Your secret is safe with me…for awhile

Bob McKee

The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, more commonly known simply as Shriners, are famous for their primary charity, Shriners Hospitals for Children. Shriners Hospitals have helped thousands of children overcome or adapt to childhood disabilities.

Shriners raise money to support the hospitals through a wide variety of activities and events and generally have a good time while doing it. The Ozark Shrine Club based in Owensville is no different. Some of its members are affiliated with the Moolah Shrine in St. Louis, some with Abou Ben Adhem Shrine in Springfield and its home, the Shrine Mosque on the northeast corner of St. Louis Street and Benton Avenue, downtown Springfield so to speak.

The arabesque designed, five-story Shrine Mosque in Springfield was built in 1923 for $600,000. It includes a large auditorium with seating for over 4,000 and is used for concerts, the famous Shrine Circus, and other public events. In 1982, is was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Growing up in Springfield, I got to attend the Shrine Circus every year, a big event for kids and adults.

AAONMS was established in 1870 and is an appendant body to Freemasonry. In 2010 the name was changed to Shriners International with 200 temples (chapters) in North America, South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. It is a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. There are approximately 340,000 members.

Despite its theme, the Shrine is not connected in any way to Islam. It is a men’s fraternity rather than a religion or religious group and its only religious requirement is indirect in that all Shriners must be Masons and petitioners for the degrees of Freemasonry must profess a belief in a Supreme Being. But to minimize potential confusion with religion the usage of “Shrine Temple” is being phased out and replaced with “Shrine Center.”

This brief background is necessary before getting into the title of this column.  The first weekend in December is initiation for new Shriners at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield. Each year the Ozark Shrine Club takes five or six new members who went through the “Hot Sands” ceremony as well as the more ritualistic part of initiation to become bona fide members of Shriners International and thereby automatic members of the Ozark Shrine Club.

Happenings over those weekend are covered under the Ozark Shrine Club’s mandate that “What happens in Springfield stays in Springfield.” Since I have a tendency to write about things, this has been emphasized more than once where I could hear it. But since it is a long standing policy of this column not to name names and even go to great lengths to disguise and conceal identities to avoid embarrassing anyone, I reasoned that I could get by with writing a teensy little bit about a weekend several years ago.

The driver of the vehicle I was privileged to ride in as an escort for the new Shrine candidates can be obstinate at times and had the gall to argue about directions with someone who grew up in Springfield. The Springfield native was always right, by the way. The driver, however, sometimes did as he pleased, driving over parking stops to get to the correct parking lot when he turned into the wrong driveway. He also went around the block several times just to retrace the exact same route  even though the direction he was going would have achieved, eventually, the same result. 

This driver (did I mention that he can be bullheaded at times?) also took it upon himself to use a sidewalk as a driving lane when he couldn’t go where he thought he wanted to go. He steadfastly denies this even though there were five witnesses in the vehicle and a couple of dozen on the street. Fortunately none of the latter group of witnesses were among Springfield’s Finest who generally have minimum tolerance for sidewalk drivers, even if they are Shriners.

Shrine Centers, such as the Shrine Mosque, are the only appendant Masonic organization allowed to have alcoholic beverages on their premises. In fact, there are three, maybe four, bars located strategically in the Shrine Mosque. Sometimes candidates are encouraged to imbibe; Shriners who accompany the candidates need no encouragement. There also was a well-stocked lounge in the hotel we stayed at that wasn’t as well-stocked by the time we left Sunday morning. But the hotel made money and the homely old gal who tended bar there closed each night with tip jar that was overflowing.

Of course those who could be deemed guilty of over imbibing generated stories of their own. At this point, I enter dangerous territory so I’m going to take the safe route: your secret is safe with me.