The following anonymous article was submitted by a brother from America's heartland.
A brother and his family in the central US have recently been spending a considerable amount of time helping restore a 19th century cemetery in their family hometown.
The cemetery is located in the business district of a small town near the convergence of two rivers, which prior to extensive modification in the 1980s, occasionally overflowed and produced serious flooding in the area.
Over the years, many of the older monuments in the cemetery were displaced or damaged by floating debris, and recovery efforts sometimes resulted in the removal of grave markers, many of which were natural stones with no apparent inscriptions.
While recently visiting family graves, the brother now helping restore the cemetery discovered a child's marble headstone, which was almost completely covered beneath a thick carpet of grass. The monument was broken at its base, and the lower portion was missing, but a systematic search of the nearby area revealed the lost part, and the stone was repaired with stainless steel pins machined specifically for the purpose.
The search for the lost piece also resulted in the accidental and unexpected discovery of several other markers, as well as numerous white bricks buried at approximately regular intervals. When the locations of the bricks and buried monuments were marked with surveyors' flags, a pattern of unmarked graves began to emerge in a large section of the cemetery where no visible monuments remained.
Several weekends of work have now revealed the locations of more than 50 graves identified by buried bricks and monuments. To date, 40 of the missing or badly damaged stones have been replaced with new markers, while about a dozen marble and natural stone monuments have been excavated and restored. Remarkably, the majority of the lost stones have been found upright, but buried beneath the present surface of the ground.
Many of the town's early records have been lost or destroyed, and no plot maps or burial charts are known for the older part of the cemetery. It seems likely that the exact number and identity of the people buried there may never be known, but the brother who's been assisting with the restoration isn't particularly concerned about that.
"It doesn't matter to me who's buried there," he says. "I'm sure they were people whose lives mattered just as much to them as ours do to us, and I think they deserve to have their graves marked, even if no one ever knows who they were."
The brother's ancestors arrived in the area in the 1830s, and were among the earliest pioneers. After generations as farmers, merchants, and public servants, however, his parents' generation moved away in the years following World War II.
"I feel a connection because of my family history," he says, "but I've never lived there myself, and I'm just an outsider to the people there today. Few of them remember my family, and when I tell them that my ancestors were there 175 years ago, I think a lot of them really don't believe it."
"My grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in that cemetery, and it's possible that even my great-great-grandparents could be among the unmarked graves. They died and were buried in that area in the 1860s, but no records or monuments are known to indicate exactly where."
Today, the brother helping with the restoration efforts prefers to remain largely anonymous. "I don't want any recognition," he says, "I just hope no one complains."
Unfortunately, another reason he prefers to remain anonymous in this forum, is that he's currently serving an unjust 50-year "definite suspension" from Masonry, imposed by the grand lodge in his state for "un-Masonic conduct."
He isn't ashamed of his suspension, but he doesn't want to embarrass the brothers who lacked the courage to stand behind him in his time of need. "Most of them aren't bad guys," he says, "they were just scared the grand lodge would kick them out too, and they did what they had to in order to maintain their memberships."
"If the shoe had been on the other foot," he admits, "I would've stood up for them, but it would've been a lot easier for me because I have a full life outside of Masonry, and I was so sick of all the grand lodge corruption that I wanted out anyway.
"My first experience with our grand lodge occurred several years ago, when a grand lodge officer who was one of our state's top law enforcement officials, filed charges of un-Masonic conduct against a young brother of our lodge for 'a long history of writing hot checks.' I was assigned to a committee to investigate those charges, but we declined to pursue the matter when it was revealed that the brother had written only three hot checks in seven years, the total of which amounted to less than $150, and he'd made full restitution for all of them as soon as he was notified of the insufficiency.
"The grand officer testified to our committee that there were outstanding warrants for the brother's arrest, but attempts to confirm those allegations through sources in two different law enforcement agencies, revealed no such warrants. Whether the grand officer intentionally lied is a matter of speculation, but he had the same resources available to him that we had to us, yet the information he reported was clearly inaccurate.
