A Train Ride that Isn't Happening

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

Last year about this time, I was scrambling to get ahead podcasting, writing, and anything else that I could schedule to be released via the web while I would be in Springfield Illinois. Why would I be in Springfield? Because ever since 2013, I have gone to Grand Lodge Sessions in Illinois. It's always the first Friday and Saturday after the first Tuesday in October of each year. And we're getting really close to that now.

Except, this year it isn't happening. You see, for the past three years, I've packed my overnight bag, grabbed a deck of cards, and bought a nice bottle (pick your poison), and hopped on a Metra train to Union Station in Chicago, and from there boarded the Amtrak on a Business Class ticket to Springfield Illinois. Once there, we walked the two blocks to the Abraham Lincoln Hotel, right across from the convention center where the Grand Lodge of Illinois holds its Annual Meeting.

This year, the Grand Lodge Sessions will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the plus side, I don't have to take two days off of work. Actually, I don't know if that's a plus. I rather enjoyed taking those two days off and spending them with my Brothers--my best friends in the whole world. Yep, I'll be a regular working stiff that Thursday and Friday. Now I know there are a lot of Brothers who can't attend Grand Lodge Sessions regularly, but for me, I do. And this whole thing just sucks.

Perhaps, however, we can make the best of it. I'll gather together with Scott, Spencer, and Julian, and maybe we can go out to dinner on Friday night. We can sit around the table and share war stories, our hopes, our dreams, and speculate on what the first-ever virtual Grand Lodge Sessions will accomplish.

Perhaps on Saturday evening, after the news trickles out on what we've decided to do in terms of the previous and upcoming Masonic year, we can go grab some pizza and have a few beers. You know, make the best out of a weird situation. As I sit and type this, I'm starting to have a bit of a revelation. Maybe it's not Grand Lodge Sessions that I'm sad about missing...Yep, it's definitely not the sessions. Endless introductions, reports that are approved before there ever read, and the most meaningful things that could be read, aren't. Grand orations. The report on the committee of Masonic Education. Celebrating our best and brightest secretaries, Brothers, and educators.

Maybe, what I feel like I'll be missing is a gently rocking Amtrak train--Business Class, the finest microwavable club-car delicacies, spicy Masonic memes, intellectual conversations, and a laughter that seems to echo in my head, even now. OOOWIEEE! and that Amtrak WiFi...it ain't all that bad. Yeah, this year will be different.

Each year, the trip home from Springfield on the Amtrak seems to feel like, for me anyway, like someone died. I remember as an only child, growing up in a home with a single mom. We lived in the Midwest and my entire family and all my friends were in California. My mother, in her infinite wisdom (and I am not being facetious), moved us to Illinois, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the West Coast. Of course, my friends could never fly back to see me. Well, there was this one time my friend Chris came out to visit. They stayed for about five hours or so. But that was it. And when they left, it always felt so strange. Like something had been not taken away but erased. Erased, but somehow I still knew something was missing. It wasn't exactly sadness, I suppose the adult me would use the word, "melancholy".

A sort of black and blue bruise to the child within. A real hit. The words, "Here we go. Back to normal." I think that's probably normal for a kid though. You're connected-- your present, living in the moment. You don't have grown-up distractions. For now, I'll just daydream. Remembering what it felt like to get up at ungodly hours in October, the sun charring some other place just east to wherever I was. A cool dampness at the train station. Hopping on and watching the strobe of jade as we rocked along the Metra tracks-- the streetlights filtering through the green windows.

Arriving at Union Station in Chicago, stepping out into the Grand Hall-- breathtaking. So magnificent in fact, you almost forget that you just walked a mile (or what seemed like it), with a metric ton of luggage. Walking into the Business Class lounge and seeing your friends-- your Brothers waiting for you...

Maybe next year when we travel to Grand Lodge Sessions, (I hope we'll be back to normal by then), I'll find the time to slap two more Instamatic picture stickers on the convention center's podium that the Grand Master uses every year. One for this year, and one for the next. 


RWB Johnson is a Co-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 focuses 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.

Cranking Up The Organ

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM

Back in the day organ grinders were a common sight in many cities. The attraction consisted of a man with a “portable” (For that time) hand-crank organ which would play music and draw a crowd. Once a crowd gathered a cute little monkey dressed in an outfit, would dance around with a little tin cup, and gather change from the assembled crowd. I can honestly say I never have seen an organ grinder in real life but I got acquainted with them by watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons as a child.

It appears that the Covid-19 quarantine is beginning to wind down. Several Grand Lodges have begun to awake from their Rip VanWinkle like slumber and talk about meeting in person again and eventually start conducting degree work again. I may be in the minority, but this worries me a bit. Not because of the pandemic and the curve but in what I have seen as progress the Craft has made in the last few months. (As many of you know I am one who is not averse to picking up a horse and giving a dead horse a few whacks). I have said that since we weren’t able to keep the degree machine humming like a factory machine Freemasons and Grand lodges have gotten back to the roots of the Fraternity and have begun to once again practice Freemasonry.

