Monday, September 18, 2017

George Washington's Invisible Ink

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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

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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

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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.

Highpower: YOUR OWN MEMBERS SAY THEY ARE BORING.

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

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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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Look at Inside the Freemasons



A Look at Inside the Freemasons
Inside the TV series that goes inside the United Grand Lodge of England

By Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

Sitting with me at lunch as we were planning a Masonic project, a Brother pulled something out of his briefcase and handed it to me, “Here… take a look at this and tell me what you think of it.” I took it and found myself looking at a DVD case — Inside the Freemasons. I almost felt as if I was holding contraband; and in a sense I was. This was the much-ballyhooed Sky TV production about the United Grand Lodge of England not intended, initially at least, to air in the US.

Sky TV billed the series as a documentary to “discover the truth behind the ancient rituals and closely-guarded practices of the world’s oldest social network, taking viewers exclusively behind the scenes in the run up to its 300th anniversary in 2017.”

Excited about the prospect of possessing this forbidden fruit, I scampered back home and popped it in my DVD player only to get the message, “Can’t Operate Disc.” Uh-oh. Not only is it not meant to play in the US, it’s coded so it won’t play here. Contraband, indeed. Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. When I tried this in my computer’s DVD drive, it played (caveat emptor – in case you’re thinking of purchasing the DVD, this doesn’t always work).

Well, problem solved, popcorn popped, easy chair reclined, I was ready for the adventure.

The pre-release buzz about this five-part series indicated it was going to be a classier, more accurate assessment of Freemasonry than the run-of-the-mill sensationalism we usually see about the Brotherhood. Unquestionably, it was. However, the producers still could not resist claiming they would “lift the veil of secrecy” and “reveal what really goes on behind closed doors.” Not so much — If anything the producers went out of their way to respect the privacy of the degrees, visibly closing the doors on the viewer more than once. I’m no expert on UGLE Freemasonry but for ceremonies they show – installations, dinners and other meetings – corresponding events are open or not considered “secret” in my jurisdiction.

The show also promises “to reveal what it means to be a modern day Freemason.” In this vein as we watch Brothers in pursuit of various aspects of Freemasonry, from being initiated to attaining high office, we also see them interacting with their families, jobs and hobbies. The show contrasts the “stuffed shirt” aspect of Freemasonry with Brothers engaged in farming, sky-diving, motorcycling, boxing and such. We even see the consecration of a Lodge exclusively for footballers (you know, the thing we in the US call “soccer”) — again, an open ceremony over here.

Mainly recorded at Freemasons Hall in London (Covent Garden), headquarters of UGLE and the “spiritual home of Freemasonry,” the series is peppered with Masonic tidbits, mostly light-hearted, where a narrator asks something about the fraternity and a Brother responds. As an example, in one of these scenes (which almost look like outtakes) the narrator asks, “Tell me a surprising Masonic fact.” A chuckling Brother responds, “There are no goats involved.”

There are poignant moments as well. In one such scene a Brother shows a picture of himself and his wife smiling arm-in-arm at a Masonic function. Just seconds after the photographer snapped the picture, his wife collapsed and died of a heart-attack. The Brother talks about the support he and his daughter have received from the Masons after the devastating event.

While watching, US Brothers can’t help but compare US customs to those in the UGLE. Most notable to some may be the formality of dress in England compared to the ultra-casual attire one finds in the US. The impeccably-dressed UGLE Masons somehow exude an air of courtesy and respect for each other that jeans and T-shirts can’t match. To others, the biggest contrast may be the free-flowing alcohol at UGLE Lodge functions.

A scene that is sure to send many US Brethren reeling is one in which a Mason explains expenses to a prospective candidate. “So,” he explains, “our subscription per year is £215. There is also a Provencal Grand Lodge Registration fee of £25, and then there’s a Grand Lodge Fee which will be £31. There is a one-off fee of £111 plus the subscription of £190. As a Mason we expect some monetary contribution to our charities and also then the dining cost; We don’t eat for free, unfortunately… so the dining meal is generally £24… £23… depends on the menu. If you want wine on top, that’s generally about £5 or £6;” And all this was said to a prospect who, as a student, was getting a discount. So just to get in, not counting meals and donations, that’s a total of £572 or about $750. It is unclear if the £190 subscription is annual but the subscription of £215 amounts to a minimum annual dues of $282. My Lodge dues are $46 and that comes with the right to gripe about them being too high.

Viewers will also notice scenes where some Brother’s faces are blurred so they will not be recognized as Masons. Things aren’t so open in England as they are in the US.

Throughout the five parts the viewer follows Brothers in their various Masonic and non-Masonic activities as they prepare for and complete initiations, dinners, meetings and fundraisers. All of it leads to “Annual Investiture,” the most important meeting of the year, with the Duke of Kent, Grand Master of the UGLE, presiding.

For the record, here is a brief description of what is in each episode:

Episode 1: A Quarterly Communication; a candidate preparing for his initiation and Brothers practicing for the degree; installation of a Provincial Grand Master; a festive board.

Episode 2: A candidate preparing for the Fellowcraft Degree; snippets of the candidate being questioned in the Second Degree (something akin to our proficiencies), with the unprepared candidate stumbling through his responses; a Lodge-sponsored boxing event which raises £8,000 ($10,500) for charity.

