the Internet isn't exactly a fraud-free zone. I haven't heard many cases of men running around posing as Freemasons. There are, however other forms of deception. How many times have I heard the Almoner in my Scottish Rite valley say, "I denied the request for assistance. I'm certain it was fraudulent." Keep on your toes, Brothers, and guard the gates.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Life-Saving Gift From The Freemasons

The port closest to London, Clacton-on-Sea, served as a major shipping channel in 19th century England. Weather, rocks and shifting conditions made it an especially treacherous place to navigate and, as might be expected, the waters there claimed many ships and human lives. In 1875, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England and later King Edward VII (1901-10), voyaged to India. Thankful for his safe return eight months later at Clacton-on-Sea, the Grand Lodge of England decided to make the port safer by donating a lifeboat in his name. With more than 4,000 spectators in attendance, they dedicated and launched the Albert Edward Lifeboat on July 10, 1878, amidst pomp and circumstance fit for the future King. An unknown poet immortalized the event with an official poem which said, in part:

Built from henceforth life to save,
Manned by crew so strong and brave-
Launch the boat with ringing cheer!
Honour the name to all now dear!
Honour the dead in the living son!
Honour the love so justly won!
ALBERT EDWARD," aye to be
The sailor’s friend on this Eastern Sea!

Honour “the Craft,” whose generous thought
So much of sterling good has wrought!
Honour the gift that they have given,
To save man’s life, if willed by Heaven!
Honour the true hearts ever found,
When storms and tempests rage around,
To leave their homes, where loved ones weep,
And brave the perils of the deep!

By the day of the dedication, the Albert Edward had already proven its worth. Delivered to Clacton prior to the official launching, the lifeboat saw its first action on May 23, when the ship Garland, on a voyage from Shields to London, ran aground and broke up. The crew rowed for three grueling hours to reach the stranded vessel and saved the lives of six men and three boys on board.

No one will ever know how many crewmen, most of whom were likely Freemasons, lost their lives in this dangerous service. However, the 1884 proceedings of the United Grand Lodge of England made note of the following:

"That the sum of 50 guineas (about $5,000 today) be granted to the family of the late James Cross and a similar sum to the family of Thomas Cattermole, two of the crew of the Albert Edward lifeboat at Clacton-on-Sea, which boat was presented to the National Life Boat Institution by Grand Lodge.

These two men, after having assisted, the first in saving 116 and the second 33 lives, having lost their own in the discharge of their duty on the night of the 23rd January last, whilst in their boat endeavouring to rescue the crew of a vessel in distress, leaving their families consisting of a widow and six children and a widow and three children entirely destitute."

For over a half century, from 1878-1929, the Albert Edward and its two successors of the same name, guarded the port of Clacton-on-Sea and saved countless lives. Today, Freemasons still take part in rescues there and at other ports. In addition the Fraternity regularly donates funds to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which oversees the lifesaving operations throughout Great Britain.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Suspended NPD — for Twenty-Five Years!

Over the years I've seen my Lodge and other Masonic bodies deal with members who don't pay their dues in a variety of ways. It seems there has been a progression of sorts requiring less and less of a financial effort for a Brother to return. Years ago I recall the NPD Brother had to pay the dues for each year missed, plus the current year's dues, to become a member in good standing once again. Then there was a period when the member in arrears had to pay just last year's and current year's dues. Now, for one of the bodies where I am a member, a Brother can re-join just by paying the current year's dues. If things keep going this way I guess we'll have to pay them to come back.

Of course, these men are our Brothers and we do, in fact, want them back; and there are good reasons why some don't pay — hardship and illness being at the top of the list. Every Masonic body I belong to always takes that into consideration and I have seen many meetings where understanding members remit the dues of a Brother who simply cannot pay.

Still, I think we're pretty lenient with NPD. My personal opinion is we probably should be. I mean, how many times have we heard it... "It's easier to keep the members you have than to go out and get new ones."

With all that in mind, I ran across something that really made me do a double-take — make that a triple-take.

