When The Masonic Light Burns Out


by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

We spend so much of our time as Masons doing things.  Going to events.  Putting on fundraisers for this cause and that.  Attending degree work and Masonic Funeral Rites.  We spend a lot of time in the car driving sometimes long distances to attend meetings and events, and while we’re in the car, many of us use that time to practice and rehearse degree parts.  As a Secretary I spend a lot of time making sure dues are paid, meetings are announced, birthday cards go out, and keeping track of Brothers in need or in sickness and distress. 

But the more active we are as Masons, the more at risk we are as well.  How many times have we seen that Mason that was always involved in everything suddenly vanish?  He just flames out.  Done. It’s not uncommon at all, in fact, I hear it all the time.  And I get it a lot more now than I did a couple years ago, because I found myself in that boat.  After a very long term in the East (much too long by anyone’s standards), and after more than a dozen years as a Mason, I found I had very little energy left for the Fraternity when I finally got out of that chair.  I haven’t written a book in several years—I have one nearly done I just can’t seem to get excited about finishing.  I’ve struggled to even write pieces for the blog that I started.  I don’t feel like going to meetings, and I’ve missed a lot of them over the last year or so. 

Then I finally figure it out, and as often is the case the answer came from an unexpected source.  I’m over fifty now, and in a few years I can retire with a pension.  I have no intention of sitting around the house until I croak eventually.  I also have no desire to continue working at what I do now, although I certainly can.  So the question is what am I going to do with the rest of my life? 

I realized that I still have a strong desire to do what I originally wanted to do back when I graduated high school—I want to serve the church.  That’s not the path I wound up taking, but it certainly isn’t too late to pursue it now—it’s what the PC culture would call an “encore career” and Monty Python would refer to as “and now for something totally different!”  And I have plenty of time before I retire to prepare myself with the necessary training and education to do that.  I spent the summer finding out what I’d have to do to make that happen through my church.  I’ve started ministerial training through the church already, and I start attending seminary classes in mid-January.  But I was given a reading list of about fifteen books by the seminary—some suggested reading to help prepare me for the seminary journey ahead. 

I’m sure they didn’t expect me to read all fifteen books, but since I’m through about eight of them, I probably will.  I’ve always loved to read, and I’m chewing through it quickly, reading hours on end, and anxious to glean from the material things I can use.  And I’m writing about what I’m reading—like I used to when I was reading so much about Freemasonry.

And then the light bulb came on! 

For too many Freemasons like me, the focus of Freemasonry becomes about output instead of input.  Doing things--all the time.  Output.  Output.  Output.  And we never refuel ourselves with that knowledge that so fascinated us in the beginning of our journey.  It sneaks up on you, and suddenly, Freemasonry is just another job rather than a lifelong opportunity for personal growth, moral training, and character development.  We put down the books and pick up the spatula in the kitchen, or the minute book at the Secretary’s desk.  And suddenly, we’re a volunteer employee rather than a traveler seeking the knowledge our predecessors passed down to us.  And for me, somebody that has been passionate about Masonic Education since I joined, instead of being anxious to share something I’ve read, I wind up recycling something I already know because “I got to put something together for education next Thursday” and I haven’t actually read anything I could share in some time. 

Hopefully, you’ll learn something from my mistake.  Your focus should be on building yourself—making yourself a better man.  Focus on acquiring and applying that knowledge that is so abundant in our Fraternity (we have dusty libraries all over of unread books).  Read.  Study.  Learn.  Be inspired.  Input.  Input.  Input.  You have to keep working on yourself.  Output is the result of input. 

If you study history, and most especially industrious men like Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, you’ll find a few things they had in common.  First of all, what they accomplished in their lifetimes seems impossible.  The second thing you’ll quickly learn is what they put out paled in comparison to what they took in-- what they read, studied, and filled themselves with.  Their tremendous contributions were the result of a passion fueled by what they took in. 

When you’re inspired by what you’re taking in, nothing becomes a job—it will become a self-fueling passion within you.

~TEC

Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog, and an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. Todd started the Midnight Freemason blog in 2006, and in 2012 he opened it up as a contributor blog The Midnight Freemasons (plural). Todd has written more than 1,000 pieces for the blog since it began. He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR). He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as EHP. You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.or

Solemn Strikes the Funeral Chime

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

Darin and Allan
I’m pretty sure that if you’re a Freemason, you immediately recognize the title of this article as the first line of the Masonic Funeral Dirge. The dirge was composed by Bro. David Vinton in 1816 and it is set musically to Pleyel’s Hymn which was composed by Bro. Ignaz Joseph Pleyel in 1791. But the purpose of this article isn’t to discuss the Funeral Dirge, I’m writing it to honor a friend and Brother, Allan Mackiewicz. Allan passed recently, December 8, 2019, after a battle with Cancer. He was diagnosed on April 24, 2018 with stage 4 kidney cancer which spread to his lungs and eventually his brain.

