The Last Chance Halloween

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Steven L. Harrison, PM, FMLR

I figured I'd better get upstairs.  I didn't want to go to the séance... yes, the séance... and after that the top three floors would be closed — forever.  I'd worked in the building three years and never been up there.  This was my last chance.  With no working elevators, I hoofed it up the stairs and emerged in a dark fourth-floor hallway of the doomed building.  My eyes adjusted and I slowly made my way to the rooms in the northwest corner.  I opened the door and entered the fabled room.  There were no drapes covering the windows and the bright light nearly blinded me.  The room was stark and dirty.  To my left was a broken wheelchair.  A sink jutted out from the far wall.  Its basin was stained and dusty.  Beneath it was a wastebasket — full.  A bed frame with an old mattress was over by the window.  All told, the room was disappointing.  It just didn't seem... well... as auspicious as it should have, given what had happened there many, many years ago on Halloween.

Halloween and Freemasonry: There are probably many tie-ins what with all the costumes worn in degree work, skulls and other symbols; and that's before the conspiracy theorists weigh in.  Occasionally, though, the pairing of the mysterious holiday and Freemasonry brings to mind images of Harry Houdini, a life member of St. Cecile Lodge 568, New York City.

A man of mystery, you could almost say Brother Harry lived Halloween 24/7.  Aside from being, arguably, the world's greatest magician and escape artist, Houdini maintained an abiding interest in the paranormal.  He did not, however deceitfully promote it as he felt many did.  He despised fraudulent seers and mediums and worked tirelessly to expose their chicanery. He felt everything he couldn't expose as being fake must be real.

He made many attempts to communicate with his mother after she died, but found no evidence of contact.  Still, feeling communication with "the other side" was possible, he made a pact with his wife Bessie that the first to die would attempt to contact the other through a coded message.  No one knows what the full message was, but part of the pact was that Houdini would open a pair of silver handcuffs they owned.  Bessie never received any communication from Houdini after his death, but hundreds of psychics claimed they did.  

On Halloween 1936, the 10th anniversary of his death, she held a final séance in which he failed to appear.  After that, Bess declared the search over and said she believed he could not come back, "It is finished."  Two years later she created a firestorm in the world of spiritualists when, playing herself in the film Religious Racketeer, she said she did not believe communication with the dead was possible.

During his life the great Houdini did everything he could to separate the fake aspects of spiritualism from what he thought might be real.  Shortly before his death he testified before congress against spiritualists and fortune tellers licensed to practice in Washington, DC.  So adamant was he that they were charlatans, the hearing broke out in a shouting match and some of the spectators tried to attack Houdini.

On the other hand, still believing there was something to communication with the spiritual world, he worked with Thomas Edison in an attempt to develop a "delicate psychic detecting instrument."  The object of the "ghost machine," as it was called, was to be so sensitive it could detect the presence or touch of an ethereal being from another world.  There is no evidence the machine was ever built.

On October 26, 1926, Houdini received a painful blow to the stomach in a demonstration at McGill University in Montreal.  Contrary to popular opinion, most medical experts believe the blow was unrelated to the appendicitis attack that followed; however, Houdini failed to get treatment thinking the pain in his stomach was due to the punch to his abdomen.  After his appearance in Montreal, he traveled to Detroit where he collapsed at the end of a performance.  Five days later, on Halloween, Harry Houdini died.

I was standing in a nondescript empty room on the fourth floor of old Grace Hospital in Detroit.  The building, once considered progressive and modern, had deteriorated to the point that it would be torn down in a few months.  I ran the Information Technology department downstairs and once my group moved out, the wrecking ball would move in.  I soaked it all in.  Somehow it just didn't seem that special, but shortly several people and the news media — this year including Time Magazine — would gather there as they had done for years on Halloween.  

This wasn't just any room.  This was the very place where, on October 31, 1926, Brother Harry Houdini died.  I took a final look and turned to leave.  As I walked away, people filed past me to enter the room for Houdini's last séance.

Houdini, as had been the case on every Halloween in Grace Hospital since he died, did not show up.


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.