I was going through records kept by a 19th century Grand Secretary in Missouri when I came across a list of suspensions for Missouri Lodge No. 1. The first half dozen entries were for a group of Brothers suspended July 2, 1868, for non-payment of dues. The first line made note that Brother William Stewart was suspended NPD for a period of five years.

"Wow," I thought, "five years — that's pretty stiff."

No, it turns out Brother Stewart got off easy. The next four entries were for members suspended for periods of 20 or 25 years. Twenty-five years for NPD! Now, that sends a message.

The sixth entry was for Brother Maximilian Eller, suspended for a period of 10 years. This line also contained a note that Brother Eller came back after the 10-year suspension ended and paid his dues.

In those records there were other Brothers suspended for 25 years, which seemed to be more or less the standard; but beginning in 1872, with only two exceptions, NPD suspension penalties were: "until paid."

So apparently, "until paid" became the new standard. One of those original six Brothers, Charles Eager, may have heard about this. Originally suspended for 20 years, the records indicate he returned in 1876 and made restitution. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine he went back to Missouri No. 1 and said, "Hey, look, I got a pretty harsh suspension for NPD but today you're letting guys off the hook if they just pay up. How about cutting me a little slack, too?"

I doubt he used that exact phraseology but they did, in fact, let him back in.

I have to conclude somewhere along the way Missouri No. 1 decided its penalties for NPD were excessive, and backed off. It's also possible the Grand Lodge somehow stepped in with different standards. Whatever the case, at that point those standards became more closely aligned with those we have today. We may never know why they made that change but it's possible they, too, discovered "it's easier to keep the members you have than to go out and get new ones." 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Little Get-Together

Each year in May when I make my annual pilgrimage to the Indianapolis 500 – a near-religious experience – my journey takes me through the Champagne-Urbana, Illinois region. There, in recent years, I've taken that opportunity to meet with friends from the area. We have lunch, share the experiences of the past year, exchange ideas and maybe even tell a tall tale or two. Freemasons all, the conversation usually has a lot to do with the state of the Craft, whether in our local lodges or with other Masonic issues in general.

Our small group consists of Todd Creason, Greg Knott, yours truly and this year, for the first time, Darrin Lahners joined us. While Freemasonry struggles with membership issues, our exclusive “order” has grown by 33%.

Todd is the founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He has written a slew of books on Freemasonry including three novels where some of the characters are Brothers, and has been named a Fellow in the Missouri Lodge of Research. Greg is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge 970 in St. Joseph, Illinois and is a director of the prestigious Masonic Society. Darrin just served as Master of St. Joseph Lodge 970 and this coming year will be Master of Homer Lodge 199. Darrin has written about some tough issues he faced as Master this year and the fact he's out to do it again at Homer emphasizes his dedication to the fraternity. That doesn't even serve as a “Reader's Digest” version of what these men have accomplished. Their full biographies can be found at www.midnightfreemasons.org/.

These Brothers are so dynamic, enthusiastic and have had so many successes I'm sometimes surprised to find they run into the same issues I encounter; but they do. We share those issues and try to work out what solutions and suggestions we can in the space of an hour or so.

I really look forward to this little get-together. It's nothing earthshaking. We're not going to solve the problems of the world in the small amount of time we have. Maybe its greatest significance is there are three – make that four guys – different ages, different backgrounds, different geographical regions getting together. If not for the bond of Freemasonry this wouldn't happen. I wouldn't know any of them and, although Darrin, Greg and Todd work at the same place they wouldn't know each other as well or perhaps at all.

I've seen this kind of thing happen a lot. We are a band of Brothers with common experiences and obligations. Knowing we share the tenets of Freemasonry brings us together like magnets. Just seeing that square and compasses pin on a lapel makes us want to know more about the man wearing it. It's not just a conversation piece; it represents the strong bond of Brotherhood.

This year's meeting came and went all too quickly. We finished our meal, posed for our mandatory photo and went our separate ways. Across the parking lot from the others, I barely could hear one of them say, “Meeting adjourned.”

