Inside the Freemasons

An Action News Special Report
April 24, 2008 12:32:30 PM PDT
They are known for their elaborate temples and their arcane symbols. Their Masonic Grand Lodge in Center City Philadelphia is a national historical icon. But what the Freemasons may best be known for is secrecy.

"Our responsibility is that we are part and members of the greatest fraternity in the history of the world," said Thomas Sturgeon, the Deputy Grand Master of the Freemasons of Pennsylvania.

For the very first time Action News cameras have been allowed inside to record a ritual that has been hidden for centuries.

That night, Mason Thomas Hopkins was inducted as District Deputy Grand Master.

"I will keep, support, maintain and abide by all the ancient usages, customs and landmarks of the fraternity," recited Hopkins at the ceremony.

"You will kiss the Holy Bible and arise," instructed the Grand Master to Hopkins at the ceremony.

"I now invest you with the collar to which is pendant, the jewel of your office," said a presenting brother.

Hopkins also is given the apron that carries the seal of his office.

"Brother Thomas Hawkins, District Deputy Grand Master, I congratulate you," said a presenting brother at the end of the ceremony.

To understand the ceremony, you have to go back three thousand years to a Masonic legend that traces their origins to the Biblical ancient temple of King Soloman, the place where the Ten Commandments were believed to have been kept.

Solomons' master builder was a stone mason named Hiram Abif, a master mason who according to legend was murdered by his three apprentices who wanted to know the secret password and handshake that would identify one as a master mason.

"We had these modes of recognition. It was like a Union card back then," said Grand Master Stephen Gardner.

And so it is that the murder of Hiram Abif, Soloman's chief architect, is re-enacted in ritual form as part of the process of becoming a master. It speaks of a lost word, the word of life, the key to all secrets a word that cannot be spoken in public.

"And that's the password. And that is simply to recognize from one Mason to another to confirm one brother to another that YES, I am a Master Mason," Gardner said.

"It is a universal brotherhood and we can communicate as Freemasons universally with symbols & allegory," said Samuel King, the Grand Master of the Pennsylvania Prince Hall Masons.

By 1700, they evolved into a progressive gentleman's club no longer limited to practicing stone masons. They would now call themselves symbolic Freemasons carrying on the ancient traditions of Hiram Abif.

Their most famous symbol is the square and compass embraced by the letter "G" for God. Their all-seeing eye atop the pyramid can even be found on the dollar bill.

"We do things to try to make a good man better to make the world better by improving the man himself."

Through the years, the Masons charitable works around the world have been immeasurable.

"If you go up the street, you would see the Shriner's Hospital for Children, and we have the Knights Templar with the eye foundation, you can go into our Scottish Rites to see the work that we do with schizophrenia and the children, we have learning centers for our children who have dyslexia," Gardner said.

To be a Mason you must not violate the laws of God, man or country. Although women are barred from membership, they invite any male believer in a supreme being to join them, regardless of politics, religion and race.

But that was not always the case. The Prince Hall Masons on North Broad Street were formed when African-Americans couldn't join white lodges.

"It's not until the mid to late 1900's that we have seen a shift where African-Americans were allowed to join other lodges and vice versa," King said.

The Prince Hall Masons of Philadelphia most notably rally around the "Stop the Violence" campaign.

Many believe the fraternity puts its members in key positions to help control the United States government.

"To me that's the stuff movies are made of. The conspiracist would not just let that go to the rest," Gardner said.

Many of our founding fathers including George Washington and Ben Franklin were Freemasons. Philadelphia's last four mayors were all Masons, Mayor Wilson Goode, Governor Ed Rendell, Mayor John Street and current Mayor Michael Nutter. But even with all those influential Masons, membership is down. To boost it, they want everyone to know you don't have to be invited to be a Mason.

"I can not ask you to become a mason that desire must be yours to be a mason," Gardner said.

Having tackled the secretive Catholic Conservative Group and Opus Dei author Dan Brown is currently working on another book, The Soloman Key which focuses on Freemasons.

For more information about the Freemasons:
The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania
Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge
Masonic Village at Elizabethtown
Freemasonry.org
Author, Dan Brown

Famous people who have been Masons over the years:

Auto Industry Founders
Ford
Chrysler
Oldsmobile

Masonic Superstars
Clark Gable
John Wayne
Harry Houdini
Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny)

Sports Heroes
Ty Cobb
Arnold Palmer

Astronaut Buz Aldrin

Wendy's Founder Dave Thomas

Movie Studio Moguls
Louie B. Mayer @ MGM
Jack Warner @ Warner Brothers


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