I first met Allan in 2003. I had overheard some co-workers at the time discussing baseball, and being a huge baseball fan, I immediately struck up a conversation. I quickly learned that they were in a PC baseball league, which used a game called Diamond Mind Baseball to simulate outcomes of the games that were played. It is a descendant of dice and charts baseball simulations such as Strat-O-Matic baseball and Pursue the Pennant. I expressed my interest in joining the league, and I seem to recall that the league was full at the time, but one of the “Owners” quit after the season, and I took over that team. I met Allan at the annual draft of debut players and free agents that next year.

Allan loved the art of the baseball deal. In Allan’s eyes, no one was untradeable. In fact, the other guys in the league would joke that Allan would win multiple championships if he held onto his players. He would agonize over trades, and then literally days after making the trade, he would trade away the player he just agonized over away, only to begin the process again. I think he got a thrill out of seeing who he could trade for. As proof of this, you can visit the league trade page, (http://midleague.com/trades.htm), pick a random year and see how many trades that Allan’s team (The Westville Warriors) made. After learning of his passing yesterday, many of the other members of our league have shared similar stories of Allan’s love of wheeling and dealing and their experiences with him. 

  
I think Allan and I hit it off because Allan had a great and somewhat twisted sense of humor, like myself. When he first told me of his cancer diagnosis, I joked with him that he was just using cancer as ploy to get pity trades from me. He immediately ran with it, and it became a running joke of ours. One of my favorite memories of Allan’s sense of humor took place at the draft held in January of 2005. One of our friends and fellow team owner, Scott, had a bowling league tournament that day, but he had the second overall pick in the draft that year. He wanted to draft David Wright with the pick, and had given us a list of players to draft for him. I thought it would be funny to prank Scott by telling him we drafted another player instead of David Wright with that pick. Allan immediately jumped on board with the prank. When Scotty called to check on the draft, Allan informed him of the pick we made for him which was not David Wright. Needless to say, Scotty was not happy with the selection. After his tournament, Scott showed up at my friend Tim’s place, where the draft was being held. We all had a good laugh when we came in all pissed off and we explained the ruse to him. We still laugh about it at every draft.

Allan was a great man. I remember when I was Den Leader for my youngest son’s Cub Scout Webelos den, we needed to visit either a fire or police department for one of the Webelos Pins that the kids needed for that rank. Allan was a captain with the Westville Police Department, and when I asked if I could bring the den over to visit the police department, he answered yes without even clearing it with his supervisors. Allan worked the night shift, but he was there to greet us that day, even though he had only had a few hours of sleep. He arranged for the K-9 unit to put on a demonstration, introduced the kids to the chief of police, and showed off their squad cars. Allan was a kind, generous and genuine person. Not only did he serve his community as a public servant, he also was heavily involved with the Westville Recreation Baseball League, serving as board president for a number of years and he played an integral part in getting additions added to Zamberletti Park in Westville for youth sports that used the facility.


Allan had hosted our annual baseball draft for the past several years at his home in Westville. As I was leaving in 2017, Allan pulled me aside to ask if I would sign his petition for Masonic Degrees. I was extremely honored to do so. I hope that in the brief examples I’ve shared, that I have shown that Allan was more than worthy of being a Freemason. Allan was petitioning to join Catlin Masonic Lodge #285 in Catlin, Illinois. Allan received his diagnosis while undergoing his degrees, so there was long gap between him receiving his EA, Fellowcraft and his Master Mason degrees. Allan was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on August 20, 2018. The irony of the evening wasn’t lost on me or many others given Allan’s diagnosis, especially during the second section of that degree. It was a beautiful degree. Allan joined the Valley of Danville, AASR Northern Jurisdiction at the fall reunion and became a 32 degree Scottish Rite Mason on October 27, 2018. He also was able to meet fellow Midnight Freemason, Travis Simpkins, at that reunion; and I know that they had a wonderful friendship because of that meeting. I’m very happy to know that Allan was able to impact the lives of many of my fellow Freemasons here in East Central Illinois, and they were able to experience the joy that he brought into my life for many years through our friendship.

