Posts Tagged ‘Freemasonry’

Masonic Monday: French Chefs

A friend sent me this link recently. It’s an article that looks into the claim that all the best French chefs are Freemasons, and they keep non-Masons from advancing in the culinary field. It’s a good example of some of the rumors that abound about Freemasons. As the author of the article discovers (spoiler!), although some top chefs in France and around the world are Masons, many others aren’t, and some won’t say either way. Whatever their status within or out of the fraternity, it has no bearing on their culinary skill or whether they support those attempting to rise in the industry.

There are other theories about Freemasons that are a bit more ambiguous. For example, history-inspired friends have told me that after reading Little Lodges, they began noticing how many founders – of cities or counties, states, and even our country – were Masons. Sometimes they wonder if that’s evidence that Freemasons want to take over the world.

picture1Picture6.pngIt’s true that many founders belonged to the fraternity, but in a way that’s like saying, “Most of the founders had brown hair, so brunette men must want to take over the world.” During the peak of Masonic membership, most men did belong to the Lodge. It was an opportunity for working-class men to become acquainted and socialize with those who were powerful and influential. So belonging to that ancient organization was almost as common as having brown hair (among men, that is – no women allowed).

But in another way, it’s not entirely coincidental that Masonry counted in its membership so many men who were also men of power and influence. The tenets of the fraternity focus on improving society as well as self – ideals that one wanting to establish schools and law and other necessities of civilization would naturally be interested in. Add in the fact that a man beset with scandals could have neither joined the Lodge or advanced his career, and it’s not surprising that movers and shakers were often Freemasons – whether they had brown hair or not.

Masonic Monday – Making Medical History through Charity

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

We live in a time of medical breakthroughs, and medical history was made again last month.

Doctors from the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia were part of a medical team that performed the first-ever pediatric bilateral hand transplant by successfully transplanting donor hands and forearms onto eight-year-old Zion Harvey. Zion had lost both his hands and feet to an infection at the age of 2.

zion 1

After a year and a half of planning, Zion’s surgery took 12 hours and 2 dozen surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. First, steel plates and screws were put in to connect the forearm bones; then the arteries and veins were attached using thread thinner than a human hair; next, each muscle and tendon was rejoined; and finally the nerves were appended.

zion 2

Just days later, he could scratch his nose and hold a book. He now looks forward to playing on monkey bars, throwing a football, and playing guitar. You can read more about Zion’s historic surgery, and even see a video, here.

zion 3 zion 4

Zion’s case is a true testament to Shriners Hospitals for Children’s commitment to innovative, world-class pediatric care. And they do it all free of charge to the patient and family! They do collect insurance from patients that have it, but they never bill or collect any payment from any patient – not even deductibles.

There are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children in 3 countries. They specialize in treating children with orthopedic conditions, severe burns, cleft lip and palate, spinal cord injury, and other conditions. Did I mention that all this treatment is free for the patients and their families?


How do they do it? And what does it have to do with Freemasonry?

In order to join the Shriners, a man must first be a Freemason, so all Shriners are Masons.

Charity is one of the main tenets of Freemasonry, and it is taken seriously by most Masons. Today, in the United States alone, Freemasons collectively contribute an average of over $2.6 million every single day to charitable causes, in addition to rendering service as relief.*

The Shriners Hospitals for Children are just one of their charitable causes. Other well-known charities of Masons include Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Centers, RiteCare clinics, which aid children in language development, and the many educational grants and scholarships of Masonic Lodges. Lesser well known charities include grants and foundations providing support to groups such as The Humanitarian Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, State Mental Health Associations, Autism programs, the Deafness Research Foundation, Military outreach programs, child identification programs, cancer research projects, The Arthritis Fund, and programs for at-risk children, to name just a few. (While I try to not use my blog to advance agendas, I will just mention that you might keep this in mind next time you see those guys in the funny hats doing something to help raise money.)


In addition, the Masonic Service Association of North America has donated over $9.5 billion since its inception in 1923 for relief to those affected by disasters such as earthquakes, floods and terrorism.**

When the contributions of Masons in the rest of the world are added, the picture of Masonic charity is monumental. But financial aid is only one part of the philanthropy; service to others is equally important.