I have been immensely proud to see Brethren providing Masonic relief to their Brethren, wives, widows, and orphans. Making sure the members of their lodges, especially their more elderly brethren have food and shelter. Doing such things and running to the drugstore to gather life-giving prescriptions for these Brothers and their homes are heated and comfortable and they are cared for. I have even heard of Brethren arranging for such things as diapers and baby formula for young families. It was refreshing to me and if I were honest, left my eyes a bit misty to see all this time and treasure being used to care for the Brethren we took an obligation to “help, aid and assist” instead of devoting to get the Fraternity’s name in the paper in hopes of getting new members to knock on our door.

Zoom calls have been a temporary replacement for lodge meetings and gatherings. It has been for Brethren (including myself) who were not able to visit their home lodge a way to “Spread virtual cement” with guys who have not been in each other’s presence in a long time. Zoom calls have also become an excellent way to further the cause of Masonic education. I know I have personally been able to attend several education courses in the United Kingdom, California, and several other jurisdictions I would never have been able to attend if it was down in the traditional way.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating we become an all online fraternity. I am also not advocating we stop providing charity or letting young men we are still around or scraping successful campaigns such as “Not just a man, a Mason” or the https://beafreemason.org/ website. I believe the campaign was a stroke of genius and a perfect balance between recruitment and public relations. What I am saying is we take such tools and build upon them.

Since I was raised to the sublime degree in 2002 I have become aware of many polls and surveys conducted by various Grand Lodges of young men who fit the demographic of or who joined the Fraternity and left. Even though the percentages were all different, the message was pretty much the same: These young men didn’t want cheap dues or relaxed dress codes. These men were looking to become “better men”, to become something “bigger than themselves” and to make lasting friendships. They wanted what we advertise. Freemasonry. For some reason, we take the numbers and messages we are given and just file them away. The result is the same. They join and leave, never to be seen again. This was explained not long ago in this piece by Robert Johnson: http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2016/06/freemasonry-isnt-dying-its-refining.html

I am trying to say: what the Fraternity has been doing since (at least as long as I have been in it) has not been working. I believe no matter how much we try to push cheap dues, flip flops and cargo shorts in lodge or big box store lasagna as the norm, (I dare not mention Masonic education and chambers of reflections as an idea without causing fistfights in the parking lot), it isn’t going to be the ointment to cure the Crafts illness.

It just makes common sense, before we start cranking up the organ and get the dancing monkey out again by passing out petitions, let’s remember the lessons we have learned and maybe we can keep more of the new Brethren we bring in to the lodge coming back instead of constantly doing degree work for nothing.


WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco, Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this, he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

Descending on the White City - The Largest Gathering of Masons in a COVID-19 America

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RW Spencer A. Hamann

Robert Johnson had a problem.

We stood in the basement of the historic Libertyville Masonic Temple on that sticky July morning, watching the representatives from the village and the fire department descend upon the building, and slowly perspiring into our masks. That the COVID-19 pandemic had, in only a few months, transformed the way we interact with the world is a topic which has been well covered elsewhere, and all of us reading this in 2020 are doubtless well aware of. The men with their tape measures and clipboards were here now to measure out the temple space, examine its 1930’s-era entrances and exits, and give us a ruling if it could be safely used within pandemic regulations to accommodate the crowds of people projected to arrive here in just under two months.

In a year that had already seen the cancellation of countless events, Masonic and otherwise, and seen many events and meetings transition to virtual formats, this virtual shift might be the most sensible logistic choice for the inaugural 2020 Masonic Con Chicago. This is what I was thinking that humid July morning. In fact, I’m pretty sure I told RJ as much. How would an enclosed building space be used to comfortably support hundreds of guests? Could it? What would need to be lost or compromised in doing so? Would this add up to a less than ideal experience or a technical nightmare?

A Chicago-based Masonic Convention had been being tossed around for several years at this point. In fact, in 2017 a dear Brother and I had been making plans to host one. However, our own lack of experience and connections, not to mention the usual cavalcade of life events and other distractions, meant that our efforts physically amounted to little more than a Facebook page and a domain name. When RJ begun discussing the idea in early 2019, I felt that if ever there was a chance for this event to manifest, it would be now.

RJ had spent months reaching out to his connections, pouring over logistics, drawing from his experiences at other national Masonic Conventions, and assembling a truly awesome crowd of speakers and vendors to make the 2020 Masonic Con Chicago a truly classy and memorable event. All of this planning, all of this work, and the success of this venture now hung in the balance as the pandemic turned the world upside down.

Knowing more than I did, tapped into the Masonic zeitgeist, RJ made the bold decision to retain a physical event as part of the 2020 Chicago Masonic Con. He would also include a virtual option so those uncomfortable with or unable to travel into the event in person could still experience the speakers remotely. Doing so meant a huge shift in planning and preparations, and was by no means the easy thing to do. The building would have to be sanctioned off to enforce social distancing protocols, everything would need to be deep cleaned and sanitized, and a battalion of computers, cameras, projectors, and microphones would now need to be regimented and run along with the existing in-house technical needs.

