Monday, July 19, 2021

The Beatles

Sitting in a row in front of me, the pair was whispering. All I could hear was...

"They…"

"Them…"

"Who," I wondered. It didn't sound like they were talking about other students.

I sat in chemistry class my junior year in high school. We were "Boomers." Our parents, mainly fathers, came back from World War II and started their families in unison. And along came us. We bloated the US with our presence and, in turn, the need for new, big schools that could support our numbers. And I was there in 1963 at North Central High school,  in a well-to-do section of Indianapolis in the newest, biggest, and, of course, most expensive public school ever built in that state. The room was designed to squeeze in our massive size class. This was an arena lecture hall with a dozen or so rows of tables stretching wall-to-wall curved so the lecturer was at the focal point of our short attention spans.

The boy and girl to my left in the row in front of me continued their conversation which I strained to hear. It seemed more interesting than the instructor's lecture.  They were whispering and all I could make out were a lot of "theys" and "thems." Have you heard them," asked the girl. He had. 

I finally turned to a girl next to me and asked what they were talking about. She was trying to pay attention to the instructor but snapped back at me, "The Beatles." I still wasn't sure and, like many people, thought she meant "beetles." It wasn't long, however, before the word about them was all over school and the four Liverpudlians were all over the radio. They were a band with a new kind of sound and style that were tailor made for us Boomers.

As soon as it was released I had my own copy of their first US album. The cover of With The Beatles was adorned with the iconic study in black and white of the four mop-tops, faces half shaded, John, George, and Paul on the top row and Ringo at the bottom right. I bought the album at an Indianapolis mega-discount store, Ayr-Way, the local Walmart of its day. I paid $1.77 for the mono version. The stereo version was $2.77. Outrageous. I was a thrifty mono kinda-guy until sometime in college and I stopped then mainly because they stopped making them.

Beatlemania was more than a marketing term or something the news made up. For a while it was a way of life. Beatles everything. There was Beatles crap for sale everywhere, but mainly it was the music. Number one hit rolled out on top of number one hit. The phenomenon grew geometrically and spawned what is now called the "British Invasion." Here they came – the copycats. The first one I was aware of was "The Dave Clark Five." Then came others: "Jerry and the Pacemakers," "Herman's Hermits," "The Animals," "The Kinks," and a host of others. I considered them Beatles knock-offs. Even that group called "The Rolling Stones" just wasn't the genuine article. I liked most all of their music but they just weren't The Beatles.

Then it happened. The Beatles toured America and they scheduled a stop in Indianapolis for September 3, 1964. I had to go. Tickets went on sale and the event sold out immediately, leaving me without much hope; but I had an ace-in-the-hole. My dad was a man of many contacts. It didn't take him long to come up with two of the hottest tickets in town. I invited my high school sweetheart and reveled in my privilege when my biddies found out I had scored the tickets.

As the time for the concert approached, I watched the news stories of other Beatles performances across the country. They were madhouses. They weren't about music. They were about screaming kids and mobs rushing the stage. There were gargantuan traffic jams, with confusion all around. Things got violent in some of the shows and in none of them could you hear the group singing or playing. I didn't have tickets to a concert. I had bought the right to participate in a riot.

Doubts crept in to my decision to go. I envisioned myself sitting in the worst traffic jam of my life (and I had experienced the pain of trying to get into the Indianapolis 500 on race day) and then heading into the Indianapolis Coliseum to participate in nothing more than mayhem.

I chickened out. I called my girlfriend and promised to take her to something we could enjoy without endangering our lives. For the record, that turned out to be an Andy Williams concert later that year. I told my dad I didn't want to go and he had no trouble selling the tickets and probably making a tidy little profit to boot.

The concert went on without me. I saw films on the news and it was just as I thought it would be. It was anarchy. People were pushing, shoving, leaning over balconies, screaming, some carried out on stretchers. The sound was awful. The Beatles said later, they couldn't hear their own music. They had to individually guess where the others were in each song. 

