Vol. XVII No. 1 — January 1939

“Doric Lodge”

A majority of men live simple and uneventful lives. They are born, grow to childhood, go to school, graduate, go into business or a profession, marry, have children, become solid citizens of their communities, in time are gathered to their fathers, leaving only a happy memory to a few loved ones, soon forgotten of men.

A few are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. They run away to sea, marry an Indian princess, fight in foreign wars, are wounded, have hair-raising adventures, make and lose half-a-dozen fortunes, and, perhaps, end their declining days happily telling stories to many descendants of the days that come not back forever when grandfather was a soldier of fortune and barely escaped death a hundred times!

Like people, the vast majority of lodges live uneventful lives. They get a dispensation, a charter, struggle with growing pains, lay by a small nest egg, grow up to be solid members of the Masonic community and continue through the years with little or nothing to distinguish them from the great sisterhood of nearly sixteen thousand lodges in the United States.

But not all. Occasionally a lodge has something happen to it, or in it, which is the Masonic counterpart of the wild days of the born adventurer.

Doric Lodge “of the town of Aaronton, somewhere in the Middle East,” lived the usual simple, unostentatious, retiring life of the average lodge for nearly a hundred years. But in 1935 things began to happen in its little temple and in succeeding years more adventures came its way.

In 1935 Doric Lodge heard a brother deny his God, refuse to remain a Mason because of his atheism, and then saw that which at first appeared a miracle in the answer to a prayer and a son come back from the dead.

In 1936 the power of brotherly love to hold off the hand of death to a loved member was so demonstrated that all who saw it talked of it for months. Seldom has Doric Lodge been more moved than at the aftermath of the curious raising of Hank Higgins.

In 1937 the master and the chairman of the charity committee returned to the empty lodge room at midnight to get the bank book and cash which the master had forgotten. As they found it, a dim candle light appeared. They hid behind the chairs in the East to hear the heart-broken voice of a brother all thought cold and stern and emotionless, pleading with his God to bring him back the daughter he had cast off. Then Doric Lodge used its charity fund in a new way and made over three lives and learned the real meaning of bread cast on the waters which returneth after many days.

In 1938 Doric experienced a terrible scene — an old brother, honored above all men, was accused in open lodge of a dastardly crime, and the crime was proven by an old document hidden between back and binding of the lodge Bible — a document which could not have been forged because “you cannot forge the jagged edge of a page torn from a book. . . .”

And Doric Lodge heard the shot with which their honored and now disgraced member ended a life he could no longer endure, thus doing tardy justice to the man he had falsely jailed for his son's theft. . . .

These paragraphs hint at the plots of four Masonic plays, the scene of all of which is “Doric Lodge.”

The Masonic Service Association issued the first of five lodge room plays four years ago; rather timidly was published a little dramatic vehicle, different from anything before the Masonic public in that it required no stage, no costumes, no scenery. Masonic plays and good ones there are, many of them. But they are beyond the capabilities of any but wealthy and talented lodges. A hall with a stage, scenery, costumes, cost money, and many a lodge has but little to spend on entertainment.

Hence the idea, perhaps born of desperation. Every lodge has a meeting place; why not a play in which the lodge hall is the scene of the action, the brethren on the benches “a part of the scenery?” What that is dramatic could happen in a lodge? What of which a play might be made can come to pass when all the actors are always in sight and hearing of all the rest?

It was a problem, but it was solved and The Greatest of These (not a “Doric Lodge” story, however) first came to the notice of the Masonic public in the fall of 1934.

Its success was startling. Casts were formed all over the nation. The little playlet — it is scarcely more, taking but thirty-five minutes — achieved instant popularity. Audiences begged for more. Casts had to accept invitation after invitation and traveled from lodge to lodge to put it on. The demand for new lodge room plays became overwhelming. Thus was begun the series of plays of “Doric Lodge,” all using many of the same characters, all laid in the same rural lodge, and its every day surroundings.

The Doric Lodge plays, like their predecessor, “caught on.” Casts in many grand jurisdictions go constantly from lodge to lodge with one or another of these vehicles. Grand lodges have made places for them at annual meetings. One grand lodge has thrice been called in special communication to see them. Literally thousands of letters are on file in the offices of the Association, attesting the pleasure of audiences.

The mechanics of producing any of these plays are very simple. A cast is selected, a director appointed. Copies of the script are distributed; the brethren learn their parts. Rehearsals are held. When every one is perfect in his lines and the simple action of the play, announcement is made, and the brethren assemble to see it.

The master of ceremonies make a short announcement; sometimes printed or mimeographed programs are distributed. The lights in the hall are lowered, and the actors take their places — the master, secretary, treasurer, a warden, a visitor, and so on. When the lights brighten the play begins, and the brethren are no longer in their own lodge, but members of, or visitors in, “Doric Lodge, town of Aaronton, somewhere in the Middle East.”

End of one act and beginning of another are indicated by lights out and again brightened. The plays are concerned with the familiar lodge surroundings; minutes are read, visitors introduced, motions discussed, as in any lodge, but the commonplace actions are gilded with romance, because the action centers around some dramatic happening. Several of the five plays customarily so work upon the emotions of the audience that the lodge becomes a sea of handkerchiefs and many a brother weeps unashamed.