Again, there are many ways Masons fulfill this standard. Most Lodges have service programs that might include such things as volunteering at local shelters or soup kitchens, cleaning highways or other areas of the community, visiting those in extended care facilities, or volunteering in mentoring programs. Many Lodges support organizations such as law enforcement, fire fighters, and other first responders, the military, or other groups or individuals working in service to others, such as by funding life insurance programs for them, providing needed items, or lending a helping hand however they can. Some Masons go as groups to areas of natural or human-caused disasters to work in any way they are able. On a more personal level, home-bound or ill members can generally count on visitations from their fraternal brothers; widows may rely on their late husbands’ fellow Masons to help care for yard work, home maintenance, or other chores; and other people of the community may depend on Masons to extend whatever aid they may reasonably be able to give.

What is the use of living, if it not be to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? ~ Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister, Freemason

* “Grand Lodge Masonic Charity,” The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons of Virginia, August 28, 2013, http://www.
**“Disaster Relief,” Masonic Service Association of North America, 2013,

Masonic Monday – The Quick and Dirty Lowdown on Freemasonry

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

I’ve been asked to explain what Freemasonry is. There have been volumes written about this, so one blog post can’t do justice to the subject. But, so that Henscratches readers will better understand the “Masonic Monday” posts, I offer this “quick-and-dirty lowdown,” excerpted and condensed from Little Lodges on the Prairie. Feel free to ask any question, or leave any other thoughts, in the comment section.

Legend holds that the organization began with the stone masons who worked on King Solomon’s Temple almost a thousand years before the Christian era. Only masons of the most upright character were allowed to work on that holiest of buildings. To ensure that only the deserving would have a place at the construction site, they devised secret words and phrases to convey the trade secrets of their craft to deserving masons, and keep those secrets from masons who were not deemed worthy and from persons who were not masons.

Although there are no records supporting this theory, we know there were stone mason societies in existence in Europe from long before the Templars’ time; extant records date them as early as 643 A.D. From these documents, we know that societies of masons existed, that they had instructions in behavior, and that they had rituals and secret words. These masons were the ones who built the great cathedrals and castles of the medieval period. The headquarters for the stone masons at a large building site was a smaller building or tent nearby known as the lodge. In the lodge, the craftsmen received their orders from the supervising master mason and met to discuss the technicalities of their work; it was also the place they could rest and eat.

Suppose you are a stone mason living in 1200 A.D. You have heard that a large castle is being built in Exeter, so you journey there, seeking work. When you arrive, no one there knows you. You find the supervising (master) mason and ask if there is a place for you to work. The master can make his decision in one of several ways. He can just look at you and make a decision. Quick, but not very reliable. He can ask you to sculpt something, to prove that you know what you’re doing and see your level of skill for himself. Reliable, but not very quick. Or, he can ask you for the secret words and signs. Since you had belonged to a society of masons previously, you know secret words and signs which instantly let the master know that you are trustworthy, that you have vowed to follow certain behaviors and work ethics, and how skilled you are (since there were different words for masters, craftsmen, and apprentices). Quick and reliable. Which do you think the master would most like to use?

This is the origin of Masonic Lodges, with their rituals and secrets. They were “operative masons,” that is, working masons by trade, and the oaths and signs and secret words had a practical purpose in the trade at that time.

Toward the end of the Gothic era and the beginning of the Renaissance, there was less physical building and more emphasis on enlightenment and intellectual growth, meaning less work for trade masons and, therefore, a decline in their membership. So, Lodges began to admit non-masons as honorary members. They only accepted into a Lodge men who were deemed worthy in regard to their moral behavior and who, in harmony with the new ideals of the enlightenment, wanted to work in cooperation with other men to create not only a better Lodge society, but also a better society at large. Also in harmony with the times, when symbolism of all types was enjoying a spurt of popularity, signs and symbols were used to reinforce the teachings. Naturally, these signs and symbols were drawn from the trade mason’s craft.

The non-mason men who were initiated into Lodges were known as speculative masons. Before long, speculative masons began to outnumber operative masons. By the early 1700s, so many Lodges were made up of mostly “accepted” speculative Masons, with only a few true “free” operative masons, that the leaders began to see the need for some sort of means to keep them unified in their rituals, words, and so forth. So in 1717, on the 24th of June, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (also called the Premier Grand Lodge of England) was organized.
As the ultimate authority, its leaders established the ritual and set some basic tenets to which all Lodges had to conform in order to be recognized as a true Masonic Lodge.

