With more than six million members worldwide, Freemasonry has been a cornerstone of fraternalism for centuries.
Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternal organization. Its members have included kings, presidents, prime ministers, politicians, Supreme Court justices, titans of industry, movie stars… and probably your grandfather! The doors of Freemasonry are always open to good men of moral character who strive to be better husbands, sons, fathers and members of their communities.
Origins of the Organization
Freemasonry traces its origins to the operative stone mason guilds of the medieval period. Alternative historic accounts find Freemasonic roots as early as the beginning of King Solomon’s Temple, roughly 820 BCE. Regardless of when or where Freemasonry began, it’s generally accepted that the modern fraternity of speculative Freemasonry was established in England in 1717. In the United States, Freemasonry was first found in Pennsylvania, but quickly became popular throughout New England.
The most basic organizational unit and cornerstone of Freemasonry is found in the Blue Lodge, more commonly known as a Masonic Lodge or Masonic Temple. In a Blue Lodge, candidates of Freemasonry are progressively initiated into the fraternity through a series of degrees or allegorical steps designed to impart wisdom and knowledge. There are three degrees in the Blue Lodge, which retain the monikers of medieval craft guilds and reflect the initiate’s expertise in the craft as he begins as an Entered Apprentice, advances to a Fellowcraft, and ultimately earns the title of Master Mason.
Affiliated Masonic Bodies
While there is no higher degree in Freemasonry than that of Master Mason, there are a number of related organizations which require one to be a Master Mason as a prerequisite. These organizations include the Scottish Rite and Shriners International. Each of these affiliated Masonic bodies offer something unique for their membership, and each have specific charitable operations that they support.
The Scottish Rite, formally founded in 1813 and organized into Valleys, builds upon the philosophy and teachings offered in the Blue Lodge, through dramatic presentation of individual degrees. The Scottish Rite consists of a total of 33 degrees; the first three are conferred by a Blue Lodge, while the remaining 29 represent degrees of instruction rather than rank, thus staying consistent with the fact that there are no higher degrees than that of Master Mason. In addition to degree conferral and general fellowship, the Scottish Rite supports a system of dyslexic learning centers throughout the country. These centers offer tutorial assistance to children with dyslexia and are fully funded by members of the Scottish Rite.
Shriners International is another popular Masonic-affiliated organization that stresses fellowship, fun and philanthropy. Born following an elaborate party hosted by an Arabian diplomat in the late 1860s, it retains a Middle Eastern theme today. While its name and monikers follow the original theme, Shriners International is not connected or affiliated with Middle Eastern culture or any religion. Instead, Shriners, who can be easily identified by their distinctive red fezzes, are heavily committed to community service and raising money for their network of hospitals throughout North America and Mexico.
Within each Shrine Center, there are many clubs and units reflecting various interests and hobbies of the membership. Shriners may be best known for their colorful parades, circuses, and clowns, but there are many other opportunities for members. The pride and joy of Shriners International is the network of 21 hospitals that provide care to children with issues stemming from orthopedics, severe burns, cleft lip and palate, or spinal cord injuries. Since 1922, Shriners Hospitals for Children have provided care for more than a million children—free of cost.
Freemasonry in Peoria
By 1840, Freemasonry had found its way to Peoria, Illinois. The first Lodge established in the area was Peoria Lodge No. 15, which is no longer in existence. In 1846, Peoria Lodge No. 15 granted permission for a second lodge in the area, Temple Lodge No. 46. Since then, Peoria-area Blue Lodges have been conferring the first three degrees of Masonry to men who seek membership.
In 1867, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Valley of Peoria, originally headquartered in Yates City, was founded. Two years later, the Scottish Rite formally moved to Peoria and had three different meeting areas before the construction of the Scottish Rite Cathedral. On May 7, 1924, the cornerstone for the Valley of Peoria Scottish Rite Masonic Cathedral was laid at 400 N.E. Perry, where the building still stands. Today, in addition to conferring degrees, the Scottish Rite grants nearly $60,000 in annual scholarships to area students and supports the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Peoria. Richard E. Hummel, current commander in chief, oversees all operations.
Located in Bartonville, Mohammed Shrine Center is the local chapter of Shriners International, having received its charter in 1893. With 24 initial members, Mohammed Shrine grew to more than 10,000 members by the mid-1980s. Mohammed Shriners can often be seen driving miniature and antique cars or their hospital transportation van in local parades, clowning at various events, and raising money to support Shriners Hospitals for Children. Mohammed Shrine has a large membership jurisdiction, with active groups in Galesburg, Gibson City, LaSalle/Peru and everywhere in between. In 2015, Mohammed Shrine will be led by John Mitchell, Potentate (the author); this year will also see the return of a Shrine Circus in mid-June.
Cornerstone of Fraternalism
Today, there are more than six million Freemasons worldwide. While one does not have to be famous or powerful to join, Freemasonry has been fortunate enough to count some of history’s most famous individuals amongst its ranks. Here is a brief list of famous members—some living, some not—who have taken the Master Mason obligation: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mozart, Mark Twain, John Jacob Astor, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Arnold Palmer, Buzz Aldrin, Dave Thomas, Jesse Jackson, John Elway, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, Brad Paisley, and Tim “Mountain Man” Guraedy, to name a few.
Freemasonry has been the cornerstone of fraternalism in the United States for centuries. As with the rest of the country, Peoria has been greatly impacted and supported by the men who have chosen to take the fraternal vow to make positive changes in their personal lives and throughout their communities. While the age of fraternalism has passed, these organizations continue to thrive in central Illinois and continue to support those dedicated to their community. iBi
John Mitchell serves as the Potentate of Mohammed Shriners—the youngest in its 120-year history—and holds leadership titles in his Blue Lodge and the Scottish Rite. For more information, email [email protected] or visit facebook.com/PeoriaILFreemasons.