The whole thing was a complete mess. It was chaos and an absolute waste of money for those in attendance. It was reported to have been the worst concert in the history of Indianapolis and, all these years later, God how I regret not being there.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Golden Fleece, Roman Eagle, Star and Garter

 

One of the first things a newly initiated Brother learns about Freemasonry is the fact that his apron is, "more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, and more honorable than the Star and Garter." The new initiate, who even in the Entered Apprentice Degree, kneels stunned and overwhelmed by an avalanche of information may just let that blow past him. It's not a real stretch to think many of our new Brothers have never heard of those things.

The point is to impress on the EA that his apron is the valuable, treasured, and even sacred badge of a Freemason. Knowing the… provenance… of those terms, however, makes the claim of the apron's worth even more meaningful.

The Golden Fleece is, in fact, the fleece of a golden-winged ram named Chrysomallos. The fleece itself is a symbol of the authority of a king. It plays a major role in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. In that ancient tale, Pelias, King of the Greek city or Provence Iolcus, sends Jason on a quest where he (spoiler alert) retrieves the Golden Fleece. When he returns home with it, a nasty soap opera of power and intrigue follows. The myth may date as early as 1800 B.C. with more modern versions appearing by 300 B.C. In 1430, Phillip of Burgundy declined to accept the Order of the Garter and Created the Order of the Golden Fleece, based on the story of Jason. It eventually became the most prestigious of all the knightly orders in Europe.

It may be easier for the new Brother to conjure up a mental picture and meaning of the Roman Eagle. It is, in fact… an eagle, or, in Latin, aquilla. Usually cast in metal with a bronze color, it commonly sits with wings spread, many times perched above a plate engraved with the letters "SPQR," standing for Senatus Populesque Romanus – The Senate and the Roman People. In ancient Rome the eagle symbolized many things including imperial rule, but probably most significantly it was the symbol of a Roman military legion. Special standard bearers carried the eagle on a staff into battle and protected it with their lives. The loss of an eagle in battle was considered a grave tragedy. Early in the history of Rome, several animals served symbolically along with the aquilla, but by about 100 B.C. the eagle remained as the single national symbol.

The significance of the Star and Garter is much more obscure to someone unfamiliar with it. The reference is actually to The Most Noble Order of the Garter, an honor King Edward III established in England in 1348, and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. It is the highest British civil and military honor. The King or Queen has the exclusive power to select its members. Membership includes England's sovereign, the Prince of Wales and 24 additional living members. Honorary memberships are also available apparently in order to minimize hurt feelings among the gentry. Members actually wear a garter – men around the left calf and women around the left arm – inscribed, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," a middle-French term meaning, "Shame on him who thinks evil of this." They also wear a star-shaped badge on the left side of a coat.

When our ritual compares the Masonic apron to the Golden Fleece or Star and Garter, it is most likely a direct reference to the honors of the orders named for them, dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries respectively. It must be left to Masonic historians to determine which of all of these is more ancient, but, for our purposes, there is no reason to doubt the correctness of our ritual.

The claim that a Freemason's apron is more honorable than the Star and Garter puts it in high standing indeed. While the Order of the Garter remains today a prestigious award, and has been held by many great individuals including some Brothers like Winston Churchill, it is also based on nepotism and given to some who have done nothing more deserving than to be born into the right family. It demands unswerving loyalty to England's monarch and in many instances has been revoked. In fact, it may interest you to know that no less than 36 Knights of the Garter have been beheaded.


The DDGL

 

It was a Lodge's nightmare… both the District Deputy Grand Lecturer and Regional Grand Lecturer were in attendance. Also a visitor at that meeting, I sat next to the two dignitaries and thought, "The officers better be on their toes. This could get ugly."

It went better than I expected but at one point during the meeting the DDGL leaned over to the RGL and whispered, "The Senior Warden said, 'You will advance to the West and communicate the password...' It should be, 'You will approach the West...' Should we stop them and say something?"

The RGL shook his head, "No… they got there."