Masonic Correction

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley

I started wearing tweed jackets when I was sixteen years old. I own and wear three-piece suits, a vintage pocket watch, and a gold watch chain. I tie my own bow ties, and have enough sweater vests that my wife rolls her eyes when I buy another one. I was delighted to be asked to join the Rose Croix line in the Valley of Danville, AASR-NMJ, because I love the 17th and 18th Degrees, and I count the other Rose Croix officers, both past and present, among my closest friends, but my first reaction was the thrill of having an excuse to buy a tuxedo. I usually wear a lodge polo shirt and khakis to my home lodge for stated meetings (we’re fairly informal), but I normally wear a jacket and tie otherwise. And should the powers that be in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite ever lower their standards enough to grace me with the 33rd and Last Degree, I’ll gladly accept it, giddy in the knowledge that I’ll be able to wear white tie and tails before I die. Suffice it to say, I don’t normally underdress for things.

The photo in question.
So you might think I’d be curmudgeonly in my response to the meme that’s floating around the internet that features Fellowcrafts and Master Masons in their aprons and in casual dress down to ripped jeans and t-shirts, with “STANDARDS” in bold letters below them. It’s elicited a bunch of comments on the Freemasons for Dummies blog, some of it cautionary, much of it condemning.  I can sympathize. I like dressing well, and I like being in the company of other well-dressed people. If ever I were to have a “get off my lawn” moment, surely it would be in response to that picture. But I’m not. I’m actually more upset at the tone taken by some of my well-meaning Brethren. Yes, I get it that having high standards matters. Yes, I understand that we’re a fraternity of gentlemen. Yes, I’m delighted that there are lodges that wear tuxedos at all degrees, and I hope to take part in one someday. But I would be grateful if a word of correction would be given by whispering in a Brother’s ear, rather than by making his “transgression” go viral. 

Recently, I participated in two degrees where the candidate expressly dressed as he would for church: in once case, it was in a suit; in the other, it was shorts and a t-shirt. In neither case did it reflect the standards of the man wearing it; it represented how he interpreted our instructions based on his own experience. “But it’s common sense to dress up for church (or lodge)!” people cry. No, it’s not.  When people talk about common sense, they usually mean the way they themselves think based on their understanding of the world, which is in turn based on their experience. When we tell other people to use their common sense, we generally either think they have the same experience we do, and therefore don't need to do any research, or we haven't looked at the problem closely enough to realize that it actually requires research. When we say, in response to some disastrous decision, “but it should have been common sense” to do something different, we’re just holding ourselves out as being superior. Which isn’t common sense at all. 
In this photo, Justin Bieber is not properly 
attired for a stated meeting: 
he's not wearing an apron.

Now, do we want our Brethren to hold themselves to a high standard of behavior, dress, and morality? Yes, we do. Would I whisper council in a Brother’s ear if he showed up for a degree dressed in torn jeans and a t-shirt? Sure. I’d tell a candidate who showed up dressed that way that he should set the standard of his appearance for his next degree by what he observed around the lodge. And, taking an example from a comment by Brother Chris Hodapp, I would ask a Brother who showed up for a funeral dressed in jeans and a t-shirt to please change clothes or not participate. But correction can easily be perceived as coming from a place of assumed moral superiority and self-importance. I am required by my obligation to assume my Brothers’ best intentions, but expressing myself in a condemning tone is a good way to prevent him from assuming mine. Holding up Fellowcrafts to public correction on the Web isn’t assuming their best intentions, and doesn’t attempt to understand the culture of their lodge. 

And culture really matters. There’s a very active and successful lodge in my jurisdiction that had an air conditioning failure during a heat wave. They didn’t cancel their stated meeting, but had a luau lodge, with Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and flip-flops the dress for the evening. I don’t know if they used leis as chains of office, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Had a picture of that night been sent out, I imagine the comments would have gotten heated, but the Brethren who were there still talk about what a wonderful night of Brotherhood it was.  I don’t know the culture of the lodge in the picture, but I’d be happy to visit, and I’ll call ahead to find out what the standard of dress is. I’d rather do a little research than relying on my common sense.