That is until next year, God willing.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Skirret

One aspect of our ancient Craft that fits right into this so-called Age of Diversity is the fact that our various rituals are nothing if not diverse. All I have to do to find a ritual that looks strange to me is to drive just a few miles west into Kansas (no offense, Kansas).

Rather than gripe about the potential for this to add to any "confusion among the Craft" I think it's better to look at it from the point of view that, like most diversity, it makes things more interesting.

That said, there is a certain ritualistic continuity here in the US through which we all "recognize" the degree work in spite of the fact that a Steward may hold his rod differently in one jurisdiction than he does in another. Years back, however, I saw a group of Brothers from the United Kingdom perform a Third Degree. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around some of that.

I found something fascinating in the Emulation Rite practiced in the UK and elsewhere: a "new" working tool. In the words of Otha Wingo, a Past Master and Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research, "The Emulation Rite surprises us with three Working Tools for this degree: the Skirret, the Pencil, and the Compasses."

The Pencil and Compasses: I get that. The Skirret: never heard of it.

I just had to know what that was. Go ahead… Google it and depending on which one of the accepted spellings you use, you'll wind up with a biography of actor Tom Skerritt… or a vegetable of the same name. Believe me, it's hard to find. The Internet may not be your best source for obscure and archaic working tools.

Still, a little perseverance paid off.

A Skirret is a wooden tool shaped like the letter "T" — about halfway down the vertical stake is another piece of wood parallel to the one at the top. The two wooden cross-pieces are connected by a dowel at each end. A long piece of string is wound around the dowels.

(And if the paragraph above doesn't prove "a picture is worth a thousand words," nothing will).

When in use, the craftsman unwinds the long piece of string from its spindle and uses it to lay out the design of the structure being built. It acts on a center pin from which a line is drawn out to mark the ground in the fashion of a chalk line:

"The Skirret is an implement which acts on a centre pin, whence a line is drawn to mark out ground for the foundation of the intended structure."

In certain instances, with the spindle as the center, it is also handy for drawing a large circle.

The Skeritt's symbolism is fairly straightforward: it represents the straight, true and undeviating conduct we must use to lay out the course of our lives in our pursuit of more light:

"...the Skirret points out that straight and undeviating line of conduct laid down for our pursuit in the Volume of Sacred Law."

So there you have it: the Skirret — a working tool so ancient it's not only not in use today, but it's also almost forgotten; yet brand new to many of us in the United States.

And, I might add, now among my favorites.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Grisly Incident

Born in Virginia in 1752, George Rogers Clark spent his early boyhood on a farm just a few miles from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. At the age of 20, he moved to Kentucky where he garnered a reputation as a military leader. He began his career as an Indian fighter and later in life gained the friendship and respect of the Native Americans who had been his former enemies. He is considered a hero of the American Revolution, where the greatest of his accomplishments was to capture the British-held forts of Kaskaskia, Cahokia Ka-ho-kee-ah, and Vincennes.

After his military service ended, Clark received 150,000 acres of land for his contribution to the war, but he struggled to maintain it. Unsuccessful at this, he lost most of the land and opened a small gristmill in Clarksville, Indiana, which provided a moderate income. In 1805, he was named to the board of directors of the Indiana Canal Company, whose mission was to build a canal around the nearby Falls of the Ohio River. His good fortune at obtaining this position didn't last long. Two of the other directors, including Vice President Aaron Burr, illegally plotted to seize Louisiana from Spain in order to open the Mississippi River to Americans. In the process, $2.5 million of the company's money ($65 million in today's dollars) turned up missing. Clark was not involved. Burr and the other director, Davis Floyd, were arrested for treason and the Indiana Canal Company folded.

A grisly incident in 1809 turned Clark into an invalid for the remainder of his life. Age 57 at the time, he suffered a stroke and fell into an open fireplace. He was unable to move and his leg burned so badly it required removal. When his doctor performed the amputation, the only "anesthetic" Clark received was music from a fife and drum corps playing in the background.

Clark lived with the crippling effects of the stroke and amputation until his death in 1818. Like his famous brother William (of Lewis and Clark fame), George Rogers Clark was a Freemason. Although his original Lodge is unknown, Abraham Lodge #8, Louisville, conducted his Masonic funeral.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"We Are One EMP Away From Losing Civilization."