Episode 3: Planning for a Quarterly Communication; a candidate preparing for his Master Mason Degree; a Masonic Ladies’ Night including a traditional “grand march”; a look at the Widow’s Sons motorcycle club led by Peter Younger, whose wife recently passed away at a Masonic event; a Quarterly Communication and festive board.

Episode 4: On-the-street interviews garnering public comments such as, “I can’t imagine what crazy things happen behind those doors”; the issue of Freemasonry as a men-only fraternity; a Masonic ladies’ event with the Lodge’s “First Lady” as the featured speaker; scenes from a well-known rapper’s second degree at Chelsea Lodge for entertainers; the Consecration of a new music-themed Lodge.

Episode 5: Freemasonry’s “battle plan” to attract younger members; preparation for and the Annual Investiture; events leading up to the consecration of a Lodge themed for football players and enthusiasts; the grand entrance of the Grand Master (Duke of Kent) at the Annual Investiture for which doors are closed “out of respect for the Duke of Kent.”

There is much more to see in this series which, in my opinion, will be enjoyable and educational for Masons and non-Masons alike. Freemasons will find many of the scenes familiar and very much like Masonic activities in the US. Other scenes will be a learning opportunity as we experience the light by which other Brothers work.

If you’re interested in purchasing the two-DVD set, it’s available for about $20 (US) here: http://bit.ly/2v4ejbL (Don’t forget, if you purchase it the discs may not work in your DVD player). If you live in a region eligible for Sky TV and are a subscriber, you may watch online here: http://bit.ly/2teEhMs .

Friday, July 7, 2017

The "Babe Ruth" of Table Tennis

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I have a vivid memory of the first time I went into a Masonic Lodge. I was 15 years old and had arrived with my dad for my DeMolay initiation. The room, a magnificent leather-chair filled lounge, was bustling with activity. In the back were a pool and a billiards table in full use. To one side was a table tennis table with a match going on and a big crowd watching. I worked my way over to the table tennis match and joined the crowd. A wiry man, the Chapter Dad, was playing one of the older DeMolay boys. The DeMolay youth was a tall, thin, athletic type. He was quick and clearly good at the game. But the older man was, as they say, cleaning his clock. "Wow," I recall thinking, "that older guy is pretty good." Oh, he was pretty good all right. In fact, as I later learned, he was... and remains... the best US table tennis player ever, known, in fact, as "The Babe Ruth of Table Tennis." His name was Jimmy McClure.

Born September 28, 1916, Jimmy was a superstar right out of the gate. He was a quick learner and a great dancer. So good, in fact, he occasionally performed with the likes of Dick Powell — without ever having had a single dance lesson.

As a youngster, he began playing tennis and at age 12, and won many championships over the next few years.

Likely on his way to a budding tennis career, a rainy day in 1932 changed things for him. That day, Jimmy's tennis game with friends was rained out. About to call it quits, one of the boys suggested they all come over to his house where he had what he called a "ping-pong" table in the basement. Jimmy and the others followed their friend downstairs, where they found the table. Jimmy picked up one of the strange looking paddles. It was the first time he had ever seen one. In a sense, he would never put it down again.

Only a year later, he stood in another venue holding something just as unfamiliar – the US Open Championship trophy. In practically a single step, he had advanced from a complete beginner to being the best table tennis player in the country.

Jimmy's first US championship was no fluke. His slight build, extraordinary coordination and lightning quickness were ideal for the sport. Up until the time World War II interrupted his career, Jimmy won no less than six additional major championships. He was a legitimate superstar.

To top it all off, in 1937, Jimmy was selected for the US Swaythling Cup team. The Swaythling Cup is roughly the table tennis equivalent of golf’s Davis Cup, given to the world championship team each year. With Jimmy as its anchor and best player, that 1937 team won the United States' first and only Swaythling cup.

As with so many other athletes of the era, World War II put an end to the fun. Jimmy put his career on hold and enlisted in the Navy, serving as a radioman in the South Pacific.

When the war was over, 29-year old McClure resumed his career. Aging by table tennis standards, Jimmy competed for ten more years, winning his final championship in 1956. By the end of his playing career, Jimmy had six national titles and five world championships to his credit. Without the war, there would certainly have been more.

Once settled back home after the war, McClure opened a sports and trophy shop, and then looked back to that seminal year of 1932. That was not only the year he first played table tennis, but it was also the year his uncle, James Hodgson, introduced him to the Masonic fraternity. At his uncle's suggestion, Jimmy joined Indianapolis Chapter, Order of DeMolay, where he eventually served as Master Councilor.

After WWII, given his positive experience in DeMolay, he decided to join the Masons. Together with his father he joined Oriental Lodge #500, the Indianapolis Scottish Rite and Murat Shrine. In 1966, he became Oriental’s Worshipful Master.

After his playing career was over, Brother Jimmy served as a sports administrator at the highest levels, including the board of directors of the US Olympic Committee, where he single-handedly mounted a successful campaign to distribute the money equally among large and small sports

Jimmy passed away in February, 2005. He remains the only United States player in the Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

The years Brother Jimmy McClure spent traveling the world representing the US Olympic Committee, his country and, indeed, Masonry, earned respect all around the globe. He is recognized throughout the world for his efforts on behalf of sports, but remains relatively unknown in his own country. Still, for those who know table tennis, his legacy remains intact as the United States' greatest player.