"When that grand officer rose through the ranks of our grand lodge and became Grand Master, I was elected Worshipful Master of my blue lodge, and I was repeatedly warned that he and several of his cronies were planning to set me up. I didn't know specifically what they were planning, however, so I just continued doing the best I could for as long as I could, and put my trust in God that everything would eventually work out.
"Even though I hoped for the best, I prepared for the worst by teaching the junior officers as much as they were willing to learn about how to keep the lodge going in the event of my absence. I was almost certain that the grand lodge was going to kick me out, but no one else seemed to believe it until it actually happened. Obviously, they had a lot more faith in their grand officers' integrity than I did.
"I was one of the most active members at my blue lodge for a number of years, usually being the first to arrive and the last to leave. I taught lectures and ritual work, and conferred all the blue lodge degrees, but I also organized charitable fundraisers and engaged our lodge in as many activities as I could, to make us an asset to our community.
"My wife and I were usually the only ones who showed up to support the T-ball team our lodge adopted, but that turned out to be a lot of fun. It certainly was a lot more fun than being at lodge at 3:30 on Saturday mornings to help with lodge breakfasts like I did for years, or mowing the lodge lawn and cleaning the bathrooms.
"I brought elderly brothers to lodge and took them home when they weren't able to drive. I took them to doctors and hospitals, and visited them and their families when they were sick. I planned our meals to have leftovers for needy brothers when I could, and I attended more of their funerals and graveside services than I care to remember. For me, that was the worst part about Masonry; most Masons are older men, and just like childhood doesn't last very long, old age doesn't last very long either.
"The end for me came when the Grand Master accused me of violating a new edict he'd issued prohibiting 'suspended' or 'expelled' Masons from attending all lodge events, including those open to the general public. The Grand Master even admitted that the edict was directed specifically at me, because I'd continued extending a hand of friendship to Masons the grand lodge had unjustly kicked out, and I welcomed them just like I welcomed everyone else at public events at our lodge.
"Of course, I thought the Grand Master's edict was mean-spirited and vindictive, but I realized it might be the foundation for the 'setup' I'd been warned about. I figured the grand lodge was hoping I'd disregard it and give them a good excuse to kick me out, but I didn't have any other 'public' events scheduled for the rest of the year, and I hoped circumstances wouldn't arise that would make it relevant to me.
"As it turned out, however, I didn't get that lucky. Hurricane Katrina devastated two of our neighboring states, and within the following week, I organized a fundraiser at our lodge to collect donations for Masonic relief efforts. The event was advertised in local newspapers, as well as several radio stations, and two former Masons who heard about it showed up with their families to contribute to the effort.
"I was informed of the former Masons' arrival by a grand lodge employee who met me on the parking lot as I returned from a nearby restaurant where I'd gone to get more food. I asked his advice about how to comply with the Grand Master's directive, but he just told me he was glad he wasn't in my shoes, then he got in his truck and drove away.
"Being left to my own devices, I decided to read the Grand Master's edict to the expelled Masons, and I did so with three other Worshipful Masters and our own Junior Warden and most senior Past Master as witnesses. I don't know what I'd have done if the suspended and/or expelled brothers had refused to leave and demanded to be treated like any other paying members of the public, but they apologized for the inconvenience they'd caused, graciously wished me success with the fundraiser, and left without further incident.
"I'd sent the Grand Master a written invitation to the event, but he ignored it and chose not to attend. I'm sure he was disappointed to hear that I followed his directive, but he didn't allow that to interfere with the plan to oust me. A few days later, he sent me a certified letter saying he'd removed me from office as Worshipful Master, and declared me 'suspended pending trial' on charges of un-Masonic conduct, namely that I'd 'allowed' two expelled Masons to attend the fundraiser in violation of his directive.
"About four months later, just before the end of his term of office, the Grand Master appointed six of his close friends to 'try' me. He appointed his immediate predecessor in the grand line to serve as 'prosecutor,' and he appointed the prosecutor's best friend to serve as 'chairman' of the Grand Lodge Trial Committee.