Opening night of the convention, Friday September 18, came at last. RJ, his wife Cori, and their boys had spent hours the previous days deep cleaning and preparing Libertyville Temple, and marshaling vendors and arriving guests as the they came. The level of exhaustion which he must have been experiencing at this point, before the event had even officially begun, must have been immense; but it wasn’t apparent in how RJ greeted the guests and began the social hour before the dinner. That night’s meal, a catered buffet-style Italian smorgasbord held in the civic center across from the temple, was accompanied by toasts and speeches, and something else much more difficult to quantify. Here was a room of Masons (and a few significant others) from all over the country, dressed in their finery, spaced out around tables in a large room, clumsily pulling masks to the side to take a sip of wine or bite of dinner, and swapping stories of life in 2020 alongside philosophical discussion. The cutlery may have been synthetic plastic, but the atmosphere was warm and real. It was not the typical “Masonic Banquet”, but it was something more. An electric current seemed to ramp up and hang in the air, as grown men excitedly whispered about the weekend to come. Perhaps it was a shared feeling of doing something we all knew the conventional wisdom of the moment warned against, but like giddy school boys about to push a stranger’s doorbell and run, we couldn’t have been more excited.

Following dinner and walking back to Libertyville Temple to close up for the night, I distinctly recall Steve Harrison’s motor home shoehorned into the temple parking lot. Its electrical generator idling away like a slumbering dragon, which with great anticipation would wake in just a few short hours.

Saturday dawned bright and cool, the perfect weather for enjoying an event in a nearly 100-year-old building without air conditioning. The same electric current from the night before permeated the temple, from the vendor space in the basement where RJ’s children sold concessions, to the lobby on the main level where RJ’s wife greeted guests and directed traffic, to the lodge hall where chairs had been meticulously measured and placed to provide attendees with a safe environment to view the presentations. That I was unfortunately not present during this part of the day is a testimony that those in attendance were feeling the same things I was the night previous. Something magical (and I use that term in a very real and non-hyperbolic way) was happening, and it was not due to the sheer “bulk” of people present which often creates the classic Con atmosphere.

The educators and their presentations were top class, and a more auspicious program you would be hard-pressed to assemble. Respected giants including Bryan Simmons, Joe Martinez, Alex Powers, Dago Rodrigues, Scott Dueball, Steve Harrison and Jon Ruark blew minds like they were cheap electrical fuses in your Father’s beater Toyota. Those physically in attendance, while masked, were clearly engaged, and they asked questions, real and thoughtful questions, after each presentation. So well organized was the virtual group of attendees that they were also able to submit questions in real-time and engage in the conversation as well. 

Saturday wrapped up with a panel discussion on organizing conventions run by Brothers who had been there themselves, grappling with the logistics of such an event, and have gone on to organize successful national events. The panel went for well over an hour and was chock full of excellent experiential tidbits and Obi-Wan Kenobi like guidance. It was a memorable way to end the day, and while we were tired, we were also inspired.

Sunday morning kicked off in spectacular form with a presentation by Maribel Martinez, whose thoughtful and eloquent presentation on the symbolism of the rainbow set an unbelievably high bar for the presenters to come. Jason Richards, Tim Hogan, and Chris Hodapp rose spectacularly to the challenge, and as the Sunday presentations finished, RJ took to the mic. I’ll let this excerpt from his closing remarks speak for themselves:
“Freemasonry is exactly what you make it. I don’t mean that you get out of it what you put into it. I mean that if you want Education, you need to be willing to be educated. You need to put skin in the game, you need to do the work. … If you want Education, you put it on. You move. You read your education, you put on your PowerPoint and when grown men cry about it for whatever reason or you evoke a passionate discourse--at least you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, that is--to separate the valuable, from the worthless. You’ll know where you stand.”

RJ, Cori, and your boys: I know where you stand.

To my knowledge, Masonic Con Chicago was the largest national (and international) gathering of Freemasons since the pandemic hit the United States in March. Over 75 people attended the Con in person, with another 92 attending virtually. Attendees represented 35 jurisdictions nationally, as well as two Canadian provinces. There were nearly 10 vendors and sponsors present on site, as well as food service. I spent a wonderful weekend in the company of people who I knew well, met some new people, became acquainted with some people I had only previously connected with on social media or knew from their work, and broke ground on new relationships I am excited to see bloom and develop. I know I am not alone in this experience.

All of this was accomplished with an incredible amount of care and respect for best practices during a pandemic. I would be lying if I said that the event was not affected and altered by all the safety precautions, and had to shift in format from what was originally conceived. But the fact that it went on and was awesome WITH precautions is a mighty bell-weather for what Masonry during the pandemic can be. What was demonstrated is that value isn’t found through packing a lodge room, shoveling food into our mouths around a packed table off of china plates with silver cutlery, imbibing and smoking, and all the other external trappings we turn to in order to “improve” our Craft experiences. Value here, it turns out, is that most conspiratorial human practice of taking a leap into something unknown and discovering more than one ever imagined. We’ve known this all along, or at least, we’ve professed to it since we first knocked on a lodge hall door wearing absurd pajamas. This is initiation, and at Masonic Con Chicago, it was an initiation into something electric many of us had unknowingly shelved in some capacity of distancing to accommodate the pandemic: love.


