Vol. XVIII No. 8 — December 1940

The Unknown Builders

In his beautiful introduction to a Masonic book; Right Worshipful and Reverend Joseph Fort Newton wrote:

Will there ever be a great epic in honor of the anonymous goodness and heroic fidelity of our race? Never upon this earth; but somewhere, in the archives of God, a Book is kept in which all high human worth is duly appraised, and in that Book is the secret of our human advance.

In the Church, by the poetry of its faith, a day is set apart in memory of all the brave and beautiful spirits who have ascended from the moral battlefields of time. It is a festival in honor of every heroic soul, every heroic act inspired by God since time began — however lowly and obscure the soul, however unknown and unrecorded the act — awaiting that anthem which in the future it will be ordained shall be sung in gratitude and praise.

In the lodge, too, we need a day of celebration, in tribute to the multitude of unknown Masons, forgotten of fame and unsung by poetry, who by love and loyalty build their fives into the Temple, and leave only their marks upon it. Their names are lost, save in the memory of God, and they sleep in the indistinguishable dust, with no hope of record by man, content to live in the work they have wrought and the good they have done. They are the real builders of the Temple, as it stands stately in the sunlight, or touched by the sweet mysticism of the night; into their labors the Craft enters, and because of their faithfulness we have a finer, firmer faith.

How swiftly Time flits by, sweeping all its sons away, and how few are remembered for a decade, and fewer still live adown the ages. Even the most famous name is soon emptied by oblivion, and becomes a vacancy vacated by the passing of the age in which it shone. Yet, if a Roman poet could call our mortal life the “dream of a shadow,” in it and through it, as we learn in the lodge, if we but work and watch and pray and rest in Gild, our Home, we shall find an Eternity that will never pass away, in which no true thought fades, no faithful deed is forgotten, and “love can never lose its own.”

Aye, the Church has a day set apart for the unknown of the faith, and every lodge might do far worse than to set aside a communication dedicated to the memories of those unknown and unsung brethren of the dim and distant long ago who built the lodge that we enjoy.

For they are the great majority, in every old lodge; and they will, eventually, be the greater majority in every young lodge.

We revere the memories of the Mackeys, who gave us light on Light such as we never had before. We bow the head in humble admiration of the Pikes, who read meaning and poetry into symbols which we had not seen. We ride with the memory of Brother Anson Jones of Texas through the battle of San Jacinto, with the new charter for Holland Lodge in his saddle bags. We glory in the memory of Paul Revere, grand master; we cherish the memory of Benjamin Franklin, grand master, and printer of the first Masonic book published in the United States. Joshua Taylor, who kept the lights burning in the Temple of Stony Creek lodge for twelve long years when all other Masonry in Michigan was wiped out by the anti-Masonic feeling of the Morgan episode, is a hero to Freemasons. Craftsmen carry in their hearts imperishable memories of such mighty men of brotherhood as Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Elisha Kent Kane, Sam Houston, Joseph Warren, Washington, Pershing, Cass, Drummond, Webb and a thousand others. They are our heritage; they are as bright stars in the diadem which Freemasonry wears.

But what of the unknown, unsung, unheralded, forgotten brethren, without whose patient labors and unselfish giving our lodge could not have lived? Without whose care and effort and self-sacrifice our grand lodge might never have continued?

Every lodge more than a quarter of a century old has had them; every lodge with half a century or more of history has more of them in the Great White lodge than on the rolls of the living.

Few if any brethren in a lodge of fifty years can name all its past masters; how much less can we name the hundreds who never held office who have loved and labored and passed on. The architect plans and the master workman directs the placing of stone on stone; but were it not for the craftsmen who hew stone and spread mortar and square the walls, the building would not rise.

A lodge cannot exist without leadership, and the master who leads, the past masters who stand by and counsel, the secretary who records and the treasurer who conserves the resources — these are as essential as steam to an engine, wheels to a car, current to an electric light.

But steam and wheels and current alone will not produce power or motion or illumination. Hundreds of workmen must labor to build the engine, produce the lamp, string the wires, and erect the poles. We turn on the electric fight or use the telephone and give never a thought to the work and effort of unknown men who produced. . . yet without them we would not have these indispensable aids to modern living.

We go to lodge; it is holden in our temple; we hear reports of good finances, of resources, of savings; we see a good degree; we look back on a quiet but satisfactory history of “good work, true work, square work,” well done through many years. But seldom do we give a thought to the army of brethren whose unsung labors we now enjoy.

Hardly the lodge which, even through the memories of its “elder statesmen,” recalls the works of some of these stalwarts who never held office or received honors. Do not you recall Old John, who sat always in the same seat near the West Gate? A most unassuming man! None ever heard him raise his voice in lodge. But who bought all the food for "fourth degrees” and “big nights?” Old John, because he knew prices and was willing to work. Who went willingly, year after year, into the kitchen to see that tire simple lodge supper was well prepared, tasty, the coffee strong and hot? Old John. Who patiently and without instruction, washed and wiped and put away the dishes? True, he usually had some help but by common consent it was Old John who did it. Now, who remembers Old John’s last name?

