So why all the mystery? That’s the question I wanted answered today. Yes, it’s the annual-favorite Open House New York weekend, celebrating architecture. While I only made one tour, it was a good one.
Freemasons referred to free men (versus slaves or servants to the church), who could cross national lines and were paid wages for their efforts.
They didn’t have a union card, but these men could go to a construction site, and by stating a password or providing a secret handshake, prove themselves a Freemason. Having completed apprenticeship training (which included moral behavior instruction as well), and achieving ”master mason’ level, the Freemason work quality would be higher and lead to better assignments.
After the cathedral-building boom ended, around the Renaissance, membership started to fall. So the focus shifted from craftsmanship to intellectual and philosophical connection to architecture. The meeting place called a temple, meaning ‘place of knowledge’, continued the focus on self-improvement.
Secrecy continued, in order to preserve the safety of members sharing their belief systems that might be controversial to the status quo.
I peppered our various tour guides with questions to piece together what I just shared with you. The story gets murky with the American Colonies. Why the secrecy about who was a mason? I kept suggesting it was because George Washington and his colleagues needed a safe place to talk revolutionary politics. But no, from the beginning, Freemasons didn’t discuss religion or politics–the causes of all wars–when at a lodge or temple. “That’s what the Sons of Liberty were about,” explained one guide. I don’t think GW would have wanted to hang out with a bunch of 20-year-old rabble-rousers.
Interesting that on the battlefield (Revolutionary or Civil Wars), a dying soldier on the opposite side would be comforted by an enemy mason. How would they know, I persisted. The password or handshake, which of course, no tour guide would share as a matter of ‘character’.
Secrecy continued to be needed as Hitler apparently persecuted free thinking Freemasons. Interesting that misogynistic Henry Ford and Ty Cobb were masons. Mozart must have squelched his party-hardy behavior long enough to get voted in.
It’s easy to imagine John Wayne as a mason, but Clark Gable and Red Skelton? And what about Count Basie? Patriotic John Philip Sousa was a mason, as were Irving Berlin and Danny Thomas, Jewish celebrities, continuing proof of the mason’s tolerance value.
Want to be one? You can join the two million American masons, 4 million worldwide. Women join the Evening Star sorority; boys and girls have their own organizations, too. You just have to swear to a belief in God (any God).
And it helps to know someone. That will help prevent being blackballed. When the Freemasons vote on new members of their union, now fraternity, you drop either a white ball or a black ball into the ballot box. You get it.
If you’re a new member in New York City, you will then enter the door of the Renaissance room, between the columns topped by a globe of earth and a globe of the universe. These globes remind you of the self-improvement, education-oriented, philanthropically-focused masonry.