So I’ll keep wearing what I wear, enjoying the many opportunities Masonry offers to dress well. And I love my tuxedo, but it isn’t my first. Years ago, when I was thinner, much younger, and still had hair, my father bought a new tuxedo for his 25th college reunion, and gave me his old one: a 1953 Brooks Brothers beauty. I tried it on, looked in the mirror, and was feeling just a bit special. Much smitten with my appearance, I asked my grandmother, who had been raised in very posh circumstances, how I looked. She flicked the ash off her cigarette, leaned back in her wheelchair, and said, “why, you look like a waiter.” Her experience was different than mine, after all.

A link to the original article from Bro. Chris Hodapp is HERE


R. W. B. Michael H. Shirley is Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master for the Eastern Area for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M, as well as a Certified Lodge Instructor and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. A Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332, a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua Wisconsin and he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.

Explaining The Explanatory

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
L. Scott Niccum 33°

The very first lecture of the 1st Degree that a new Mason hears is called the Explanatory. Very simply, it is supposed to give explanations to why he went through what he did during his Degree.

It has been almost 2 years since I received my 33rd Degree for Scottish Rite and as is custom in our area one of my Lodges had a reception for me. I kinda’ broke tradition and had a roast,-- yeah, anyone who knows me knows I really go against the grain on a lot of things. My thought process about a “roast” was that I love to have fun and it would be a great event, second as I told Steve Bell “The Worm runs his mouth at a lot of guys, here’s a chance for them to zing me back.”

That night it was said I was a Mason before being brought to light. And I truly believe it was because of the lessons I learned growing up.

The last time I was reviewing for an upcoming 1st Degree that I would be helping with, I really looked closely at the ritual and saw many instances which reminded me of my Father Larry Niccum and Father-In-Law Robert Westover.

The first part makes reference to getting ready for the ceremony. It begins with removing all metal so 
 othing offensive or defensive can brought into the Lodge. No, it doesn’t mean we as a Fraternity are concerned about a shootout, but it is to help the candidate drop the defensive thoughts and nervousness he has and to help keep his mind open to what he will experience.
My father who was a lineman for the local power company for many years (30+), was the guy you saw hanging onto a power pole in a blizzard and got your electricity going again. I remember many times he would mention that when a new procedure was implemented, his job function as foreman was to educate his crew. More times than not he would be concerned with something new because of his philosophy “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. But when he would go to training, he would walk in with a true open mind. I remember those times when I was young, when he reminded me to keep an open mind in conversations. One quote he had was “If you want people to respect your opinion you need to respect theirs even if you don’t agree. If you want to talk your points, and you want them to listen then you need to listen too.” It’s ok to disagree but in the end we need to remember we are Brothers

Next, is a reference to a particular garment for the ceremony. As a Fraternity we as Freemasons don’t consider a person for their net income or portfolio but rather the character of their heart. One thing Dad loved to do was have his morning coffee. He worked like clockwork, 5:30 at the Arcade Café and on the weekend it was 6:00. Every now and then I got to go with and I felt like a hot shot sitting at the table with his buddies. 

It was my job to flip the top of the carafe when it was empty. I used to drink my chocolate milk in a coffee cup (a prelude of things to come as Todd Creason would say). What a time, listening to his friends talk about work, farming and the school football team etc. He’d also tell me info about everyone who walked the streets. It was a small town, everyone knew everyone. One morning an older guy came in kinda’ dirty and weird and sat down by himself. At that particular moment the table was razzing each other and trying to fit in and caught up in the moment I made a comment about “The creepy guy at the end of the counter…” Everyone at the table laughed except dad, I didn’t know why. 

Later next week my mother told me I had to do something after school for a friend of theirs. I got home from school and she took me to a house and said they would bring me home. I knocked on the door and it was the “Creepy weird old guy”. I remember I wanted to run but mom had left and he called me by name and smiled so warmly and invited me in. He led me to the kitchen where there were several paper plates wrapped in foil on his table. He asked me to put them in boxes for him and carry them to the car outside. I noticed as I was packing them, that there were names on the foil. After the car was loaded we left and took the plates to three older ladies he knew, we brought them in, he visited with each for a short time and we left for another. When we were done, he took me home and said how much he appreciated the help and I was “Such a nice young man, Larry must be very proud”. I went in, Dad was home and we had supper. During supper, I asked him why he made me do that. His response “The creepy old guy you made fun of is a WW1 vet and that food you delivered was for the wives of his buddies in his group who had passed away, they all promised to take care of each others families if anything happened. He’s fulfilling a promise”. This was before there was such a thing as Meals On Wheels. 