The plays are of varying lengths, running from thirty-five minutes to an hour and twenty minutes, and from one act to three acts. Some are more difficult than others; none is beyond the capacity of the average group in an average lodge, as experience has demonstrated time and again. Dramatic talent is often discovered in unexpected places. Business men, professional men, laborers, farmers, have taken part in these plays and doubtless surprised themselves as they have certainly surprised their brethren with their abilities. Not that every member of the cast need be talented; each play has two or three parts which should be well done if the play is to be effective, but the majority of the characters are such that anyone who will learn the lines may “walk through" and still produce an effective performance.

The expense of staging one of these vehicles is nothing. A few casts use the services of a professional make-up man and some have their programs printed. Others put on the plays without the expenditure of a penny. Properties are the familiar things of every day life: a cane, a newspaper, a flashlight, a candle, a pocket-book, a picture frame, etc. Costumes are not needed; the plays are all laid in the present time, so that audience and players alike, dressed in their usual clothing, are properly attired for these dramas.

A by-product of interesting a dozen brethren in one specific piece of lodge work is a unity of feeling which spreads far beyond the numbers engaged. Friendships are made and continued. Inter-lodge visits, begun by requests to “come and put the play on for my lodge,” frequently result in continuing visits from year to year. This means of “setting the Craft to labor” not only results in “good and wholesome instruction” but in enthusiasm for Masonry. Many a brother who has been persuaded to come to lodge for the first time in years to witness one of these plays has thereby been won to constant attendance.

In 1937 came a most unusual, if curious and delightful Masonic happening. Doric Lodge received an actual charter from a grand lodge!

That a lodge having no existence save on paper and in the hearts of brethren should receive a charter seems unthinkable — and yet it is true. Here is a true copy, with the signature and the seal of the grand master:

Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Nevada

To All To Whom These Presents May Come

— Greeting:

Know Ye, That Masonry has accomplished much in the State of Nevada, and all Masons may be proud of its record. However, Masonry cannot advance by merely standing upon the achievements of the past. Every individual Mason, if he is loyal to the principles and ideals of his fraternity, is called upon day by day to make sacrifices for the preservation and advancement of Masonry.

Doric Lodge, in the play Greater Love Hath No Man, written by Carl H. Claudy, and which has been so impressively presented by Brothers of Reno Lodge No. 13, F & AM, is now performing a splendid Masonic service throughout the State of Nevada. In appreciation of the efforts of the brothers of Doric Lodge, I hereby charter a place in the hearts of all Master Masons whither-so-ever dispersed around this grand jurisdiction for Doric Lodge and its members, and for the truly Masonic lesson conveyed to all through the medium of the play Greater Love Hath No Man.

To further spread the cement of brotherly love and affection, I do hereby appoint the members acting as officers of Doric Lodge in this play, my Special Ambassadors of Good Will to the several constituent lodges throughout the grand jurisdiction of the State of Nevada.

May the hearts of all Master Masons be so deeply affected by the play that every Mason will go forth and willingly make greater sacrifices for Masons in Nevada.

Given under my hand and the seal of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the state of Nevada, this 23rd day of October, A.D. 1937, and A.L. 5937, at Winnemucca, Humboldt County, Nevada.

Signature of GM and Seal of GL

To say that the Association which gave the plays without price to the Masonic world was pleased is to understate the fact. Nothing could the better attest the value of these aids to Masonic teaching.

For that, in the last analysis, is what these plays are; not merely a means by which a lodge may entertain itself, its visitors, or another lodge, but vehicles for making the inner spiritual content of Masonry take on an outward and visible form.

Only one who has known thirst and had it satisfied has experienced the greatest joy which the physical being can have; go without water for three days and then drink your fill and you know what paradise may be like. There is such a thing as a spiritual thirst — a longing which might be satisfied from the fountain which is Freemasonry if only the veil of ritual and allegory and symbol could be drawn aside to allow the bright and shining truth behind to shine through. These little plays were written with the hope that they might make the power of prayer, the faith of brotherly love, the might of fraternalism manifest in a form which would touch the hearts of men because they are seen in situations which any man might easily face.

Brotherly love, relief, truth, justice, mercy — these are realities, even if intangibles. Their teaching in a Masonic lodge is genuine, but the ritual gives them body more abstract than concrete. The plays are intended to translate these from symbol and formal words to actualities, and to bring them home in familiar language and the common actions of everyday, so that the audience sees Freemasonry not merely as a formal teaching of great truths, but as an actual integer of daily life.

It is not for the Association to evaluate the importance of this idea, or its ultimate effect upon the Fraternity. That must be left for those less prejudiced in its favor. But it would be idle to deny that there is an effect, in the face of the letters, some of them hysterical with gratitude, and thousands of them filled with praise, which have come from those who have wept over the griefs and exulted over the good fortunes of the brethren of “Doric Lodge,”

The Masonic Service Association of North America