RWB Spencer Hamann is a luthier and musicologist working in northern Illinois. He is an avid woodworker and artificer and enjoys antique restorations and custom commissions. Curatorship and adding value are core to his personal philosophies. Spencer was Raised in 2013 and served Libertyville Lodge No. 492 as Worshipful Master from 2017-2018. He is the Senior Warden of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183, and serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois as their Grand Representative to Wisconsin, District Education officer for the 1st NE District, and is a Certified Lodge Instructor (CLI). He can be contacted at spencer@sahamann.com

Brothers for Life

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

(Photo l to r: WB Patrick M. Connor, Jr. and Bro. Michael T. Arce)

Most of my closest friends in life are my fellow Brother Masons. These men are a diverse group, literally touching every culture, lifestyle, political, and religious background. I also have a Brother, who always joked about being brothers someday --- back when we were college roommates. Patrick Connor played lacrosse and was a fine arts major at the University of Arizona when we met. I was the guy who rented the last room in our house. That year in Tucson, Pat and I spent many late nights talking about our two favorite subjects: our dreams and life. 

Even the best-made plans are subject to change. Instead of finishing my degree, I moved from Tucson to Albany, New York, to begin my life. Pat's journey eventually led him to Rhode Island. Pat was the best man at my wedding, and I was honored to be his. With miles between us, we stayed connected through our new lives. When I share my Masonic story, I say with a smile that Pat is why I petitioned a Lodge. "Mike, I know how much you like history. I remember all of our late night talks about life. You would get so much out of this," he would tell me about Freemasonry. I eventually discovered the calling in my heart to visit the Lodge building I would stare at during red lights. Pat was the first person I called after my first visit.

There is a five-year difference in the start of our Masonic journeys. When I was struggling to make time to study the degree proficiencies, Pat was the Master Mason with the calm voice of reason that encouraged me to keep pressing on. I was excited when he was elected a Junior Warden of his Lodge; he congratulated me years later when I took my place in the South. I circled the year he would be elected Master in my calendar; nothing would keep me from visiting his Lodge. That year was 2020. 

Like everything else this year, my visit was in doubt as Lodge meetings moved to computer screens during the shutdown. There was a glimmer of hope in July that his jurisdiction would be reopening Lodges for meetings. The same day that I reached out to my Grand Lodge to arrange for my visit to Harmony Lodge #9 in Cranston, Rhode Island --- New York Governor Mario Cuomo put Rhode Island on our state's quarantine list. Another delay in a year of postponements, I thought. By mid-August, Rhode Island was off the list, and my visit was cleared!

Harmony Lodge was having their first meeting since the pandemic the evening I attended. I was warmly welcomed by the Brothers and sat in awe of the top-notch ritual work in Opening and Closing their Lodge. What made the evening truly memorable was when my best friend, the Worshipful Master, invited me to a seat in the East. During my introduction, he said, "Michael was like my brother before you, my Brothers." I sat next to him that evening, thinking of the magnitude of the moment. Just over twenty years ago, two strangers became best friends and now shared a unique bond as Freemasons.

I'd like to say that the evening's highpoint was visiting Harmony Lodge #9; it has been beautifully restored. Meeting the Brethern was also notable. I hope to travel again as a speaker one evening! The most precious memory of my trip happened after the meeting. Instead of staying up into the early hours of the morning discussing the future and life, we spoke of ritual and Masonry. We shared those parts of degree work and Masonic teachings that can only be communicated with another Brother Mason. Knowing that I will always have my best friend as a Brother for life that I can share this experience brought new meaning to The Tyler's Toast.

"Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again."

Brother Michael Arce is a member of Mt. Vernon Lodge #3 in Albany, New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at michael.arce@me.com

Our Better Halves

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners 

I recently on an episode of the Meet, Act, and Part podcast, which I host along with fellow Midnight Freemasons, Greg Knott, Bill Hosler, and Todd E. Creason, gave a shout out to a woman that I had gone on one date with. I told her about the podcast and she dared me to mention her name. I did so, thinking little of it, other than maybe it would stroke her ego a bit. Recently, I started a relationship with a woman who is not only smart, beautiful, charming, amazing, patient, kind, and every other adjective that I could use to describe someone who is completely and utterly awesome. This wonderfully awesome woman, who will remain nameless until the end of the article, also has a wicked sense of humor. In an attempt to understand Freemasonry better, she decided to give the Meet, Act, and Part podcast a listen. As luck would have it, she chose to listen to the episode where I gave this other woman a shout out. Needless to say, she has been giving me the business about this for a few days now. This is because she also has a wicked sense of humor, and can give me the business as well as she takes my endless taunts. 