In my hometown, this same lesson which I remember to this day is the reason when I took communion to homebound church members I would make it a point to spend a chunk of time with them and visit to let them know that they are not forgotten. This “creepy old man”, who I had so quickly labeled had a heart of gold and integrity to match, Dad just had to remind me things are not always what they seem. Look at the whole picture and the whole person. Through the years he would tell me, “If you can get past this (whatever it was), this person is a really good person because of this or that“. I think we all need to be reminded daily to look past outward things and look at the heart of person before we make a decision. As Masons we say “the strength of our character and our heart is what defines us.” Dad taught me a hard lesson, what happens when we judge too quick. I still learn from that to this day. Thanks Dad for that lesson.


L. Scott Niccum, 33° is a member and Past Master of Greenup Lodge No. 125 (IL) and a plural member of Hutton Lodge No. 698 (IL). He is a member of the Valley of Danville, and is Past Thrice Potent Master of the Danville Lodge of Perfection. He also serves as the Eastern Illinois Area Coordinator for the IL CHIP Program for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A. F. & A. M. and is the Traveling Degrees Chairman for the Valley of Danville. Scott and his wife Marie live in Charleston, Illinois.

...And Cast No Shadow.

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Robert Johnson 32°

Presented to Waukegan Lodge 78 on August 19th 2013 for Lodge Education

What is light? Of course we may think of it in the basic way, illuminations making things visible so that we may traverse lands, read and see the things around us, things that are necessary and some things which are just captivating, perhaps best described as those things which make us contemplate the glorious works of the creation. 
Original representation of the Sun.
The oldest pictograph for that of light is of course the sun. It is that which fixes the duration of seasons and years. Light brings us much joy and not just because it brings a bright and sunny day. We must consider the gifts that the sun brings; crops, a habitable planet even the gift of good mood. Exposure to the sun increases the body’s production of Vitamin D, which according to studies promotes a sense of mental well-being, a literal “sunny-disposition”.
It is no wonder our ancient ancestors including some brethren worshiped the sun. It only makes sense.  We as Freemasons may see light a different way; we think it synonymous with knowledge. To be illuminated is to know something, perhaps to be wise to something which is lost unto the rest. And this is the way of our craft, to illuminate brothers to a new way of living, a new way of seeing and a new way of hearing. 
The Circumpunct as
used in Freemasonry
To change direction but for only a moment, let us consider the space in our degrees in where we are taught the meaning of the circumpunct, the point within the circle. We are told that the point represents man and the circle; well that represents our boundary or our scope of concern. What about other areas in our Masonic system? In many Fellowcraft lectures, in countless jurisdictions the point is described and explained in the quote “A point is a figure without dimension.”
If a point is a representation of a man, then a man is without dimension. This is almost insulting. However, let us consider the following: the point represents a man indeed, who is without dimension, a mere spot on a piece of paper or indent in the sand or dirt, until that is, he grows.
Next let us look again at the circumpunct. A point or a man, surrounded by the circle, but again what does this circle represent? Perhaps not your boundary but instead its original meaning. The sun. 
The point within the circle can be described also as a seed. A man surrounded by the light of the sun, the sun having the effect on a man that it has on a seed or the point. Eventually the seed grows and becomes more than just a point, it becomes a sphere, growing exponentially feeding on the light of the sun or in this case the knowledge that surrounds him. 
Now we have come all the way around. The circumpunct, a point within a circle. A seed surrounded by the sun. A man surrounded by the light of knowledge. 
When the point in the center becomes so big that it lapses equally around the circle, the man (you) now becomes the light. It then becomes your duty to be that light which shines on the seedlings, or new brothers. You must shine bright, be there to comfort, to guide and to nourish the new brothers growth. Let that light, let your light be so bright that you illuminate all things, and from you, let no shadow be cast.

