The red fez with a black tassel, the Shrine’s official headgear, has been handed down through the ages. It derives its name from the place where it was first manufactured â€” the holy city of Fez, Morocco.
Some historians claim it dates back to about A.D. 980, but the name of the fez, or tarboosh, does not appear in Arabic literature until around the 14th century. One of the earliest references to the headgear is in “Arabian Nights.”
“The First Meeting”
On September 26, 1872, in the New York City Masonic Hall, the first Shrine Temple in the United States was organized. Brother McClenachan and Dr. Fleming had completed the ritual and proposed that the first Temple be named Mecca. The original 13 Masons of the Knickerbocker Cottage lunch group were named Charter Members of Mecca Temple. Noble Florence read a letter outlining the “history” of the Order and giving advice on the conduct of meetings. The officers elected were Walter M. Fleming, Potentate; Charles T. McClenachan, Chief Rabban; John A. Moore, Assistant Rabban; Edward Eddy, High Priest and Prophet; George W. Millar, Oriental Guide; James S. Chappel, Treasurer; William S. Paterson, Recorder; and Oswald M. d’Aubigne, Captain of the Guard.
But the organization was not an instant success, even though a second Temple was chartered in Rochester in 1875. Four years after the Shrine’s beginnings, there were only 43 Shrine Masons, all but six of whom were from New York.
“The Imperial Council”
At a meeting of Mecca Temple on June 6, 1876, in the New York Masonic Temple, a new body was created to help spur the growth of the young fraternity. This governing body was called “The Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for the United States of America.” Fleming became the first Imperial Grand Potentate, and the new body established rules for membership and the formation of new Temples. The initiation ritual was embellished, as was the mythology about the fraternity. An extensive publicity and recruiting campaign was initiated.
It worked. Just two years later, in 1878, there were 425 Shrine Masons in 13 Temples. Five of these Temples were in New York, two were in Ohio and the others were in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan and Massachusetts.
The Shrine continued to grow during the 1880s. By the time of the 1888 Annual Session (convention) in Toronto, there were 7,210 members in 48 Temples located throughout the United States and one in Canada.
While the organization was still primarily social, instances of philanthropic work became more frequent. During an 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic in Jacksonville, Fla., members of the new Morocco Temple and Masonic Knights Templar worked long hours to relieve the suffering populace. In 1889, Shrine Masons came to the aid of the Johnstown Flood victims. In 1898, there were 50,000 Shrine Masons, and 71 of the 79 Temples were engaged in some sort of philanthropic work.
By the turn of the century, the Shrine had come into its own. At its 1900 Imperial Session, representatives from 82 Temples marched in a Washington, D.C., parade reviewed by President William McKinley. Shrine membership was well over 55,000.
Dedicated to Fun and Philanthropy. How did it all start? How does it work?
What is a Shrine Mason? What kind of organization attracts physicians, lawyers, truck drivers, dentists, contractors, heads of state, movie stars, generals, clergymen and accountants?
Someone might answer, “Oh yeah, Shrine Masons are those guys who always have those parades with the wild costumes and funny little cars.” Another might think of circuses and clowns. The fellow next to him might interject, “No, Shrine Masons are the guys who wear those funny hats–like flowerpots–and have those big conventions.”
“I don’t know about all that,” a passerby might add, “But I do know my little girl was born with clubfeet and now they are straight, and she can walk like anyone else, thanks to Shriners Hospitals for Children.”
“She can walk?” questions still another. “I thought the Shrine Masons ran those fantastic burn hospitals. I’ve read stories about them saving kids with burns on 90 percent of their bodies.”
All those people are right. Each has experienced an aspect of Shrinedom. What they cannot experience, unless they are Shrine Masons, is the camaraderie, deep friendships, good fellowship and great times shared by all Shrine Masons. What they may not know is that all Shrine Masons share a Masonic heritage; each is a Master Mason in the Freemasonry Fraternity.
There are more than 411,000 Shrine Masons now. They gather in Temples, or chapters, throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Republic of Panama. There are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children providing care for orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate. These hospitals have helped more than 800,000 children — at no cost to the parent or child — since the first Shriners Hospitals for Children opened in 1922.