Recall the little fellow with the crooked back, of fifteen or twenty years ago? A lot of the brethren do — for they were his pupils. He never had a chance to go in line; it is doubtful if he would have accepted office had it been offered. Too conscious of his deformity, too shy in the presence of many, a great love of Masonry was in his heart. Night after night for many years he instructed candidates and officers. He knew his ritual; more important, he knew the gentle art of imparting his knowledge and inspiring with enthusiasm those who sat at his feet and learned. Remember when a group of instruct- ees took up a collection among themselves and made him a gift in open lodge? How embarrassed he was? How red in the face, and how he of the fluent tongue and the perfect ritual stuttered and stammered his embarrassed thanks? A brother who gave for the love of giving, and took his reward from the sense of a duty well done, surely deserves a place among the immortals who are nameless in every lodge.

Among other worthy activities our grand lodge supports a fine library of Masonic books. Any brother from any lodge may borrow; the Library even pays the express or postage to get the books into our hands. And we who have used it are the better men and the better Masons for its treasures. Who began that Library? Whose idea was it, back in the dim days when the grand lodge was young? Who fought for the necessary appropriation on the grand lodge floor? Who was the first Librarian, serving without pay for the love of what he conceived to be a duty? The Proceedings of those early years will record his name, but who reads old Proceedings?

Our lodge is wealthy, today. It has ample resources. Wise trustees, good finance committees, invested funds when funds were plentiful. Our Temple is a monument to those who built it. But does anyone recall that sixty years ago the old lodge — young then — was in terrible financial straits? That there came a day when it owed money and had but a few cents in the treasury? That the grand master, in all kindness but firmly, told the brethren they must pay up and straighten up — or lose their charter? One brother kept the lodge alive. Into his own pocket he went and came up with a hundred dollar bill. In the treasury that hundred dollars was the turning point. But do you know his name? Do you even know of the fact?

You cannot think of Doric without thinking also of Ionic. In different grand jurisdictions they are, fifty miles apart. It is the most precious tradition in both lodges that each visits the other, on alternate years. What a “big night” it is when Ionic comes to Doric for a degree; almost as big as when Doric travels to Ionic for an entertainment. Every year they meet for a picnic with their wives and children, of a Saturday, by Lake Winnie near Boulder’s Grove. The brethren look forward to these events. Doric tries to outdo Ionic, and Ionic, in friendly rivalry, lies awake nights to go Doric one better the next time! Friendships between families have sprung from these friendships between brethren; contacts have been made which result in not only happy associations but increased business for many. The relationship between these has been an inspiration for other lodges, also on the border line between states.

Who began it? Whose idea was it? Did it come from Ionic or Doric? Was it a master or a humble brother on the sidelines? No one knows — no one, apparently, ever asks. But some brother had the idea before the fact came into being — and to that unremembered brother, hundreds of his fellows owe much simple joy and quiet happiness.

Old men remember much; they have more to remember than the young, and they forget much that is recent to retain vivid pictures of what happened years ago. Ask one of the old men in the lodge; he will recall the brother, though perhaps not his name, who began the hospital committee. Would that every lodge had one! Most lodges have a committee on the sick, sometimes called (and too often actually!) a “sickcommittee,” but our lodge goes a step further. The hospital committee is charged with the duty of learning when any sojourning Mason in our city is in any hospital — and then visits him. It has functioned for years — and only the God who reads the hearts of lonely men, ill in a strange town, knows the comfort that committee has given.

Whose idea was it when first started, many years ago? What are the names of the many devoted brethren who have given of their time and strength these many years for no other reason than their Masonry?

We have a pretty good lodge, don’t you think? We are a pretty fine group of men; Oh, not great men, nor men of fame and fortune, but solid citizens, good and true, the backbone of our community.

How did we get that way? Every man of us was investigated by a committee of brethren to find out what manner of men we were. The fact that we are a good lodge, and have a right to be proud of our membership, stems back to the hundreds and again hundreds of brethren who formed these investigating committees. We do not know what brethren acted on the applications we presented; we do not know the names of half-a-dozen out of hundreds who were on other committees. Yet their work lives after them. Had it not been good work, we were not now a good lodge!

Our altar is an old and treasured piece of furniture. It is scarred and dented, and it needs a coat of varnish. The maker cannot give it — he is dead these many years. Do you recall his name? Does anyone recall his name? He paid for the wood, he did the work, he carved the pedestals of the pillars — doubtless he was a proud brother when he presented it, and, doubtless, somewhere in musty old minutes, is recorded the ceremony and his name. Now he is dust and forgotten — but a thousand brethren have knelt before his work, and for all these years he has been honored by his handiwork, upholding the Great Lights. If songs are to be sung for the unknown laborers who built, surely one will have a high note for him.

So these pages might run on indefinitely. They might record the unknown of a thousand lodges, and there would be a thousand different services to set down. Every lodge is different in its history, but all are alike in that they were erected by brethren who labored for the love of labor, for the love of lodge, for the love of their brethren.

Aye, we might do far worse than have “a day set apart in memory of the brave and beautiful spirits — however lowly and obscure the soul, however unknown and unrecorded the act.”

Anciently it was written, Laborare est orare — to labor is to pray.

These, the unknown builders, by their labors offered their devotions.

Let us not forget them in ours.

The Masonic Service Association of North America