Bro. Robert Johnson, 32° is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He belongs to Waukegan Lodge No. 78. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies Royal Arch, Cryptic Council, Knights Templar, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts a weekly Podcast (internet radio program) Whence Came You? which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.

Beacon of Light

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Jack Riddle, PM

I have only been a Mason a relative short time, having discovered the craft just over 6 years ago, and I was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on the last day of my 30th year. I had the honor and privilege to serve my lodge as an officer shortly after joining and progressing through the oriental chair.  I have learned much in this short time, and I am honored to know and call “Brother” the great men that make up my lodge and this fraternity. My only regret with regards of joining this ancient society is that I did not know of it sooner.

I did a good deal of my growing up in a small town, and like most small towns, there was a Masonic lodge there. In my youth, I must have walked past that building with the strange symbols on it at least a few hundred times. Yet, never did I have any idea what took place there or even an ideal as to the purpose of the building. I knew not of Masonry nor did I know any members to be as such. All I did know was that occasionally, there were cars in the parking lot, but most times the building sat vacant.

Many years later when I did learn about Freemasonry, it was with memory of that rarely used lodge from that small town that I sought out an active lodge. I may have received more than I had bargained for at my very busy lodge, but it was certainly more in kind with what I had hoped for. Yet, for all the joy this lodge has brought me, I am regretful of the years I missed out on the fellowship of the Masonic institution. If only that small town lodge had been more involved in the community, or the Masons there had shared their character more openly, I might have found my beloved fraternity a decade sooner.

While our lodge is more visible to the public than many due to our ongoing fish-frys (about 36 each year), I cannot help but wonder how many men walk past this building without knowing what happens here when we are not frying. How many qualified men could improve themselves in Masonry if they discovered the craft? How many young ladies would benefit from the Rainbow assembly if only they knew about it? How many young men would profit from being a part of the DeMolay chapter, if they learned such an organization exists? The lodge should be a beacon of light in its community, yet I am fearful that for most it remains shrouded in mystery.

It is a violation of our custom to recruit members, and instead rely on men of strong character to seek out Masonry on their own. While I certainly would not wish to change that, I ask: how can one find what he does not know about? Thus, I issue a challenge to my brothers to find ways to let our Masonic light shine for all to see; to make ourselves known to those around us, so that those good men that seek the light know where to look.


Jack Riddle is a member of Suburban Lodge #740 F&AM in Louisville, Kentucky where he was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on August 23rd, 2007.  A short time thereafter, he assumed the duties of editor for the lodge newsletter and joined the line as Sr. Steward. He served his lodge as Master in 2012, and is a member of the Society of Past Masters of Central Kentucky.

The Holy Acronym and Gematria

Iby Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Robert Johnson 32°

It is almost impossible that you have no concept of God in the age we live in. I found myself contemplating however, the word “God”--sounds nothing like or even translates into anything remotely sounding like what scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton or YHWH as it is known in several circles. 

I didn’t want to explore God or the name so much in this short piece, it is too vast,  but I did find an odd curiosity regarding the name we use in the English language to verbalize that which we deem our creator. In the instance in question,  it is composed of three letters each with a period after. G.O.D.--and why was this? 

It gives the explanation that it is composed of three words in Hebrew Gomer, Oz and Dabar. What is astonishing is that these three seemingly random words of course each mean something, and when we take the first letter from each we get the word God. But there is more than that. As I said each of these words means something. 

Gomer means Beauty, Oz means Strength and yes, you guessed it, Dabar means Wisdom. The three pillars of Freemasonry seemingly make up the word that all the inhabitants of the planet use to refer to the one who created all things. A Holy Acronym if you will. Seems fitting if you ask me. 

Some interesting side notes here can be explained and have to do with Gematria, Hebrew Numerology. In Gematria each letter, word or phrase has a numerical value. Here are a couple coincidences I found in my research. 