I'm with the RGL: I am not a hard-core ritualist – and that's blasphemy in some circles. Don't get me wrong. I like a well-done ritual as much as the next guy; but I care more about whether the ceremony comes off well than if a Brother says "this" when he should say "that." I know… I'll never be a DDGL.

And don't even get me started on the guys in the "peanut gallery" who start yelling out the next line any time the speaker has more than a two-second pause. I'm not alone in that. I've been in Lodge when the Master appointed a proctor with the admonition, "I don't want to hear a word out of anyone else." I'm big on proctors.

I bring all this up because each year my Lodge tests for one of the ritual awards my Grand Lodge sponsors. The District Deputy Grand Lecturer attends and grades us on our opening and closing. The last time we did this the guys were well-practiced and the ceremony went like clockwork.

I just sat there thinking how enjoyable it is to be in any of our ceremonies – especially degree work – when things just click along. That, as opposed to the living hell of sitting through the same thing when the speakers are ill-prepared and have to be prompted on every line. Sitting through an opening like that is the only time I actually look forward to getting to the reading of the minutes.

So, congrats to my Brothers at Liberty Lodge #31. They got the award.

Oh, there were mistakes. There are ALWAYS mistakes. I knew our perfect score was gone as the Chaplain, asking God to subdue our discordant passions, prayed, "Grant that the sublime principles of Freemasonry may so subdue every insubordinate passion within us…"

See, I just let that roll right off my back. In fact, I thought it was kind of funny. Unfortunately, the DDGL – you know, the guy keeping score – was not amused.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Masonic Weddings

An interesting item crossed my desk a few years ago when I was editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine. It was an article a Brother submitted for inclusion in the magazine giving the account of a man in the St. Louis area who had a few weeks before been raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. Then, just a few days afterward, that Brother and his fiancee were married in the same Lodge room where he received his degrees.

An ordained pastor who was a member of another Lodge in the area conducted the ceremony, which was attended by members of the families of both the bride and groom, their friends, and many of the Brethren from the Lodge.

I had been in the Lodge room where the ceremony took place and have always considered it to be one of the most attractive and well-appointed Lodge rooms I have ever seen. Just knowing that I knew it must have been an interesting and beautiful setting for a wedding.

Going through the article raised my curiosity. I wondered how rare a wedding in a Masonic Lodge might be, so I consulted that great oracle of all truth and knowledge – the internet. Seriously, my quest for information about Masonic weddings and some questions I asked at various online sources yielded some interesting information.

It turns out weddings in Lodges are not very common, but they do take place now and then. And the old Masonic Temple in Detroit bills itself as a high-end wedding venue whether or not the couple has ties to the fraternity.

Weddings in Lodges seem to have been more common in the past and also more common in Europe. French brothers who responded to my inquiries said they frequently have a "conjugal recognition" ceremony, which is not actually a wedding

I also learned some jurisdictions require dispensation before allowing such ceremonies. If they are allowed one advantage of holding a wedding in a Lodge is that it might be a much more economical venue than some of the ritzy places where I've attended weddings. Save the money for the honeymoon.

Finally, one brother sent me a the full text of a Masonic wedding or recognition ceremony from Turkey, which seemed nearly book length. Not being one for long ceremonies I decided if I'm ever invited to a Masonic wedding there, I might just skip the ceremony and head for the reception.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Attic

 

In 2021, the Grand Lodge of Missouri celebrates its 200th anniversary, with events throughout the year marking the milestone occasions that brought it into existence. Some of those events will be held in St. Louis, very close to the spot where our Brothers of two centuries ago gathered in a simple, unremarkable room to begin that journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That little room is graphic proof that it doesn't matter where Brothers meet whether in a small attic or the spacious Masonic Complex that now houses the Grand Lodge of Missouri; but what does matter is how how Freemasons meet, act and part.


Monday, May 3, 2021

 

He was an aviation pioneer, a brilliant MIT graduate who became an expert in the development of more efficient aviation fuel, an air racing champion, an engineer who helped develop instrument flying, a war hero and much more. The name James H. "Jimmy Doolittle" is synonymous with the brand of American hero who has it all – guts, brains and, above all, character.