In outlining the tenets of the society, the Grand Lodge drew inspiration from the tolerance, unity, and advancement of intellectual pursuits promoted by the enlightenment. The founding principles were liberty, equality, and peace. Charity, beginning within the Lodge, Mason to Mason, but also extending outside the Lodge to any in need, was also an important precept.

Today, Freemasonry is said to be the oldest and largest fraternity in the world. There are approximately five million members worldwide; about half of those are in the United States. Within the organization, all members are equal as individuals; there is no recognition of social status or class among them. The Masonic term is “on the level,” and it means that a lowly laborer may meet with the President of the United States, and while in the Lodge, the President has no more prominence as a person than the laborer — they are equal as brothers. Although an office in the Lodge, such as that of Worshipful Master, may be a higher office, the individual in the office remains on the level with the other members.

The requirements for membership are simple, yet meaningful. The first three requirements are to be free, male, and adult. Much of ritual Masonry depends on the obligations made, which has always been considered a contract. Slaves, females, and children were not able to act in legal capacities, and this is what precluded them from membership. In addition, children must answer to parents, slaves to owners, and – in those days – wives to husbands; thus, none of them had complete control of their own actions, and might therefore be unable to fulfill a commitment made. Furthermore, women and children were not stone masons in ancient times. As Freemasonry builds on the Old Charge landmarks of masonic guilds, these membership requirements remain as they were in those days. A man must also hold a belief in a Supreme Being, and be of high moral character.

Many people believe Masonry is a religion. This is a misconception. Freemasonry is a fraternity, not a religion. A Mason may be of any religion or faith, as long as he is not an atheist. One reason confusion exists about the nature of the organization is the spiritual aspect of the fraternity. Faith is an important value in Freemasonry. Masons are admonished to seek the blessing of Deity before commencing any important undertaking. Furthermore, they are instructed to diligently study the Sacred Law; however, during Lodge meetings, no religious dogma or creed may be advanced, nor any political agenda. The meetings are “no religion or politics” zones, as Lodges are to promote unity, not discord.

Freemasonry is sometimes mistakenly called a “secret society,” but Masonry is not a secret at all. Everyone knows about it, and its Lodges are brazenly marked. It is instead a society with secrets. Supposedly, anyway; there really aren’t that many secrets. Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1730, “Their Grand Secret is That they have no Secret at all.” In these modern days of the information superhighway, there is more truth to his statement than Franklin would have thought possible.

Why does the fraternity have secrets at all? Remember that in the beginning there was a practical purpose for the secret words and signs: to convey, without the time, effort and cost of actually sculpting something, a mason’s level of skill and trustworthiness in a time when there was no other means to do so.

The secret works (signs, words, and rituals) used today are symbolic of this trustworthiness. If a man cannot keep a mere word or hand signal secret, how is he to be trusted with your business, your wife, or anything else of importance? The ability to know that a fellow Mason will treat you honestly in business, care for your wife or widow, keep his word, and render aid when needed: these were — and remain — important characteristics within the Lodge.
The secret words and signs also give Masons a means to identify one another, and know upon meeting that this is a brother Mason, who has taken an oath which includes helping fellow Masons or their family if needed. It may be easy to overlook the importance of this, but to those living in times or places that make it difficult to know who can be trusted, such as in Nazi Germany, these secret words and signs can mean safety or even life.

The goal of Freemasonry is, as it was in days of old, building. Today Masons are building not structures and a physical society, but rather character and a better communal society. The stated aim of the fraternity is “making good men better.” The organization seeks to meet this goal by focusing on lessons that strengthen relationships; promote honesty and brotherly love; and encourage education, tolerance, and charity.

This is accomplished by learning from the ancient wisdom of the craft of masonry, and defined by degrees, or stages of advancement within the society, which represent movement from darkness and ignorance to light and knowledge. The steps through the degrees include self-examination, determination of values, resolution to keep those values, and making all actions consistent with them. The lessons of each degree are taught through ritual dramas in which the initiate takes part in acting out various scenes from the building of King Solomon’s Temple. The continual use of signs and symbols from those dramatic rituals reinforces the lessons.

Probably the most widely recognized symbols in Freemasonry are the square and compasses. In the craft of masonry, the square is a tool with an angle of 90 degrees, and is used to ensure that the edges of a stone subtend the same angle for accuracy. In the Craft of Masonry, the square symbolizes morality, truthfulness, and honesty; the duties of a Mason to his Brothers and neighbors. Masons are obliged to square their actions by the square of virtue. The symbolism of the square has become so ingrained that it has become common to speak of “a square deal” for any honest transaction. There are many more such symbols used in the character building lessons of the Craft. These symbols remind Masons of their obligation to apply the associated value lessons in their daily lives.

