In 1870, several thousand of
the 900,000 residents of Manhattan were Masons. Many of these Masons
made it a point to lunch at the Knickerbocker Cottage, a restaurant at
426 Sixth Avenue. At a special table on the second floor, a particularly
jovial group of men used to meet regularly.
The Masons who gathered at
this table were noted for their good humor and wit. They often discussed
the idea of a new fraternity for Masons, in which fun and fellowship
would be stressed more than ritual. Two of the table regulars, Walter M.
Fleming, M.D., and William J. Florence, an actor, took the idea
seriously enough to do something about it.
Billy Florence was a star.
After becoming the toast of the New York stage, he toured London, Europe
and Middle Eastern countries, always playing to capacity audiences.
While on tour in Marseilles, France, Florence was invited to a party
given by an Arabian diplomat. The entertainment was something in the
nature of an elaborately staged musical comedy. At its conclusion, the
guests became members of a secret society.
The founders of
Florence, recalling the
conversations at the Knickerbocker Cottage, realized that this might
well be the vehicle for the new fraternity. He made copious notes and
drawings at that initial viewing and on two other occasions when he
attended the ceremony, once in Algiers and again in Cairo. When he
returned to New York in 1870 and showed his material to Dr. Fleming,
Dr. Walter Millard Fleming
was a prominent physician and surgeon. Born in 1838, he obtained a
degree in medicine in Albany, N.Y., in 1862. During the Civil War, he
was a surgeon with the 13th New York Infantry Brigade of the National
Guard. He then practiced medicine in Rochester, New York, until 1868,
when he moved to New York City and quickly became a leading
Fleming was devoted to
fraternalism. He became a Mason in Rochester and took some of his
Scottish Rite work there, then completed his degrees in New York City.
He was coroneted a 33° Scottish Rite Mason on September 19, 1872.
Fleming took the ideas
supplied by Florence and converted them into what would become the
Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
While there is some question about the origin of the Fraternity's name,
it is probably more than coincidence that its initials, rearranged,
spell out the words "A MASON."
With the help of other
Knickerbocker Cottage regulars, Fleming drafted the ritual, designed the
emblem and ritual costumes, formulated a salutation, and declared that
members would wear a red fez.
The initiation rites, or
ceremonials, were drafted by Fleming with the help of three Brother
Masons: Charles T. McClenachan, lawyer and expert on Masonic Ritual;
William Sleigh Paterson, printer, linguist and ritualist; and Albert L.
Rawson, prominent scholar and Mason who provided much of the Arabic
The Crescent was adopted as
the Jewel of the Order. Though any materials can be used in forming the
Crescent, the most valuable are the claws of a Royal Bengal Tiger,
united at their base in a gold setting. In the center is the head of a
sphinx, and on the back are a pyramid, an urn and a star. The Jewel
bears the motto "Robur et Furor," which means "Strength
and Fury." Today, the Shrine emblem includes a scimitar from which
the crescent hangs, and a five-pointed star beneath the head of the
Dr. Fleming and his
coworkers also formulated a salutation used today by Shriners —
"Es Selamu Aleikum!" — which means, "Peace be with
you!" In returning the salutation, the gracious wish is "Aleikum
Es Selamu," which means "With you be peace."
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
— 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 cen-tury. One of
the earliest references to the headgear is in "Arabian
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 Shriners, 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
It worked. Just two years
later, in 1878, there were 425 Shriners 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, Shriners came to
the aid of the Johnstown Flood victims. In 1898, there were 50,000
Shriners, and 71 of the 79 Temples were engaged in some sort of
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
Aleppo Shriners of Boston was founded in
1882. Original headquarters were in Mechanics Hall and later in Copley
Square, until the purchase and renovation of the Wilmington auditorium
in 1977. A
banner year for Aleppo, this marked numerous exciting events and
shows made possible by this spacious and well-appointed facility.
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Shriners Temple. All rights are reserved.