Gomer + Oz + Dabar = 810
Holy + Designer + Of + Adam = 810
Genetically + Engineered = 810
God + Is + You = 810
The + Holy + Digits = 810

So what is it about 810? Maybe something, maybe nothing. Most likely its all just coincidence. There are all number of possibilities with Gematria, no pun intended.

Source: Mackey's Masonic Encyclopedia


Bro. Robert Johnson, 32° is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He belongs to Waukegan Lodge No. 78. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies Royal Arch, Cryptic Council, Knights Templar, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts a weekly Podcast (internet radio program) Whence Came You? which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.

Advice For New Secretaries

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
Todd E. Creason

I'm beginning my third year as Secretary of my lodge, and I'd have to admit, I'm just getting the hang of it. I've been a manager for nearly twenty-five years in my professional life, but believe me, the learning curve of a Lodge Secretary is pretty steep. It's not an easy job, but it's a very important job. Before you accept it, you better think about. Unlike any other chair in the lodge, a Lodge Secretary often sits behind that desk year after year after year. Masters serve limited terms, and part of the role of the Secretary is to maintain consistency in the lodge as the Masters come and go.

There's a lot of work involved, and a lot of rules to learn. Don't expect much credit, in fact, you'll need thick skin to survive behind that desk. I wrote a little job description for the Lodge Secretary recently which I shared with our current Master--he likes to repeat it often. It goes like this:
"Everything that goes right in the Lodge is to the credit of the Master. Everything that goes wrong in the Lodge is the fault of the Secretary."

It's only funny because it's true. So I thought I'd put together a short list of tips for new Secretaries made by one that has made most of these mistakes already.

1.) The best thing you could begin doing from day one is to start reading and understanding the Constitution and By-laws of your Grand Lodge. It falls on you to know them. Your Master is going to be relying on you to make sure the lodge is doing things the right way. And at times, it will make you unpopular, because the Master or the Brethren are going to want to do something, and it will be you telling them it's either against the rules, or there is a process involved that is going to require more effort than they expected. My Grand Lodge's Constitution and By-laws is published in a 200-page book, and 174 pages are the Constitution and By-laws. I can't claim to know them all at this point, but I certainly know a lot more than I did two years ago, and I certainly know where to look when a question of procedure or policy comes up.

2.) Attend your Grand Lodge Meeting every year. It's your job to keep up with what's going on at the Grand Lodge, and to know when by-laws change, and when new programs are offered. And read all the information you receive from your Grand Secretary carefully, and be sure you pass on information that the Brethren need to know.

3.) Make the job your own. I was fortunate to follow one of the best Secretaries in my district. He'd been in that job about fifteen years, and helped me out a lot in the beginning--but we had very different styles of management and organization. I struggled in the beginning, and it wasn't until I made it my job, organized it my own way, and did the job my own way that I began to be comfortable in the role. And as the Brethren in my lodge will tell you, I'm a very different kind of Secretary than my predecessor was.

4.) Take care of the Master. Help him in the beginning to understand the more technical side of his new position. Let him know what you need for him to do, like sign the meeting minutes each month for instance, and find out what he expects of you (and that's going to change with every Master, so you better be flexible). And help him run his meeting without overstepping your role. Over time, too many Secretaries begin to think they run the lodge--you don't. Don't confuse experience with leadership. The Master runs his Lodge--and you need to view your role as his assistant, and his most trusted advisor.

5.) Don't guess. If you're not sure of something, pick up the phone and call your Grand Secretary's Office and find out for sure. You'll save yourself a lot of time, effort and frustration if you do that. My Grand Secretary's Office has been a huge resource for me. They have all kinds of materials and information that have helped me understand many of the aspects of my job, and they've been very patient in helpful in getting me to the point where I know what I'm doing finally. So when you get behind that desk, think of your Grand Secretary's Office as a resource.

It's not an easy job, but it can be very gratifying when you do it well. And you'll know you're doing well when the members start relying on you because they know you're organized, and good at what you do (although few will actually understand what it is you do). You'll know you're doing well when your Master feels comfortable asking you for guidance. You'll know you're doing well when a committee chair comes up to you and asks you for advice on how to organize a project they are working on. Those are the moments Secretaries live for.