The fraternity is benevolent in nature, and another time I’ll discuss this aspect. It’s truly awesome.

LauraPalooza recap – Part 2

The second day of LauraPalooza lived up to the expectation set by the first day. The opening presentation was by William Anderson, preeminent LIW researcher, who announced his forthcoming book, The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder. From the earliest existing letter written by Laura (to the Eastern Star chapter in De Smet, and which is also included in my book Little Lodges on the Prairie) to the last, this book will be the last words of Laura that we’ll have. I’m really looking forward to it.

Then Julie Miller gave a moving presentation about her life on an Iowa Century Farm. She experienced many of the same things Laura did.

Eddie Higgins of the UK talked about her experience reading the Little House books across the sea, and some of the things that didn’t make sense due to differences in British English from American, and things that are just unfamiliar across the sea.

Did Pa get suspenders or braces for Christmas? It depends on where you live!

Did Pa get suspenders or braces for Christmas? It depends on where you live!

The next two presenters also had some of those same issues. Hisayo Ogushi and Yumiko Taniguchi are both from Japan, and spoke of the influence of Laura in that country and the translation of the books into Japanese.

We had another wonderful lunch, during which John Miller spoke of Laura as a Midwesterner.

After lunch, there were hand-on workshops. Choosing among crafts, woodworking, and writing was probably difficult from some people, but of course I went straight to “Write Your Own Little House Story” with Kelly Kathleen Ferguson. She led us in exercises to enhance creativity in writing, using our experiences with the Little House books.

The afternoon presentations dealt with addiction in the 1800s, finances and well-being, Charles Ingalls’ time in Illinois, and the similarities of the Little House books to fairytales. All were interesting and informative.

After the last presentation, I went to supper with four friends.


We spent 4 hours visiting, and laughed so hard we cried (I did, at least – and I know I saw a couple of them wiping their eyes a few times, too). And there was still the field trip to come!

Saturday was spent in De Smet. We were split into smaller groups; my group went first to the Ingalls home built by Pa on 3rd Street. The staff was gracious enough to allow Julie Miller and Kevin Pearce to play a duet on the pump organ and violin, and we all sang Pa’s favorite song, “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”

Julie Miller and Kevin Pearce played "In the Sweet Bye and Bye."

Julie Miller and Kevin Pearce played “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”

The rest of the group then went on to the surveyor’s house and the first school in De Smet, but I broke off (I’ve been to those locations several times) and went to the Masonic Lodge to see if I could help set up for a special Eastern Star program that was going to be held later in the afternoon. It ended up being much smaller than anticipated; the driver of a group that was coming from out of town injured his foot at the last minute and had to go to the emergency room, so that group didn’t make it. Still, it was nice to visit with those who were there and talk a little about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Eastern Star.

As an added bonus, a few of my group from LauraPalooza came by and got to view a few special items: the original copy of that earliest letter that Laura wrote mentioned above, along with an original letter written by Carrie and one written by Grace; Pa’s original petition to join the Eastern Star; the actual minutes of the meeting at which Laura joined the Eastern Star; and the sword Pa used as Tyler of the Masonic Lodge.

Letters written by Laura, Carrie, and Grace, and Pa's petition to the Eastern Star.

Letters written by Laura, Carrie, and Grace, and Pa’s petition to the Eastern Star.

A few "LauraPaloozers" got to hold the sword Pa used as Tyler of the De Smet Masonic Lodge.

A few “LauraPaloozers” got to hold the sword Pa used as Tyler of the De Smet Masonic Lodge.

I snuck in a cemetery tour with Nancy Cleaveland. Later, I met up with my little group again for the pageant. We had fun at the photo board, even though the sun was shining right in our eyes.


The pageant was the last activity. We said our goodbyes, but we’re all on social media so we can keep in touch until LauraPalooza 2017. And who knows, maybe we’ll meet up at a LIW site or somewhere before that. Here’s hoping.

Even though the conference was over, my adventure wasn’t. Stay tuned!

Masonic Monday – Glorious Independence Day

How will you celebrate the 4th of July? That is, of course, Independence Day, when our forefathers, led by George Washington, declared these United States to be free and independent. We’ve talked before about George Washington.

