Vol. XXXVIII No. 11 — November 1960

The First Great Landmark

Conrad Hahn

At one of the busiest corners of the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the intersection of Brewster Street and Fairfield Avenue (which is also U.S. Route 1), there stands a rough-hewn, crudely-lettered milestone, which was placed there more than a hundred fifty years ago.

In these days of fast-moving traffic and thundering trailer trucks, this milestone is rarely observed. Even to the discerning eye it looks incongruous and out-of-place, surrounded by a large apartment house, a mercantile establishment, a bank, and a combination drugstore-restaurant on the four corners of this very busy cross-roads of eastern Fairfield County.

Fortunately for the historically minded traveler, the traffic light at this intersection is one of the longest in all Bridgeport, especially for the motorist who approaches it from the north along Brewster Street. Delayed by its lengthy red prohibition, a driver may snatch glimpses of the crude marker across the street while he waits for the ceaselessly moving east-west traffic on U.S. Route 1 to come to a temporary halt. The old stone’s message is still clearly discernible at a distance of forty feet. A few crude letters spell out, “N.H. — XXm.” (New Haven — twenty miles.)

When the milestone was originally placed in position, this crossroads was probably a minor junction on the important seaboard turnpike, the famous Boston Post Road, once traveled by such distinguished patriots as brother George Washington, but now superseded by a six-lane, high-speed thruway. A narrow dirt road led across the fields towards Grovers Hill a mile away, under whose sheltering aspect lie the shores of Black Rock Harbor, which in Colonial days was a busy little seaport, engaged in fishing and trading with the West Indies.

Today, however, it is only the happy haven for hundreds of little pleasure boats. Nevertheless, one may imagine that in a bygone age, many a seafaring man put back into the country from the stone jetties opposite Fayerweather Island; and when he arrived at the milestone described above, he recognized it as an important “landmark,” to guide him to the largest and most important city in southern Connecticut.

For almost two centuries this rough stone, crudely lettered, has served its purpose as a landmark — to point the way, to provide the knowledge needed to reach a destination or to achieve a goal.

No one who has had the experience of driving across beautiful Wyoming can ever forget the long approach to Independence Rock. It is first seen as a mere shadow on the crystalline horizon. It grows and it grows in size and majesty as one lays the miles behind him. At last it dominates completely the upland plain of the Sweetwater River, until one stands in awe beneath that granite bastion, surrounded by the unseen but ever-present ghosts of wagon train pioneers, who traveled the Oregon Trail throughout the middle of the last century.

Starting at Independence, Missouri, for which the rock is named, those sturdy shock troops of the westward march of American civilization regarded this impressive landmark as the two-fifths goal on their toilsome trek to the valleys of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Here they stopped to rest and refresh themselves. Here they found fresh water for their life-preserving barrels and containers. Here they obtained trail information from returning scouts and trappers, or saw it smeared and scratched on the stone tablets of this gigantic signpost. Here, on the evening of July 4, 1862, about twenty Master Masons climbed to the pinnacle of the Rock and informally opened "Independence Lodge No. 1,” which conducted a kind of "Masonic Information Night” and then was called from labor to refreshment, some of the brethren having prudently carried “rye, sweet water, sugar, and citric acid” to the summit for just that part of the ceremonies!

No more permanent landmark could be imagined. There in Wyoming stands a huge imperishable marker, which guided and directed pilgrims to their goal, which gave the weary emigrant a feeling of progress and accomplishment and which came to symbolize a place of refreshment and mutual helpfulness. And as if that were insufficient to betoken Masonic thought and idealism, some of our ancient brethren crowned this landmark with true Masonic labors!

In Upper New York Bay, approximately one and two-third miles from Battery Park on the lower tip of Manhattan, lies a tiny island about five acres in area, called Bedloe’s Island.

Since 1884, when the Masons of New York laid the foundation stone of the pedestal, Bedloe’s Island has been the site of one of the world’s most famous landmarks, the Statue of Liberty. Rising 151 feet above her 155 foot pedestal, and holding aloft a glowing torch that stretches 60 feet above her crown, this magnificent bronze and steel goddess has been a cynosure for all those travellers who reach our shores through New York Harbor.

She was the last American to whom hundreds of thousands of our countrymen waved good-bye last summer, when they started out on pilgrimages to England and the lands of western Europe. She was the first to welcome them home as they returned in autumn.

For more than fifty years, until immigration was restricted in the 1920s, the Statue Liberty was a world famous landmark of hope, of freedom, of opportunity — for millions of the common people of the Old World, who came pouring onto our shores in the eager desire to escape the ghettoes, the serfdom, and the galling stratification of the societies of their origin. That landmark signified the beginning of a new life for them. It marked the realization of hopes long deferred, of dreams dearly bought, of ambitions frustrated for centuries.