Last week's episode of the Whence Came You podcast (https://bit.ly/2IhxBAr) is well worth a listen. Scott Hambrick, a member of Owasso Lodge 545 in Oklahoma, was Robert Johnson's guest on the show. Brother Hambrick is a founder of the Intellectual Linear Progression program, "an online community developing classically educated men and women using the great books of western civilization." (https://bit.ly/2GafSsU). With a decided preference for hard copy books, Scott notes, "One of the reasons I started this project is because I'm desperately afraid we're one EMP (electromagnetic pulse) away from losing civilization." Robert picked right up on that and they both agreed that is not an issue to be underestimated.

The discussion brought to mind some of the resistance offered when I was an officer in the Missouri Lodge of Research. We worked for a few years to establish the Masonic Library in Columbia. One of the arguments against going to that expense was, "We don't need books anymore. Everything is electronic these days. Books are old-fashioned and unnecessary in this 'modern' age."

I love technology. It was my profession. I want the latest gadget. I want every document I write to be in electronic format. Cloud storage is the way to go. With little reservation, however, I have a message for the world: Don't abandon paper.

In fact, along with that, don't abandon any of the "old time" analog archiving techniques. I mean it. Everything today should be digital... but not exclusively. Why? There are lots of reasons not to turn every document or historical item into a string of ones and zeros, but there are a couple of really good ones.

First, you've got to have the technology to use the technology. I have a boatload of old "floppy disks" around the house; not just the "modern" 3½ inch ones, not just the older 5¼ inch floppies, but the ancient 8 inchers. Try to find a way to read those bad boys today. They're obsolete. They don't even make good Frisbees.

Think that's going back a bit far? You think your CDs are safe? Studies have shown the average life of a CD is about 25 years. Uh-oh! You'd better run and check that Dire Straits CD you bought back in '85. Actually, the professional CDs have a life up to 100 years, but the ones you made... not so much. Besides, who knows if 100 years from now there will be a machine that can read a CD? A thousand years?

The solution? A good old fashioned record player. Really. As you read this, the little Voyager spacecraft has oozed out of our solar system into interstellar space. Know what's on board in case it encounters any extraterrestrials? Not a CD, not floppies, not tape, not an SD card, but a record and record player with pictorial instructions on how to use it. ET probably won't have CDs, but he'll be able to operate that simple gadget.

"Yes," you may agree, "but that's a really special case. There are no ETs around here." Well... probably not. But guess what: the official sound recording media our very own Library of Congress uses is 78 RPM records! Space age vinyl 78 RPM records to be sure but, still, Thomas Edison would be proud of us. And, naturally, original documents and books are its official hard copy storage media.

That brings us to the other big reason – the aforementioned EMP. Even if we do have the technology to read all this material, a single coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun or, God forbid, a nuclear war could wipe it all out in a single instant. Granted, if we ever have a disaster of that magnitude, our biggest problem wouldn't be whether or not we had last year's copies of the Short Talk Bulletin. Still, if we could survive such a disaster, in the long run it would be nice to have our historical documents. Hence, paper, vinyl and analog copies would be mighty handy. That's why the Library of Congress is making sure we keep them around. We all should — with both our personal and public treasures.

Oh, and by the way, such an EMP episode already happened. Known as the Carrington Event, a major CME hit the earth in September 1859. The only reason it didn't fry every iPad on earth is there weren't many of them around back then. More recently, a small CME in 1989 brought Hydro-Quebec's electricity transmission system to its knees. It can and will happen. Guaranteed.

In 2013, the Masonic Library in Columbia became a reality. It was a vision of Harry Truman that finally came into fruition. Much of its material is online, with more documents being added daily. At the same time though, the library doesn't put everything exclusively into electronic format.

Let's be optimistic and assume there won't be a nuclear war. Doesn't matter: the next coronal mass ejection is right around the corner.

So let's keep pumping out the paper copies. Luddites of the world unite!