I’m sure you will see many flags waving. Contrary to popular legend, the first official flag of the United States was not designed by George Washington or Betsy Ross, but by Francis Hopkinson. His design was approved on June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress made the following resolution: Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.
Francis Hopkinson was a Freemason.

first flag

Seeing all those flags waving, you may have a chance to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, for a public school program. The original words were: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The words “my flag” were replaced with “the flag of the United States of America” in 1924, and “under God” was added in 1954.
Francis Bellamy was a Freemason.

Often, either before or after the Pledge, our National Anthem, Star Spangled Banner, is sung. The words to this song were written by yet another Francis – Francis Scott Key. He wrote the lyrics to be sung to the tune of a song called To Anacreon in Heaven, which had been composed by John Stafford Smith.
Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith were both Freemasons.

Will you read the Declaration of Independence? It was written by a committee of five men, at least 2 of which were Freemasons, and signed by 56 men, of which up to a third were Freemasons (documentation of some being lost, we don’t know for sure).


Maybe your day will include a parade. Those guys in the funny hats driving the tiny cars? They are Shriners, famous for providing free care to children in their world-renowned Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Every Shriner is a Freemason.


Will you have a cookout? Henry Ford instrumental in developing charcoal briquettes. (When his brother-in-law, E.G. Kingsford, took over the manufacture of them, he called them “Kingsford.”)
Henry Ford was a Freemason.


However you celebrate, have a glorious, safe, and happy Independence Day.


John Pass and John Stow, casters of the Liberty Bell, were also Freemasons.

Masonic Monday – Cocked Hats, Cows, & Other Oddities: Presidents Who Were Freemasons – Part 1

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

How many U.S. presidents have been Freemasons? Many people have heard about “all” of the presidents being members of the fraternity, but how many were there really? This week and next, we’ll find out.

Here are the first 8 U.S. presidents who were also Freemasons:

1. George Washington, the 1st president: I posted some fun facts about him previously. Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice Freemason at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia on November 4, 1752 at age 20. He was raised a Master Mason on August 4, 1753. Washington later served at least 2 terms as Master of the Lodge, and he remained a Freemason in good standing his entire life.
Some of his Masonic paraphernalia may be seen at the museum in Washington Monument and at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. One of his two known Masonic aprons is on display at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania museum.

2. “Last Cocked Hat,” James Monroe, the 5th president. Because cocked hats were the style during the Revolutionary War, one nickname for the Founding Fathers is “cocked hats;” and since Monroe was the last of the presidents who was a Founding Father, he is called “The Last Cocked Hat.” Monroe served in the Continental Army, attaining the rank of Major. Later, he was Secretary of War and Secretary of State (at the same time!) during the War of 1812. His political philosophy was, “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”
Monroe was initiated as a Freemason on November 9, 1775 in Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 in Williamsburg, Virginia, while a student at the College of William and Mary. It is believed that his further degrees were taken in St. John’s Regimental Lodge in the Continental Army.


3. Andrew Jackson, the 7th president, was from a family of poor Irish immigrants. Both his parents and his brothers died while Jackson was a boy. With no one left at home, he left to join the Army at age 13, and is the only president who served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Jackson was a tough, strict officer during the war of 1812; this, along as having strong, straight values, earned him the nickname “Old Hickory.”
Politics and scandal always seem to go together, but Jackson’s case was a little unusual. Two years after he married a divorcee with 11 children, it was discovered that her divorce had not been properly and legally finalized. Her (first) husband opened a new divorce proceeding, on grounds of her adultery. Rumors of adultery and bigamy followed Jackson through his political career.
In office, Jackson was the first – and last – president to pay off the national debt. He was also the first – but not the last – president to ride a train. His trip was 12 miles long, from Ellicott’s Mill to Baltimore in Maryland.
Washington had his dogs, and Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot named Poll. It could talk, but what it said was not worth hearing. When Jackson died, the bird screeched such obscenities to the mourners that it had to be removed from the funeral room.
Jackson is believed to have been initiated in St. Tammany Masonic Lodge #1 in Nashville, Tennessee around 1800, although those records have been lost. Record of his membership in Harmony Lodge #1 in 1805 is on file at the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, and he served as Grand Master of Tennessee in the early 1820s.