Born in 1896 in Alameda California, Jimmy Doolittle was a 33° Scottish Rite Mason who was raised in Hollenbeck Lodge 319 in Los Angeles on August 16, 1918. When his high school class attended an air show on a field trip in 1910, Doolittle saw his first airplane and developed a lifetime interest in flying. At the age of 21, he took a leave of absence from his studies at the University of California in Berkley and enlisted in the Signal Corps Reserve as a Flying Cadet, being commissioned as a second lieutenant the following year. He served as a flight instructor during World War I, where his performance led to a commission as a first lieutenant in the Air Service. In 1922, he made one of the first cross-country flights, for which he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, a ticket to the Air Service Engineering School and eventually a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the 1030s, Doolittle was Aviation Manager for Shell Oil company where he was instrumental in developing a 100 Octane fuel that, at the time, no aircraft needed. The fuel was expensive and some of the Shell employees called the project "Doolittle's million-dollar blunder."

He returned to active military service in 1940 and, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was chosen to plan a retaliatory attack. Subsequently he personally volunteered to lead that attack, taking off from the USS Hornet with several targets in Japan. The Japanese learned of the Hornet's position, forcing the Americans to initiate the attack from a location farther from Japan and jeopardizing the plane's capabilities to travel that far.

On April 18, 1942, Doolittle led sixteen B-25s to Tokyo and other Japanese cities in what is now known as the Doolittle Raid. The raid accomplished its purpose in destroying targets without doing much harm to the Japanese civilian population, but more than that, it put the Japanese on notice that the US was capable of such long-range raids and it greatly boosted US morale.

Critically low on fuel, the B-25s limped onto the Chinese mainland where most landed safely behind friendly lines. Doolittle's heroic action in leading the raid earned him a promotion to General, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and later, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The added distance the planes had to fly in the successful Doolittle Raid put many lives in jeopardy, and it became clear the raid would never have been successful except for the fact they carried that 100 Octane fuel Brother Doolittle had himself developed a decade earlier, before any aircraft required it, and without knowing what a significant effect it would have on his and his crews lives many years later. In the end, it seems "Doolittle's million-dollar blunder" paid off after all.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Respect

Years ago, I was working on installing a system in a large metropolitan bank's safekeeping department. The executive offices there were glass-walled and I saw a group inside one standing around something a customer had brought in for storage. I went over for a closer look and saw they were inspecting a violin — a Stradivarius violin. To date myself, this was back when employees could smoke in offices; and there stood one of the execs leaning over the priceless instrument with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Not only that, the butt had a long trail of ashes on the front which, predictably, dropped onto the violin. He brushed the ashes off and the gang continued gawking. I was stunned they could treat such an incredible piece so carelessly.

Over the years I've had occasion to see some pretty significant Masonic memorabilia. Many times when I've had "hands-on" access I think of that little scenario in the bank and remind myself to take the utmost care with the item.

I've seen many such items at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. The staff there "bends over backwards" to dig out documents and artifacts for researchers. White gloves are the order of the day as researchers go through the precious treasure trove of Brother Truman's life.

On one occasion I was there researching the well-documented account of the President's visit to Beech Grove Lodge in Indiana. While on his Whistle-Stop tour in 1948, Truman evaded the press and much of his traveling party to attend a meeting at that Lodge and raise a Brother who worked for him. At the close of the meeting he asked if he could keep the apron he had worn as a souvenir.

As the staff at the Truman Library gathered items relating to that visit, one of the artifacts turned out to be that apron. I was mesmerized as I looked at it. I felt as if I was in the presence of the President himself. Unable to resist, I broke one of the Library's rules. I slipped off my glove and…

I touched it.

I probably shouldn't have done it, but something inside me just wanted that connection with the historic apron. I don't think I hurt it at all. It didn't seem the same as dumping a pile of cremated tobacco onto a Stradivarius. What's more, I'm not sorry. I would do it again — guilty as charged. I didn't do it maliciously.

I did it out of respect.