However, this got me thinking about the countless women (and men) who are often Freemasonic "Widows" without their significant others being dead. They essentially do not see their significant others many evenings because of Stated Meetings, Degrees, and other events of the various Masonic events that their men participate in. Many of them prepare their clothes for them, ironing their shirts and slacks and do everything in their power to keep their Freemasons looking good, as well as supporting them in their participation of Masonic events, even if it means that they do not get to see them many nights. Women like Tammi Harmoning, who drives Bill Hosler to his various Masonic events, because Bill who can no longer drive loves Freemasonry, and Tammi loves Bill.

One of my more controversial articles for the blog was regarding allowing women into the Fraternity, and as you might imagine, there were a fair number of Freemasons that accused me of heresy for daring to write about such a thing. Yet, I know many Freemasonic Widows that are better versed at ritual than I am, because they are often feeding their significant others lines so that they can memorize it. Apparently, it's okay for our significant others to know the ritual, but we can't let them practice it because of a "landmark" made 300 plus years ago. But I digress. My point is, that these women tirelessly support their significant others and indulge them in their Freemasonic activities. Women like Cori Johnson, who supports Robert Johnson's travels across the country, as he visits various lodges to give presentations, explore Skinwalker Ranch, and run Chicago Masonic-con.  Or Brooke Knott, who allows Greg to hang around with the likes of me.

What I fear is that we don't acknowledge the sacrifices that our better halves make in order for us to be active Freemasons. Women like Val Creason and Janet Pettice, who stand behind Todd Creason and Brian Pettice respectively, when they are at Scottish Rite Reunions, Stated meetings, and Degrees. I thank the many wives of the Valley of Danville members that work in the kitchen every reunion, to make sure that we are fed well. I know in my St. Joseph lodge, we have a "Stand by Your Mason" award that is given out to a significant other of a lodge member yearly that supports her Mason, but I don't think that's enough. I hope that each individual mason is already thanking their significant other daily for all of the things they do for them. However, I think that if you're not having a ladies' night where you're making the women behind the men of your lodge the center of attention, that you need to start doing this at least once or twice a year.

Without the love and support of your better halves, are you able to be good men and masons? Would you be able to know your ritual as well? Would you be able to look as sharp as you do at degrees? So as I enter a new relationship with someone that I think will be this support to me, I want to sincerely thank all of the women (and men) out there that are standing behind their mason. I also encourage every Freemason to do the same thing. Thank the women (and men) who stand behind the men of your lodge and make them the center of attention from time to time. It's the least we can do. Always remember, behind almost every Freemason, is someone who is loving and supporting them.

To Lisa, I say this: Thank you for your understanding of what Freemasonry means to me, and for your support of my involvement in it. I hope that I can read this article to you from time to time to thank you for what I foresee will be your continued support of my involvement in the Craft. 


WB Darin A. Lahners is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com


United We Stand

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Gregory J. Knott

September 11, 2001 I was angry, I cried, I was distraught, I was confused and countless other emotions that most Americans felt. It was the worst day in my lifetime of attacks on the American homeland. 

September 12, 2001 I woke up as most American’s did and tried to begin to figure out what happened in New York City, Washington DC and Shanksville, PA. From coast to coast we united as one country, as Americans. We weren’t white, black, hispanic, asian, native american or other ethnicities, we were simply AMERICANS.

People flocked to church to pray for those lost in the attacks, blood drives were going full force, flags were flying from every big and small town, members of both parties in the United States Congress gathered on the capitol steps to sing together. Our first responders were our heroes as they selflessly rushed into the crash sites to help others, and so many of them gave their lives doing so. People flooded recruiting stations to sign up for the military, such as United States Army Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, who was recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in Iraq.

We stood side by side with a determination to pull our country together in a show of unity that I hadn’t seen before in my lifetime or since. United we stood.

19 years later, our country is bitterly divided along ethnic lines, political parties, rural vs urban vs suburban, young vs old, etc. What happened to that feeling of September 12, 2001? Divided we fall.

I won’t get into deep speculation of why we are so divided. My view is 24/7 news channels, social media, the decline of social capital in our communities, and more is just a small part of the problem.

But I belong to an organization that brings men together of every race, of every religion and from every status of life. We meet in a lodge where you can check all of those differences at the door and enter a sanctuary where every person is absolutely equal with one another. A warm handshake (before COVID), a sincere greeting and a deep sense of caring for each other await you. Of course I am speaking of Freemasonry.

Freemasonry absolutely has the framework that can help solve so many of the world's trevails today. You enter a lodge, engage with other brothers, learning from them, helping them, all the while being on the level with them. You leave the lodge a better person and go back into the greater world and apply those principles we talk about and learn about in our degrees. You are instantly part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

So I challenge all of us as Freemasons to use those lessons and put them to work in your community, at home, in your place of worship, on the job and as you use social media. Be the example and others will soon begin to take notice and your positive influence will rub off on them.

Be a light in the darkness. United we stand.