"The 'trial' was held in a back room of the grand lodge offices, and only invited witnesses were allowed to attend. Despite irrefutable proof of my innocence, attested to by four Past Masters and a Senior Warden, all of whom witnessed the event firsthand, the Grand Lodge Trial Committee declared me guilty and sentenced me to a 'definite suspension' of 50 years.
"The reason they imposed a 'definite suspension,' rather than 'expulsion,' was to deny me the right of appeal constitutionally guaranteed to expelled Masons in this jurisdiction. The Past Grand Master who served as the prosecutor at my 'trial,' declared during his term as Grand Master that Masons here who are sentenced to 'definite suspension,' have no right of appeal.
"I guess that was the dirtiest thing they could think of to do to me, but it worked out in ways that would have been difficult to predict. I don't think I ever could have turned my back on the brothers of my lodge and willingly walked away, but the more I'd realized how corrupt and morally bankrupt our grand lodge is, the more conflicted I'd been about indirectly supporting it through my efforts to promote Masonry. I really wanted out, and it's a strange twist of fate that their corruption set me free.
"With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I can say that joining a Masonic lodge is a good way to make acquaintances, but a bad way to make friends. While the majority of Masons aren't very active, most of the ones who are value their lodge affiliations above their personal friendships, their sense of right and wrong, their religious affiliations, and often even their family relationships. I don't think that's the way Masonry was intended, but it's the way it's turned out, at least in my experiences.
"I don't have much interest in Masonry anymore, and I'm glad that part of my life is over. I've had the full Masonic experience from beginning to end, and I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my life with my family and friends, who care about me for reasons less superficial than my lodge affiliation.
"For a number of years, I thought my best friends were my lodge brothers, but I found out the hard way that I was wrong. In that regard, Masonry is a lot like the culture that revolves around the use of illicit drugs. It's a subculture where people experience the illusion of friendship, but the more deeply they become involved in it, the more it actually separates them from their real friends and family.
"I don't regret the time I spent in lodge, because I realize that those experiences have helped me become the person I am today. I am thankful, however, that I'm no longer involved with it, and was fortunate enough to get my life back.
"I'm not aware of anything worthwhile that my former lodge has done in the years I've been gone, but I can point to the graves of more than 50 people right now that'd still be lost if I hadn't gotten kicked out, and I think that's a more significant achievement than any Masonic title or degree.
"If I could give one piece of advice to Masons and potential Masons, it would be this: Don't let people manipulate you into doing things you know are wrong. Follow your conscience, and don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe. People who try to prevent you from doing that are not your friends, and they aren't people who deserve your time, money, or respect."
Restoration efforts continue at the cemetery mentioned above, which was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Past Grand Master who orchestrated the Masonic lynching, now serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial Association, in Alexandria, Virginia.
The chairman of the Grand Lodge Trial Committee that imposed the unjust 50-year sentence, recently completed a term as the Executive Officer for the International Order of DeMolay in his state. His friend and colleague, the Past Grand Master who served as prosecutor in the case, was fired from his law enforcement career for sexual harassment, and now teaches criminal justice at a university in another state.
The grand lodge employee who refused the brother's request for "good counsel" about how to comply with his Grand Master's directive, has now been elected to the state's grand line, and is on schedule to serve as Grand Master in 2012. Like the others intimately involved with the unjust suspensions and expulsions, this future Grand Master is a proud recipient of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite's 33rd and highest honorary degree.
The picture of the brother upon whom the unjust 50-year suspension was imposed was removed from the wall of his lodge by order of the Grand Master, who declared that because he didn't "honorably" complete his term of office, he isn't entitled to any form or recognition as a "Past Master."
Neither the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, nor the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, ever so much as sent a "thank you" card to the brother's blue lodge for their contribution to Masonic relief efforts, which totaled approximately $3,000.00.
— A Mason
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