4. The 11th president, James Polk, was known as a workaholic. Polk described himself as the hardest-working man in Washington, and remarked, “No President who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure.” His biographer Charles G. Sellers wrote that politics was Polk’s “whole life, aside from which he had no aspirations, intellectual interests, recreation, or even friendships.”
He did have a wife, however, and it was she who introduced the tradition of the annual White House Thanksgiving Dinner. No wine accompanied this, or any other dinner: Polk banned all types of alcohol from the White House. He also did not allow dancing.
Polk was initiated as a Freemason on June 5, 1820, in Columbia Lodge No. 31, Columbia, Tennessee. He assisted in the Masonic ceremony placing the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1847.

5. James Buchanan, the 15th president, is the only bachelor ever to serve as president in the White House. A frugal man, Buchanan claimed that a working man could live on ten cents a day; this earned him the nickname “Ten-Cent Jimmie.”
Buchanan was often seen with his head cocked to one side and one eye closed. He did this because he was nearsighted in one eye, and farsighted in the other.
Buchanan became a Mason on December 1l, 1816, at Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He served a year as Master of the Lodge in 1822-1823, and the following year was appointed as a District Deputy Grand Master.


6. Most of us know that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin and was unable to get much schooling as a child. That was also the case for another President: Andrew Johnson, the 17th president. Johnson’s parents were illiterate, and he didn’t even learn to read until he met his wife. Before politics, Johnson was a tailor and a soldier. Although he never had a pet, he did feed a family of white mice that he found at the White House. In accordance with his wishes, when he died Johnson’s body was wrapped in a U.S. flag and a copy of the Constitution was placed under his head.
Johnson was initiated in Greenville Masonic Lodge No. 119, Greenville, Tennessee on May 5, 1851.

7. James Garfield, the 20th president, was also born in a log cabin. He was a very religious man, and was once a practicing preacher. Because of this, he was given the nickname “The Preacher President.”
Garfield was ambidextrous. He could even write fluent Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, simultaneously.
President for only 200 days (80 of those incapacitated), Garfield made just one executive order: he granted government workers the day of May 30, 1881, as a non-working day, so that they could spend that Decoration Day at the graves of those who died fighting in the Civil War.
Garfield was shot twice on his 120th day in office; doctors could not find one of the bullets, and the wound became infected. He died 80 days after being shot.
Garfield began his Masonic career on November 19, 1861, with his initiation into Magnolia Lodge, No. 20, Columbus, Ohio. Owing to Civil War duties, he did not receive the Third Degree until November 22, 1864 in Columbus Lodge No. 30, Columbus, Ohio. On October 10, 1866, he affiliated with Garrettsville Lodge No. 246, Garrettsville, Ohio, serving as its Chaplain in 1868-1869. Garfield then became a Charter Member of Pentalpha Lodge No. 23 of Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1869; in fact, he was one of the Petitioners for the Lodge Charter.

052614b Memorial_Day_no_1

8. Like Andrew Jackson, the 25th president, William McKinley, had a pet parrot. It was named Washington Post. Unlike Jackson’s profane bird, McKinley’s whistled “Yankee Doodle.”
McKinley loved red carnations. He kept a vase of them on his desk in the oval office, and often wore one in his buttonhole to bring him good luck. He wore one to a public reception at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York, in 1901, and gave it to a 12-year-old girl named Myrtle in the line. A few minutes later, a man in the line reached McKinley and shot him twice in the stomach. McKinley told his staff to call off the mob that was after the assassin, telling them, “Boys! Don’t let them hurt him!” McKinley died 8 days later from infection.


McKinley wearing a carnation

Come back next week for the rest of the Freemason Presidents.

Masonic Monday – Riding Goats and Other Stunts

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

When Father Rode the Goat ~Author Unknown

The house is full of arcana, and mystery profound;
We do not dare to run about or make the slightest sound.
We leave the big piano shut and do not strike a note;
the doctor’s been here seven times, since father rode the goat.

He joined the lodge a week ago; got in at 4:00 a.m.,
And sixteen brethren brought him home, though he says that he brought them.
His wrist was sprained and one big rip had rent his Sunday coat—
There must have been a lively time when father rode the goat.

He’s resting on the couch today! And practicing his signs—
The hailing signal, the working grip, and other monkeyshines;
He mutters passwords ‘neath his breath, and other things he’ll quote—
They surely had an evening’s work when father rode the goat.