Todd E. Creason, 33° is the founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is member of Homer Lodge No. 199, and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL). He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, and Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL).

"Settle Matters" Churchill's Toughest Decision

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

It is difficult to think of Winston Churchill, considered one of World War II's great leaders, as a green and untested Prime Minister, but that is exactly what he was on May 10, 1940, the day he took office. 
Winston Churchill

He didn't have to wait long for that first test, however.  On the same day, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, Holland and France.  Churchill immediately realized that if, more likely when, the Germans controlled France, they would also control the French navy, second only in power in Europe to Britain's.  He also knew the combined power of Hitler's navy with the French fleet would most likely spell defeat for his country.

Churchill immediately appealed to US President Franklin Roosevelt, a fellow Freemason and fellow navy man, for help.  He warned Roosevelt if the Germans controlled the French fleet they would pose a serious threat to England, and if they defeated England they would control that navy and pose an even greater threat to the US.  He asked Roosevelt for 50 of the older US destroyers to help bolster the British navy.  

In spite of what the two men had in common, President Roosevelt did not know Churchill and assumed the Nazis could roll over Britain as easily as they did France.  He also had pledged to keep the US out of war.  He flatly denied the request and subsequent requests Churchill made.

On June 22, Germany took over most of France and Hitler ordered all French vessels to sail home.  Although François Darlan, commander of the French navy, had vowed he would never surrender his fleet to Germany and would scuttle every ship in the event of a takeover, Churchill did not trust him and feared the Nazis' control of the French navy was imminent.

His back against the wall, Churchill drew up a plan to secure the French navy, dubbed Operation Catapult. Churchill sent a fleet of ships to offer the French three options: They could 1) Sail all their ships into British ports 2) Sail their ships alongside British ships as part of an allied force 3) Send their entire navy to the West Indies or United States...  and what if the French did not comply?  Churchill knew he would have to make the most agonizing decision of his life: to launch a military attack on a country that was England’s ally and friend.
The French Battleship Bretagne 
explodes during the British 
attack on Mers-el-Kébir.

The British navy's main fleet sailed to Mers-el-Kébir, a Mediterranean port near Oman, Algeria, where it intercepted the strongest part of the French fleet still moored there.  Admiral James Somerville issued orders to mine the port to prevent escape and dispatched Captain Cedric Holland to board the French destroyer Dunkerque to deliver Churchill’s ultimatum to French Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul.

Admiral Darlan, meanwhile, received word of the crisis and dispatched French ships to Mers-el-Kébir for backup.  Admiral Gensoul attempted to stall for time while the French ships approached but Somerville contacted Churchill with a full report.

Churchill's reply was ominous and direct: "Settle matters."

The French were sitting ducks.  On July 3, 1940, at 5:54PM, Admiral Somerville ordered a broadside attack on the French fleet in the harbor.  Ten minutes later, every French ship was disabled or destroyed.  The attack killed 1,297 French sailors and wounded 350, a greater toll than France suffered during any campaign against the Germans.  Two British sailors also died.

French officials were livid.  They attempted a weak retaliation on the British fleet at Gibraltar, but nothing came of it. Operation Catapult saw no additional incidents, as the British boarded French ships in other ports, or the French willingly sailed with them.  France broke off diplomatic relations with England but in a strange and awkward relationship, the countries remained allies against the Germans during the war.

Churchill was haunted by the decision he had made.  He was certain he would be ostracized for attacking a friendly country, but when he reported his actions to Parliament, he was shocked to see the news received with wild cheering.  As tragic as the incident was, he had likely saved many more British lives than the number lost by the French.

As for President Roosevelt, there is some indication he knew what Churchill planned in advance of the action.  Still, he was awestruck by Churchill's resolve and decisiveness.  He responded by sending Churchill the 50 destroyers Churchill had requested.  In the long run he came to realize the agonizing decision Churchill had to make prevented Hitler from dominating the seas.  It isn't an exaggeration to conclude Operation Catapult ultimately was a major factor in the allied victory in World War II.


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.