A Tale Of Two Signs

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, PM, FMLR

Kearney Lodge No. 311 (MO) sign
Our Illustrious Blogmeister Todd has requested we send pictures of Masonic signs.  I guess this is my way of doing that.  I live in Kearney, Missouri (Not to be confused with Kearney, Nebraska, which it often is).  We're located about 20 miles northeast of Kansas City and in spite of the fact that civilization keeps oozing our way, we're still somewhat rural.  One hundred thirty years ago, Kearney was a thriving farming and commerce center.  The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe) stopped here, giving businesses critical access to both Chicago and Kansas City.

In that year, 1882, Kearney saw two significant events.  First, foremost and, like-it-or-not, the one that puts us on the map, our favorite but oh-so-notorious son, Jesse James met his untimely and violent end and was buried here.  There have been, over the years, those who have claimed Jesse isn't buried here and didn't even die then.  In 1994, we got fed up with all that, dug him up, ran tests, proved it was him and put him back in a shiny new coffin. So there. I attended that auspicious event where vendors were doing a brisk business selling T-shirts that said, "In Kearney, We Dig Jesse."

To get back to the point, the other big event in Kearney in 1882 was the completion of the Masonic Lodge.  I doubt Jesse ever saw the building.  He was way up in St. Joseph at the time and was otherwise occupied until they brought him back on ice (really).  That 1882 building still stands at what was the town's main intersection.  I'm certain it was, at the time, the most magnificent building Kearney had ever seen.  I don't have exact dates but probably about 25-30 years ago Kearney Lodge surrendered its charter and then re-chartered in the mid-2000s.  I affiliated immediately and since then, Kearney Lodge #311 has continued to grow.  We still don't have a permanent building, but every time I go into town, I spend a few minutes looking at that old building with its weathering concrete Masonic sign (it's not a cornerstone) and wish it was ours.  Maybe someday it will be.  No matter what happens, I hope we can at least get back that terrific old sign, a reminder of days gone by.

Liberty Lodge No. 31 (MO) sign--well worth the 5K donation!
Since there was no Kearney Lodge when I became a Mason, I joined Liberty Lodge #31, about six or seven miles south.  The town of Liberty is a whole different story.  The streets are paved with gold and cash flows from the fire hydrants.  Not quite, but almost.  It's a bustling, growing, thriving area.  And Liberty Lodge (in spite of what our budget committee might claim) has thrived right along with it.  When I joined, we owned our own building smack-dab on the town square, had paying tenants and life was good.  Then Sunday, May 4, 2003, waltzed in and spoiled the party.

That day, an F2 tornado rolled through.  Our Lodge building took a direct hit.  It actually cracked the building in half, ripped our two-ton air conditioning unit from its rooftop foundation and not-so-gently dumped it on the street below.  Engineers at first told us the building was lost, an assessment that fortunately turned out not to be true.  It took months of work and lots of money, but we restored the building to a condition better than before the tornado hit. What insurance didn't cover, we did.

Jesse James went down the year Kearney Lodge went up!
We had moved into that building in the early 1950s.  Our sign was a somewhat elaborate affair which hung perpendicular to the building.  On both sides, it had the emblems of the Masonic bodies there and whenever any of those bodies met, that portion of the sign was lighted.  Needless to say, the sign did not survive.  We found enough pieces of it that we were able to give it to an artist to recreate the glass sheets on either side, but there was a problem.

In the intervening years, Liberty had passed an ordinance that, for whatever reason, signs on the square had to be parallel to the building.  At first, the city told us we could not replace the sign in its perpendicular configuration.  We prefer to think it was our excellent negotiation skills and not the $5,000 we donated to the disaster fund that reversed the town's decision.  At any rate, if you drive around the Liberty square today, you'll recognize our landmark sign.  It's the only one on the square perpendicular to a building.  And we're still smack-dab on the town square, have paying tenants and life is good.


Steve Harrison, 32° KCCH is a Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri.  He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Senior Warden.  He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and is a member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor.

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