He has a gorgeous uniform, all gold and red and blue—
A hat with plumes and yellow braid, and golden badges too.
But, somehow, when we mention it, he wears a look so grim;
we wonder if he rode the goat—or if the goat rode him!

Mason Riding Goat

Vintage Humorous Postcard

Do Masons really ride goats? The short answer is no. The long answer is a bit more complicated.

Goats are not part of the rituals of Freemasonry, and would no more be found in a Lodge building than they would in a school. Instead, Masonic rituals are rites (called degrees) in which Masons reenact the building of King Solomon’s temple, emphasizing certain moral lessons to new members. It is a joyful, but solemn, occasion.


Before candidates are initiated, they may receive some teasing from the men of the Lodge. “Better watch out for that goat—he’ll take you for a wild ride!” and similar comments portend things such as riding goats, being buried alive, and other alarming activities. This is a holdover from days when stunts were customary before initiations.

How long have humans been playing pranks on one another? Probably as long as there have been humans. When a group pulls a prank on an individual before allowing the individual to join their group, we call it hazing, and hazing has been around since antiquity. It was practiced by the Greeks, Celts, Romans, and other ancient civilizations, all the way through modern times.*

Such a long and widespread history hints that there may be an innate, psychological benefit to the practice; otherwise, no one would put up with it. It is part of human nature to want to belong, to be part of a group—the more exclusive the group, the better. Throughout history, there have been various means for individual to “prove” worthy of joining particular groups and enjoying the accompanying prestige, and hazing as we know it in modern times descends from these practices.

The custom became especially entrenched in universities. The idea was that Freshmen were “uncivilized,” and must be made aware of their lower status. Subjecting them to (usually, but not always, mild) abuse kept them humble, until they were worthy of being called “learned.” Once they passed through this period of humiliation, they were proud to be counted among the true scholars, a privilege afforded to few. It created a bond among those who had endured the same trials, while at the same time signaling to society at large that each member had “passed the muster,” so to speak.**

Universities were not the only groups that took advantage of this psychological conditioning. Fraternities did as well, including Masonic Lodges as well as Odd Fellows, Elks, and other such organizations. Pulling stunts became common in the nineteenth century.

Generally, these were mild teasing: a trick mirror that sprayed water; a “whoopee” cushion; a phone which would release a burst of soot.


From a fraternal stunt catalog of the 1800s.

Sometimes, they were a little more involved, such as making the candidate ride a mechanical goat.

ride the goat2

From a fraternal stunt catalog of 1909.

Why a goat? It is believed that the idea of a goat in the Lodge has its origin in the mythical Greek god Pan, who was goat-like in form. When Christianity began to spread, Pan was transformed into Satan (which is why the devil has historically been pictured with horns, hooves, and tail).*** As Freemasons held secretive rituals, rumors abounded about them consorting with the devil.

This was further perpetuated by the fact that some early ritual books of the fraternity referred to God as “God Of All Things” and abbreviated it as G.O.A.T. When Masons realized that this was contributing to the false belief that they were worshiping goats, they put an end to that phrase, but the idea had already taken hold.

Although there have always been those who persist in believing such claims, the idea mostly petered out as people realized that the members of a Lodge (such as George Washington and other founding fathers, as well as many clergy and other upstanding citizens) would not be involved in any form of satanic activity. Eventually, the Masons were able to turn it into a joke—similar to the way the patriots of the American Revolution turned the derogatory phrase “Yankee Doodle” into a positive rally song.

Stunts were never part of the initiation itself, and certainly never part of the rituals or meetings. Nor are stunts pulled today; however, the joke of riding a goat persists.

*Student Conduct Practice: The Complete Guide for Student Affairs Professionals, James M. Lancaster and Diane M. Waryold. Virginia: Stylus Publishing, 2008.
**Manliness and Civilization : A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, Gail Bederman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
*** The Classical Tradition, Anthony Grafton, Glen W. Most, and Salvatore Settis. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010.
A History of the Devil From the Middle Ages to the Present, Robert Muchembled. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2003.

Masonic Monday – Texas Rising

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

What does Freemasonry have to do with Texas Rising? Plenty.

Let’s start with the Alamo. I can only assume that the History Channel decided to begin their story after the fall of the Alamo because so many are already familiar with that chapter of the Texas Revolution. The heroes of the Alamo have become legends: Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, James Bonham, Almaron Dickinson, Col. William Travis, Juan Sequin.What many people don’t know is that all of those men were Freemasons.