Allan was optimistic regarding his health even up to the end, I think due to his strong faith in God. I really believe that he believed that he was going to beat cancer, and he maintained his belief up until the end of his battle. He had many of us convinced that he would too due to his heroic and optimistic attitude. I hope that if I’m ever facing a similar battle that I can battle it with as much grace and courage as Allan. There will be a huge hole in my life with his passing, and I’m sure that everyone that knew him has a similar feeling. It’s funny after hearing the news yesterday, and being pretty devastated by it, I was able to find our texts and messages on Facebook and emails, and I felt some comfort in having them. It’s like having special moments between us frozen in time, and that gave me reassurance for some odd reason. Allan leaves behind his wife Marla, and two daughters Ally and Myla. 

Requiescat in Pace my friend and brother. You will be missed.

~DAL

Knights of the Wise Men


by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR


In 2011, velvet-voiced pop singer Lionel Richie, a member of Lewis Adams Prince Hall Lodge No. 67, Tuskegee, appeared in an episode of The Learning Channel's popular series, Who Do You Think You Are. The show follows celebrities as they search out their family roots, usually finding a twist or two along the way. After some digging, the show began to focus on Richie's maternal great-grandfather, John Louis Brown.

In Nashville, where his maternal grandmother had been born, Richie discovered Brown, most likely born into slavery, had married his great-grandmother Volenderver in 1890, when she was only 15 and he was about 50. Before their divorce in 1897, the product of that marriage was Richie's grandmother, Adelaide M. (Brown) Foster.

Knowing his great-grandfather's name, Richie went to the Nashville Metropolitan Archive where things got interesting as they took on a fraternal air. City directories there listed John Louis Brown as Editor of the Knights of the Wise Men in 1880 and SGA of the Knights of the Wise Men in 1885. The title of Editor was a valuable piece of information indicating Brown was literate – not a guarantee back in those days. Richie's curiosity was piqued wondering who the Knights of the Wise Men were and what the designation SGA meant.

This sent him to Prince Hall Lodge No. 1 PHA F&AM in Nashville where he met with Professor Corey Walker, Brown University Historian of African Studies. The program makes no mention if Professor Walker is a Mason.  With a prominent Square and Compasses in the background Walker explains, "Knights of the Wise Men was a fraternal order that also had a benefit for its members. The organization helped build bonds of community between African American men. It was an institution that provided financial benefits to all of its members for sickness as well as in death… It was the precursor of what we think of as modern insurance companies."

According to the show, the Knights of the Wise Men was founded in 1879 to address the needs of the black community. Walker reminds Richie that during that period white organizations were separate and did not admit African Americans. Pushed away from the white community after the Civil War, blacks created their own institutions to assist African Americans. One of these was the Knights of the Wise Men, which grew to 278 lodges by 1882. "These were the prototypes," says Walker, "of the organizations that helped propel the modern Civil Rights movement."

When Richie questions Walker about the meaning of SGA, he learns it stands for Supreme Grand Archon. "He wasn't just a member of the organization, he was its national leader." In addition, Professor Walker produces a book of the order's rules, laws, and regulations which Brown authored. The book contains lectures, signs and passwords, much like today's Masonic rituals, "J.L. Brown was at the forefront in building a significant institution to meet the needs of African Americans across the nation."

A newspaper article reveals the fate of the Knights of the Wise Men when it reports on an 1891 smallpox epidemic, which caused the organization to have to pay out substantial death benefits, draining the treasury. In addition, the article reports on the disappearance of its treasurer, S. Carl Walker, who ran off with much of the remaining funds. With that tipping point the Knights of the Wise Men began its decline.

Brother Richie points out this is the same period during which Brown's marriage fell apart, and the pressures of the demise of the Knights may have had something to do with it, concluding, "My great-grandfather went from being a scoundrel in my mind all the way to being one of the pioneers of the Civil Rights movement."

J.L. Brown moved to Chattanooga after the demise of the Knights of the Wise Men. Richie travels there to find out what happened to his great-grandfather. There, he discovers Brown became a cemetery caretaker and finds a book containing his picture. Brown's death certificate reveals his father was a Morgan Brown, his mother unknown. He is buried in the same cemetery where he worked, in an unmarked pauper's grave.

A final bit of research shows Brown was a slave, his owner being a Morgan W. Brown. In a confusing twist Richie finds a Dr. Morgan Brown had a son, Morgan W. Brown. Dr. Brown's diary reveals J.L. Brown's mother was a slave named Mariah, whom he stipulates to be freed, along with J.L., upon his death. The show leaves it to speculation as to whether Dr. Morgan Brown, 80, or his son Morgan W. Brown, 39, was J.L.'s father.