WB Gregory J. Knott is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. and serves as its Secretary. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters. You can contact him at gknott63@gmail.com

The Badge of a Mason

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Daniel Lee

Within our Craft, it is universally accepted that a man is first made a Mason in his heart.  I am certainly no exception, however before I was ever made a Mason, I was a cop.  I joined the Cranston, Rhode Island Police Department in 2004 as a rookie patrolman, and remain working there today as a detective assigned to the department’s Special Victims Unit.  After joining Harmony Lodge #9 F&AM in Cranston, Rhode Island in 2010, I was quickly struck by the similarities between Freemasonry and law enforcement— both advocate its members practice moral rectitude, be fair in their dealings with others, treat people as equals, and keep their passions and behavior within acceptable boundaries.  Two Brotherhoods not unalike.  And it is because of the teachings and philosophies that Freemasonry and law enforcement share that I always sought out places where the two would intersect, and I often reflect on ways I can apply my Masonic working tools to my vocation.  I found this to be the “light” of which I was in search.  

That “light” shined a little brighter in January 2019, when I was reading through a Cranston Police Department Retirees Association newsletter that was distributed amongst the department’s active members.  I happened upon a short article written by retired Cranston Police Sergeant and historian James Ignasher about a Cranston Police Chief’s badge engraved with the Masonic square and compass on its back.  This was astounding to me, in that while I enjoyed a multitude of times where my profession and the Craft would converge, none ever incorporated my own police department.  The detective in me took over, and I needed to find out more.

Chief James G. Miller, 1929

                                                                                                                        City of Cranston Police Department  

                                                                                         Note the difference in style of the badge being worn and the Masonic badge.  


The badge, it turns out, belonged to James G. Miller (1876-1941), whose career with the Cranston Police spanned over four decades.  Before Cranston was formally incorporated as a city and had a municipal police force, it was an agricultural town of about 1,500 residents patrolled by a variety of constables working under the supervision of an elected Town Sergeant.  Miller, who was born and raised in the Blackstone area of Massachusetts, worked as one of these constables beginning in the late 1890s, and when the city did officially establish its police force in 1910, Miller was one of the original ten patrolmen sworn into it.  By 1912, Miller was serving as the department’s first detective.  

Three years later, in 1915, Detective James Miller became Brother James Miller, as he joined Doric Lodge #38 in Cranston (Initiated:  February 10, 1915; Passed:  May 12, 1915; Raised:  May 26, 1915; and Signed By-Laws:  June 9, 1915).

Constable James Miller, 1898
Town of Cranston

Some fourteen years after signing the Doric Lodge #38 by-laws, Brother Miller completed his accession through the ranks of the police department, and in 1929 he was named as the sixth Chief of the Cranston Police.  During his tenure as the city’s top cop, Brother Miller was known for his compassion and innovated, forward thinking.  There are practices put in place by Brother Miller that are still used to this day. 

Brother James G. Miller’s grave in Pocasset Cemetery, Cranston.

Which now brings us to his Chief’s badge with the square and compass.  Based on what is known of the Cranston Police during the period of Brother Miller’s time as Chief, the pictured badge did not fit the specifications set forth by the city or police department.  The inconsistent styling of this badge vis-à-vis what was issued to and worn by members of the Cranston Police at that time would lead one to believe that the Masonic badge was what is commonly referred to as a “presentation badge,” or a gift not necessarily meant for every day wear, but for display or as a keepsake.  

Armed with that knowledge, this detective was led to the voluminous archives of Doric Lodge #38, which are now maintained by Harmony Lodge #9, in search of any evidence of when or why this badge was presented to Brother Chief Miller.  Much to my dismay, after a long and thorough search through the minutes and records of Doric Lodge from 1929 to 1941, I did not locate any entry that would allude to the badge being presented to him in or by his own lodge.  And with no discernible markings on the badge by its craftsman, its origins remain somewhat mysterious.

Death Notice of James Miller recorded in the minutes of Doric Lodge #38 (with a misprint of the actual date of death). 

Note the short biography, which was out of the ordinary for death notices recorded in the lodge minutes during that period.

Brother James Miller’s name amongst other brethren in the Doric Lodge #38 necrology from 1941.  Again, note the distinction of his time as Police Chief.

My search for light, however, was not entirely fruitless.  I did locate an entry in the records of Doric Lodge commemorating the death of Brother Miller.  Unlike the other death announcements in the lodge records around the time of Brother Miller’s death, his entry was accompanied by a short biography: “Brother Miller was appointed to the Cranston Police as a special patrolman in 1898 and was later appointed to the regular force and in 1913 became the departments [sic] inspector in charge of all investigations.  In January 1929, he became chief of the Department and served as such until his death.”  The uniqueness of this entry reflects the admiration and respect that the lodge had for Brother Miller and his position within the Cranston Police Department, and is an appropriate tribute to a life of service spent in the quarries of Freemasonry and in the protection of the citizens of Rhode Island.  

Additionally, I discovered that besides Brother Miller, two others of the original ten patrolmen sworn into the Cranston Police upon its formation in 1910 would take the oath and obligation of a Master Mason:  Officer Henry Clay Debow joined Doric Lodge #38 in 1920 and Officer George Smith joined Jenks Lodge #24 in 1922.

Captain Henry Clay Debow, 1929

He was one of the original ten patrolman sworn into the City of Cranston Police Department upon its formation in 1910.  He later joined Doric Lodge #38 in 1920. 