In fact, it was Freemasonry that brought them together. Col. Travis recognized that he would never be able to defeat the Mexican Army with the few men he had in the Alamo; so, he sent out several calls for help. Some of these were sent to other military regiments, like Sam Houston’s forces, but others were sent further afield. The most famous letter is addressed “To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World.”


First page of Col. William Travis’ letter “To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world”

Other men in the Alamo also sent messages requesting aid. Some of these pleas for help were read in Masonic Lodges in several states. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of these letters in the museum at the Grand Lodge of Texas. One letter I saw reached Tennessee. Davy Crockett was one who came from Tennessee; he brought several men with him.


Davy Crockett

In a letter to Sam Houston dated November 5, 1835, Crockett wrote, “I have raised a small company of men. About 30 or so and we plan to go help Texas in their war against Santa Anna.” Of course, the Mexican Army still far outnumbered the Alamo defenders, and overtook it. There were a few survivors, but none of the Freemasons were among them. (Juan Seguin is sometimes counted as a survivor, as he had been in the Alamo. He left on a courier mission for Col. Travis before the final battle, however, so he was not present when the mission was overrun.)

The wife and child of a Freemason did survive. Almaron Dickenson reportedly gave his Masonic apron to his wife, Susanna, who kept her child covered with it during the battle and later held it up to a Mexican general when he threatened them. Susanna was the only adult Anglo spared.


Susanna Dickenson

The end of the first episode of Texas Rising introduced James Fannin. He was also a Freemason, as were Sam Houston, Mirabeau Lamar, and many other of the main characters of the TV show, and of the Texas Revolution. At the battle of San Jacinto, the final battle in which Texas won her independence, there were 151 known Freemasons fighting for Texas independence.

There were Freemasons on the other side, as well. Legend says that Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s membership in the fraternity saved his life: he gave the Masonic sign of distress, after which Houston would not allow him to be executed. Houston set a guard over Santa Anna so that he would not be killed (the Texians were eager for revenge of those who had been slaughtered at the Alamo and Goliad). The story goes that Houston also provided Santa Anna a Masonic apron, as further discouragement of attempts on his life, since all Freemasons have taken an oath to protect one another. Houston honored this vow, even though Santa Anna did not. Santa Anna is reported to have given this apron to his guard, and it is still owned by the same family. However, it lacks verified provenance, so it is not definitive.


Apron reportedly given to Santa Anna by Sam Houston as a protection

Several reports from Mexico stated that Santa Anna had been a Freemason, but was expelled for conduct unbecoming. These also were unsubstantiated. Thus, until recently, Santa Anna’s status as a Freemason was not established. The question of Santa Anna’s affiliation with Freemasonry was answered last year, when the Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York announced that it has possession Santa Anna’s original 1825 Scottish Rite certificate. They presented a copy to Library and Museum of the Grand Lodge of Texas, with complete provenance established.

3-anna cert

Santa Anna’s Scottish Rite certificate

In addition to the battles of the Texas Revolution, Texas Rising focuses on the establishment of the Texas Rangers by Stephen F. Austin. The stories of renowned Texas Rangers Henry Karnes, Deaf Smith, Jack Hays, and Big Foot Wallace are featured on the show. Austin, Hays, and Wallace were all Freemasons. In fact, the majority of Texas Rangers in those days were members of the fraternity. As I mentioned above, Masons take a vow to protect one another. The Rangers do the same. It makes sense that either group would choose members from the other group, since they take the same oath of protection. Here’s a photo of the real Big Foot Wallace (on right), with another Ranger, A.J. Sowell:


AJ Sowell and Big Foot Wallace, Texas Rangers

Here’s a couple of other Texas Rangers of bygone days:


JP Crider & Heinrich Liesmann, Texas Rangers

These men are ancestors of mine. The man on the left is J.P. Crider, and on the right is Heinrich Liesmann. You won’t see them on Texas Rising; they were with the Rangers a few years later after those events.

Would the outcome of the Texas Revolution have been the same without Masonry’s impact? We may not be able to answer that question, but the influence of Freemasonry in the rising of the Republic of Texas is indisputable.

I’ll be posting more about Texas Rising, Texas history, and the Texas Rangers in the coming weeks. These will not necessarily be part of the Masonic Monday posts, so if you’d like to be notified when they appear, just click the “follow” button in the side bar on the right.

#texasrising #freemasonry