Documents shown in the program reveal John Lewis Brown died in 1931 at the age of 92. Writing of his fraternity he said, "We believe that an acre of noble oaks is worth more than a countryside full of brush wood, and that one true and loyal Knight is worth more... than a Chamber room full of trash. We fully recognize the fact that we are poor and need no weights upon us, and to make our way successfully through life requires thorough organization of the masses, without which our future cannot be a bright one. It is only by our good qualities rightly set forth that we are to succeed in the future. First by educating every boy and girl and teaching from the cradle to the grave honesty, industry, economy of time and means, and the fullest enjoyment of all rights as citizens, and the destruction, death and burial of the accursed idea that the negro is inferior, simply because he has been in time deprived of life, liberty and property. Let us all be wise men and women."

Other sources indicate that prior to the fallout from the smallpox epidemic and the treasurer depleting its funds, the Knights of the Wise Men had a peak membership of about 350 lodges. It is recognized by some as the first insurance company in the United States. Today, on St. Helena Island in South Carolina, stands a building known as the Knights of Wise Men Lodge. A wood frame building built in 1899, it burned in 1940, and was replaced with the existing concrete structure which stands as the last remnant of a once-noble fraternity.

~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

Masonry: No Hiding Place for Criminals or Shelter for Crime

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

"In this connection permit me to say that Masonry is no hiding place for criminals or shelter for crime. If a Mason should be a good man and true, and should strictly obey the moral law, then we have no room in our Lodges for criminals and deliberate violators of the laws of the land, nor have we any use for Lodges which harbor offenders against the peace and security of society. The idea that a Mason is to shield a brother guilty of crime, or screen him from just punishment, is a portion of the anti-Masonic code, and is in no sense justified by any Masonic teachings or practice." - Grand Master - Harmon G. Reynolds, 1870

It goes without saying--doesn't it? That within the craft, there would be no tolerance for anyone who is a criminal or who engages in acts that benefit a criminal organization or outfit. We take good men, and make them even better

In our fraternity, we often use terminology like, "Guarding the West Gate" when referring to making sure we select the right men to join our organization. And, for the most part we do. But as all Masons know, and maybe the public would have some clue to this as well--from time to time, we make a mistake. 

Becoming a Freemason involves a petitioning process in which much about a man's character is revealed; his faith is proclaimed (sometimes disclosed), his residential address, place of employment, marital status, where he's resided, if he has a felony, if he can afford the fraternal costs and much more depending on your grand jurisdiction. 

When I first started writing for The Midnight Freemasons, I penned a piece titled, "The Brothers that Failed". It was a crudely put together piece in which I outlined some of the most egregious men to have joined our ranks. Our founder (editor at that time), Todd E. Creason actually did some research on the members I mentioned in the piece, before he decided to publish it. Making accusations is no small thing and is in fact, is a very serious matter--especially considering the results. You could deprive a man of his membership.

Yes, we sometimes make a mistake and let someone in who is not the caliber of man we were told or lead to believe they were. Other times though, a man commits a crime after becoming a Freemason. Our fraternity deals with these instances, likely more times than we'd like to admit. But what can we expect? Mistakes happen.

From jurisdiction to jurisdiction the rules vary. A felony conviction in some jurisdiction bars a man from entering ever, while in others like Illinois, it's the discretion of the lodge whether to accept a man who has a felony or not. In many jurisdictions, there are mandatory background checks, and where it is not mandatory, some lodges take that into their own hands and run these checks as a part of their universal process. The investigating committee is paramount, whether the background checks are done or not.

The Past Grand Master of Illinois, Greg Clark (Illinois) recently addressed this, albeit briefly in his outgoing address in October of 2019. Paraphrasing, he urged lodges to think about background checks and to use them in the petitioning process. Some of you reading this might be thinking that's too far, while your brothers in other jurisdictions know this to be standard practice, e.g. Pennsylvania, where the Grand Lodge runs the background check, and ANY felony at all, bars that man for life at the Grand Lodge level. No lodge can overturn it. And lets remember, Pennsylvania has the highest number of Masons in any state (97,822 in 2017 - MSA North America Membership Statistics).

Earlier when I said, "Mistakes happen.", it's important to understand the options we as Freemasons have and to understand fully the repercussions in the event that we do nothing when these men are found within our organization. To be a just and upright Mason, concerned for the welfare of the craft over titles and accolades is the the prudent path. Principals matter.

Our Past Grand Master, in his 1870 address was no doubt dealing with many of the same things we deal with today in the craft, world-wide. His remarks are timeless and yet one can barely believe that he had to address this concept at all, given who we are and what we stand for. The full text of his address can be found in the Grand Lodge Proceedings, 1870. For our Illinois Brothers with access to MORI, you can find this document there, and for those who have access to the Members Section of the ILoR Website, you cans search them there as well.

May we ever be just and upright Masons -

~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.