It is said that after Chief Miller’s death in 1941, Brother Debow, an ardent outdoorsman, was tapped to be the next Cranston Police Chief.  Debow however declined the position, due in large part to his desire to remain on the night shift so as not to interfere with the hunting and fishing that he enjoyed during the day time.

Brother Debow, who was raised on farm in New Brunswick, Canada, became a Cranston constable in 1903.  As the Cranston’s city police force was formed in 1910, he too was an original member.  Aside from working along side Brother Miller as a detective, Brother Debow was the first member of the police department to hold the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain.  Ever the outdoorsman, Brother Debow was tapped to replace Brother Miller as Chief upon his passing, but elected to defer that appointment to stay on the over night so as to not interfere with his hunting and fishing that he enjoyed during the day time.  Brother Debow was the first member of the Cranston Police, and possibly the state, to use a dog (his loyal Irish setter, Lady) to track and capture a fugitive.

Brother Henry Clay Debow’s grave in Pocasset Cemetery, Cranston.

Close to a century separates the time that Brothers and fellow Cranston Police Officers Miller, Debow and Smith, and I took our respective oaths—one on the Masonic altar and the other to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution on behalf of its citizens.  Both the City of Cranston and its police department have grown exponentially in the past 110 years.  Upon some personal introspection into my membership in both Freemasonry and law enforcement, I pray that I continue the legacy of applying Masonic teachings usefully to policing.  There may not be a more appropriate time in the history of policing in this country than now.

But perhaps my greatest take away from this research project is this:  Freemasonry is local.  We as Masons justifiably boast about our Brothers who founded this nation, who became President, who are in Hollywood, or who compete in the professional sports arena.  But there are countless Brothers who impact their own local communities.  Men like Jim Miller, Clay Debow, and George Smith.  Three out of the first ten members of my police department were members of our fraternity.  That’s actually a greater percentage of signers of the Declaration of Independence and about the same percentage of U.S. Presidents who were Freemasons.  I would encourage every Brother to go out and discover what impact Freemasonry had on their local communities.  Or better yet, to go make that impact themselves.


Brother Daniel Lee has been a member of Harmony Lodge #9, F&AM in Cranston, Rhode Island since 2010.  He received his 32nd Degree from the Valley of Providence, and is the Vice President of Rhode Island Chapter #1 of the International Police Square & Compass Club.  He has served with the Cranston, Rhode Island Police Department since 2004, and is currently assigned to the Special Victims Unit as a Detective.  He resides in Rhode Island with his wife, son, and daughter, and enjoys SCUBA diving.  He can be reached at DanLee81@hotmail.com

Worshipful Brother Robert Smalls

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners 

Worshipful Brother Robert Smalls was born on April 5, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina to Lydia Polite, a woman who was enslaved to Henry McKee, who was most likely Robert’s father. He grew up in Beaufort, in the fields. As Robert was favored over other slaves, his mother began to worry that he might not understand the harsh realities of Slavery, especially those that work in the fields. Robert’s mothers asked for him to work in the fields and to witness the whipping of slaves at “the whipping post”. When he was 12, his mother requested that Smalls’ master send him to Charleston, South Carolina. There he was hired out as a laborer for one dollar per week, with the rest of the wage going to his mother. He worked in a hotel and as a lamplighter on the streets of Charleston, finally finding work on Charleston’s docks. He worked as a longshoreman, a rigger, a sail maker, and finally worked his way into becoming a wheelman or helmsman. As a result, he gained tremendous knowledge about Charleston harbor.

At the age of 17, Bro. Smalls married Hannah Jones, an enslaved Hotel maid. She was 22 and already had two daughters. Their first child together, Elizabeth Lydia Smalls, was born in February 1858. They had a son three years later, Robert Jr, who passed away at the age of two. Robert was determined to pay for their freedom by purchasing them outright, but at the cost of $800 dollars (roughly $22,764 in today’s currency), it would take him decades to reach that goal. He had only managed to save $100 dollars.

In April 1861, the American Civil War began with the Battle of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. In the fall of 1861, Bro. Smalls was assigned to work as a wheelman on the CSS Planter, a lightly armed military transport ship. The Planter’s duties were to deliver orders, troops, supplies, to survey waterways, and to lay mines. Smalls was entrusted to pilot the Planter throughout the Harbor, as well as on area rivers and along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coastlines. Smalls could see the line of Union ships blockading the Harbor seven miles away and began to hatch an escape plan.

On May 12, 1862, the Planter travelled 10 miles southwest to Coles Island, which was home to a confederate post that was being dismantled. The ship picked up 4 large cannon and returned to Charleston where the crew loaded 200lb of ammunition and 20 cord of firewood onto the ship. The evening of May 12, 1862, the Planter’s three confederate officers disembarked to spend the night in Charleston, leaving Bro. Smalls and the crew on board. Before the officers departed, Smalls requested permission to allow the crew’s families to visit them, which was approved provided that the families left before curfew.