Here was a landmark that not only guided and directed. Here was a landmark that not only set a limit or defined an objective. Here was a landmark that inspired, that set the mind and heart on fire, that opened up avision of life that one’s ancestors had hardly dared to imagine!

Such is the nature of landmarks. They are fixed dependable markers or guideposts, to which the traveler turns confidently for guidance and direction. They define or fix the limits, within which men may move or travel, or by which they preserve their rights to land or property. But more than this, they become symbols of goals to achieve, of hopes newborn, of dreams as yet unfulfilled.

Freemasonry is primarily a speculative art or science. Using the tools and formulas of the builders as symbols of moral principles and spiritual ideals to be achieved, we should not be surprised that Freemasonry has preserved for its guidance, discipline, and inspiration a number of symbolical or speculative landmarks. These are the fundamental tenets or principles of our institution, to whose practice and preservation every Master Mason has obligated himself, solemnly and irrevocably.

These landmarks are the “articles of faith” by which we labor, direct and govern ourselves, and by which we may succeed in adorning that spiritual temple that is both the individual Mason and the Fraternity as a whole. This Short Talk Bulletin deals with the first, the greatest Masonic “landmark.”

Grand lodges differ in the number of landmarks they define. The Grand Lodge of Connecticut, for example, recognizes nineteen landmarks. They are defined in the General Rules and Regulations as “those ancient principles and practices that mark out and distinguish Freemasonry as such, and they are the source of Masonic jurisprudence.”

They are either esoteric or exoteric, i.e., the landmarks may be concerned with those things that are secret, or with those that are not. “The esoteric landmarks are those principles and practices which enter into the ritual of the order and are essential to the existence of the Institution. The exoteric landmarks consist of the Ancient Charges and Regulations, Usages, and Constitutions adopted from time immemorial for the government of the Craft.” The first great landmark has nothing secret about it. It is definitely exoteric.

Almost all grand lodges recognize that universal landmark, the one concerning God and religion. Except in a few European grand lodges that are consequently considered irregular by most Masonic bodies, every Master Mason has declared his belief in the existence of a Supreme Being when he answered the initiatory question, “In whom do you put your trust?”

Linked to that positive declaration of faith in the Grand Architect of the Universe is a belief in some revelation of His will, which Masons call the Volume of Sacred Law, in the resurrection of the body, and in the immortality of the soul.

Masons believe that the revelation of the Supreme Architect’s will may be embodied in different forms — the Bible or the Talmud, the Koran or the Vedic scriptures, according to the religion a man may profess, but Masonry teaches only monotheism and a proper respect for whatever form of worship a man may choose to adore the Great Creator. Reverence for God is ever present in Masonic ceremonials.

While Freemasonry is neither sectarian nor theological — it believes that the attainment of its ideals is best accomplished by laying a broad foundation of principle upon which men of every race, country, sect, and opinion may unite — it stands for the reverence and worship of God.

But, strange as it may seem, it is in this particular area that religious leaders have criticized and objected to Freemasonry most seriously, because they believe such broad tolerance leads to “indifferentism” in matters of faith and dogma.

While Freemasonry is indifferent only to the divisive dogmas and denominational peculiarities so dear to the hearts and minds of some theologians and some ecclesiastical hierarchies, there is a great area of indifference that ought to concern the whole Fraternity. Every thoughtful Mason must admit that there are too many brothers, like too many nominal church members, who have succumbed to the materialism of the modern world, and who justify their religious illiteracy by their participation in Masonic activities.

Many a man has excused his non-attendance at services of divine worship with the pantheistic explanation that he “can get as much religion under the great blue canopy of heaven as in church”; that he "can feel the Eternal Presence rustling in the tree-tops”; and that "the gorgeous sweep of Nature’s green vestments inspires him more than any churchly processional.”

To which Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick once gave the appropriate reply, "Of course you can, but you probably won’t. You haven’t been properly trained for it!”

Many of the men who praise the great out-of-doors as a magnificent temple for their particular form of adoration of the Great Creator are really talking about the golf course, a boating marina, or some other locale for sport and recreation. While it is true that the average golfer addresses the Deity almost as often as he “addresses” a little white sphere, it is also true that his applications to Deity are usually more profane than devout! Not all who cry, “Lord! Lord!,” will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

If Masons are truly guided across the stormy sea of life by the great landmark of their belief in God, the Great Architect of the Universe, if reverence for His celestial navigation as laid out in the Volume of Sacred Law is one of their distinguishing modes of behavior, the true Master Mason must nourish a close relationship with His Sublime Creator.

To worship God is to adore Him. The lodge room is not a house of worship. Just as operative Masons labored to build soaring cathedrals in which to worship God more passionately and devotedly, so we must understand that our Masonic labors are first and foremost the polishing of a symbolic stone, which is primarily the self, the better to fit it for The Great Builder’s use. Our Masonic labors are a means to an end, not the end itself.

To understand His purpose for the individual ashlars that are ourselves, to understand His designs for the structure as a whole, to harmonize our little labors with the universal process of creation that is God, we need to study His sketches in the sacred Book of Law. We need to bow the head and bend the knee in humble submissiveness to His commands. We need to raise our voices in hymns of praise and adoration for the Sublime Intelligence that controls the whole.

This is the essence of worship, and the true Master Mason knows that he will find it only in a House of God. The true Master Mason knows that he cannot perfect his spiritual labors unless he goes to his place of worship, unless he practices the ritual of personal prayer, and unless he actively seeks the presence of the divine mind and will in a sanctum sanctorum erected for that purpose.

“Freedom of worship” is not really the freedom to abstain from worship. That is the freedom of atheists and agnostics. Those of this view are unfit to become Masons; they cannot work on a spiritual edifice of universal truth and brotherhood; they have no faith in a Supreme Architect of the Universe.

“Freedom of worship” assures to every man the right to go to house ofworship, to worship God in the manner most natural and pleasing to him. Our founding fathers, the authors of this unique constitutional guarantee, believed devoutly in God and His providence toward men. Many of them were Masons — and they labeled the atheist a “stupid” man. But they would be among the first to warn us that if we exercise this freedom only by default, we shall lose it to an aggressively sectarian minority that is opposed to such a freedom for others.

The true Freemason does not choose stupidity, in matters of religious practice as well as in matters of morals. The true Freemason knows that only a spiritually active man can be successful in the spiritual labors on the temple of universal brotherhood. The true Master Mason knows that he needs a place of worship.

Only as he freely attends his place of worship does he learn to recognize and to keep eternally in his sights those great spiritual landmarks that guide him safely across the turbulent oceans of life. And only as he nourishes a close relationship with God, through prayer and praise and adoration in His holy temple, does he acquire the unassailable courage to ride out the wild and stormy tempests of existence. And only as they actively demonstrate their allegiance to God do Masons begin to convince non-Masons that their belief in God is one of “those ancient principles and practices which mark out and distinguish” the Fraternity as such.

In this sense it can accurately be said, “The individual Mason is a landmark too.” What he says, what he believes, what he does — all become signposts to guide those whose lives are intertwined with his.

The Mason who demonstrates by his deeds even more than by his words the moral qualities of truthfulness, honor, integrity, charity, appreciation, forgiveness, and love undoubtedly does more to convince initiates of the “goodness of our institution” than the perfect ritualist whose life outside the lodge is colored by bitterness, cold rigidity, or moral deviation.

The Mason who is an active churchman, who gives gladly of his time and substance to promote “the work of the Kingdom,” of the greatest institution that has brought men up from the caves of darkness to the light of spiritual perception, undoubtedly does more to convince the "profane” that Freemasonry does perform a spiritual mission, than the brother who tries to be active in every rite and related body, who never fails to be on hand for a colorful parade or assemblage, but who never goes to church.

The true Master Mason knows that this great mission begins at home, with family prayers and reverent attitudes that are never cheapened by vulgar anecdotes or impious profanity. Nowhere is a Master Mason more a landmark than right at home, where his youthful followers must of necessity follow the paths of life by means of landmarks he has set up for them by his words, his thoughts, his actions.

Every Mason must be a landmark too. This is the meaning of that ringing challenge to every worshipful master at his installation: “Charge your brethren to practice outside the lodge those duties which are taught within it . . . and by amiable, discreet, and virtuous conduct, to convince the world of the goodness of our institution.” And that world is no vague distant country; it’s the little community in which each one of us lives, and moves, and has his being!

A sailor needs some landmarks true
  To guide him safely home,
A headland, cape, or beacon bright,
  A churchly spire or dome.

The pilgrim reads a runic cross
  Or signpost for his quest.
The milestones tell the traveling coach
  How far to food and rest.

Intrepid modern astronauts
  Need landmarks much more vast;
Whole continents, and even worlds
  Their starry course will cast!

But landmarks guide the spirit too,
  Like Freedom’s goddess tall,
Who welcomed millions to our shore
  Who heard her stirring call.

A Mason plots his life-long course
  With compasses divine.
He checks his landmarks by the square,
  The level, plumb, and line.

He keeps his moral signposts clear
  The craftsmen to inspire.
He knows that he’s a landmark too,
  A guiding beacon fire!

The Masonic Service Association of North America