When the families arrived, Smalls and the crew revealed the plan to them. Smalls had discussed the plan with his wife beforehand, to which she said: “It is a risk, dear, but you and I, and our little ones must be free. I will go, for where you die, I will die.” The other women were not informed and were frightened at executing the plan. They started to cry out of fear. The men attempted to quiet them with mixed success. At curfew, the family members returned home with the instructions to be at Southern Wharf and another wharf to be picked up for the escape attempt. Around 3am, Smalls put on a captain’s uniform and wore a straw hat similar to the captain’s and the Planter departed. After stopping to pick up his and the other crew member’s families, Smalls piloted the Planter past five confederate forts with no issue, as he gave the correct signals at checkpoints as Smalls had copied the captain’s mannerisms along with wearing his straw hat, it was enough to fool the soldiers manning the various checkpoints. Around 4:30 am, Smalls approached Fort Sumter.

The crew started to be afraid, asking Smalls to give wide berth to the Fort. Smalls told them that such behavior might raise suspicion of the soldiers manning the guns at the Fort. He piloted the ship along the normal course at a slow cruising speed, pretending as if they were just out for a leisurely cruise. When the Fort gave the challenge signal, Smalls responded with the correct hand signals. There was a long pause and Smalls started to think he’d soon be on the receiving end of a cannon barrage. However, the Fort replied back with the all-clear and the Planter continued on its way. Rather than turn east towards Morris Island, Smalls steered the ship straight towards the Union ships blockading the Harbor. Smalls ordered all the confederate flags lowered and replaced them with white bedsheets that his wife had brought with her. This raised the alarm that something was amiss, but the Planter was already outside of Cannon range.

The Planter was seen by the USS Onward, which began to ready its cannons to fire upon the Planter. Luckily, a crewmember on the USS Onward noticed the white flag of surrender flying on the Planter. The Captain of the USS Onward, John Fredrick Nickels, boarded the Planter at which point Smalls asked for a United States Flag to fly. Smalls surrendered the Planter to Nickels, exclaiming "Good morning, sir! I've brought you some of the old United States guns, sir!" Smalls escape proved especially beneficial to the union navy. Along with the artillery pieces that the Planter was hauling, the captains codebook with the signals for each check point, along with maps of the mines laid in Charleston Harbor were invaluable, as was Smalls expertise of the surrounding waters. The United States also learned that Coles Island had been abandoned by Confederate forces, which allowed the United States to capture the island

Word of Smalls escape quickly spread throughout the North via newspapers accounts. In the South, the Newspapers demanded disciplinary action for the officers who left Smalls and his crew alone aboard the ship. The U.S. Congress passed a bill awarding Smalls and his crew prize money for CSS Planter. Smalls was awarded 1500 dollars (roughly $38415 in today’s currency). Smalls was sent to Washington DC to help persuade President Lincoln and War Secretary Stanton to allow men of color to fight for the Union. Due to Smalls effort, Stanton signed an order allowing 5000 African Americans to serve the union at Port Royal, and they were organized into the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Regiments (Colored).

Smalls quickly started serving the Union Navy out of Port Royal, South Carolina and piloted many navy vessels, until he was transferred to the Army in March 1863. Smalls took part in 17 major engagements during the war. Some of his heroic actions include: He was made pilot of the ironclad USS Keokuk and took part in the attack on Fort Sumter on April 7, 1863. The Keokuk took major damage and sank the next morning. Smalls and much of the crew moved to the USS Ironside and the fleet returned to Hilton Head. On Dec. 1, 1863, Smalls was piloting the Planter on Folly Island Creek when Confederate gun batteries at Secessionville fired upon the vessel. The captain, James Nickerson, fled the pilot house for the coal bunker, but Smalls stayed at his post and piloted the ship to safety.

In May 1864, Smalls was an unofficial delegate to the Republican National Convention in Baltimore. Later that spring, he was in Philadelphia while the Planter was getting overhauled. While in Philadelphia, Smalls was in a streetcar and was ordered to give up his seat to a white passenger. Rather than ride on the open overflow platform, Smalls left the streetcar. The humiliation of Smalls, a heroic veteran, was referenced in a debate that resulted in the State legislature’s passing a bill which integrated public transport in Pennsylvania in 1867.

After the civil war, Smalls returned to Beaufort. There he became a property owner, and purchased several properties, including a two-story building to be used as a school for African-American children. He also opened a store with a Philadelphia business man, which served the needs of freedmen. He was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1868, moving to the Senate in 1870 after being elected to fill a vacancy. In 1874, Smalls was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he served from 1875 to 1879 and then from 1882 to 1887 all while being threatened by the South Carolina “Red Shirts” which was a branch of the Klu Klux Klan. His political career was centered on promoting children’s welfare, education and African-American rights. He famously said in 1895: “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere, all they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

Smalls passed away in 1915 at the age of 75 due to malaria and diabetes. In 2004, the Defense Department named a ship for Smalls. The USAV Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls is a Kuroda-class logistics support vessel operated by the U.S. Army. It is the first Army ship to be named after an African-American. Robert Smalls was a member and a Past Master of The Sons of Beaufort Lodge #36 PHA in Beaufort, South Carolina.


WB Darin A. Lahners is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com