Friday, April 15, 2016
While it is a modest cemetery, spanning only 10 acres, and for someone like myself who spent his childhood in places of greater age, such as Philadelphia, and much greater age still, such as Ireland, it seems new, it is none the less a fascinating place to visit, filled with a great deal of local history. I will not delve into the history which would only interest those who are from Miami. However, for a small graveyard, it contains a significant number of grave stones which demonstrate that for a city boasting a mere 120 years, it has a strong history of connection with fraternal orders of every sort.
It should be noted here, that as with most cemeteries in Southern US cities, this one is segregated by race and religion, containing Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Black sections. While these areas predominate, there are a few exceptions to the segregation. One of Miami's Prominent early citizens and his family are buried in the Catholic section, although his wife was understood to have been of mixed race, a couple of the cities earliest black residents were also buried in what became identified as a "protestant" (white) section before segregation was established more formally, as was at least one famous Miccusukee Indian, Jack Tigertail, whose image graces the seal of the City of Hialeah, a few miles north of this graveyard. As an aside, Jack Tigertail was murdered, apparently the victim of a business deal gone bad, meeting his maker due to a dispute over the price of egret plumes. He left behind a wife and three daughters. He was buried in an unmarked grave. Being Native American he didn't have the resources to pay for a stone, and nobody else felt it necessary.
The first Jewish (Kosher) Butcher to live in Miami, Phillip Ullendorff, who passed away in 1923 is buried in the walled Jewish section of the cemetery, and his headstone proudly proclaims his masonic status.
One place, interestingly enough, where race or religion did not seem to exert any influence were in the military graves. There, blacks, whites, jews, and gentiles might be buried in common. This of course is ironic since it was not until after WWII that the military ceased to be segregated itself.
However, as suggested by the existence of a woman's grave bearing the Square and Compass, "mainstream" Freemasonry is far from being the only, or perhaps even the predominant form of Freemasonry represented in this cemetery. Quite a few headstones found in the Black section of the cemetery proclaim the active presence of Prince Hall Freemasonry in Miami. These stones, in fact none of the stones I saw, give any indication of what the mason's affiliation was, so while it is easy to assume that in most cases, they would represent what is popularly considered "regular" Freemasonry, there is no way without doing some extensive research, to determine what their obediences or jurisdictions were. In the case of the Black Freemasons (and I choose to use the term black in preference to African American because much of the early population of Miami of African ancestry were from the Caribbean rather than North American in origin) there were many jurisdictions to choose from and not all would have been what is described today as "regular" Prince Hall.
One of the graves of Freemasons in the Black section which is in the worst condition of any of the Masonic graces, is that of Fred Dean, who lived from 1894 to 1924, a mere 30 years, proudly proclaims his status as a 32° Mason.
There are a number of tomb stones, as well as mausoleums which are the worse for wear. Some mausoleums have over the years replaced their original fancy bronze or ironwork gates with cement, due to repeated vandalism. Of course, tombs also suffered from the effects of several serious hurricanes over the past century. As a result, it is difficult to determine at times whether a stone was the victim of weather or the callousness of humanity.
Among the most interesting stones are those associated with the Woodsmen of the World. This fraternal organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root. Root, who was a member of several other fraternal organizations including the Freemasons, founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883, after hearing a sermon about "pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families". Taking his own surname to heart, he wanted to start a society that "would clear away problems of financial security for its members.”
A few stones sported the three rings which signify membership in the Odd Fellows, and others have symbols which appear to be related to the Order of Knights of Pythias.
Whatever their affiliations, they have all gone to the eternal east, and it would appear that any petty, dogmatic, or sectarian biases relating to their membership in fraternal orders expired with them. Now that is something we shouldn't need to die to experience.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
Every so often, Freemasons rouse themselves from their slumber long enough to contemplate if only for a moment, why their membership numbers are in the toilet. Usually, the responses, when there are any voiced, take the form of either the observation that after 1960, society somehow changed and young men stopped joining fraternal organizations, or something akin to that. Seldom does anyone address why that is so, but when they do the usual response is a more detailed and vaguely sociological explanation that leaves nobody any wiser. Another response is to offer an historical analysis of the decline, again offering no real explanation. The next stage of the response, much like the traditional stages of denial, offers a list of methodologies for correcting the problem. It seems the common wisdom that we need to advertise, we need to not advertise, we need to hold massive group initiation days (sort of like President Day car sales) or we don't because they never work. In fact, we need to do everything we can to repackage and remarket our "product" without actually making any adjustment to the product itself. After all, we are perfect. Younger generations just need to realize that.
Folks, did it ever occur to anyone, that people don't buy products that are past their expiration dates? People do not look at the most bruised, wormy apple on the fruit counter and say, "how cute! I think I'll take this one." They just don't.
Let's have a look. Two Grand Lodges currently are coming out of their hate closets and banning gays. Two Grand Lodges out of the entire country have seen fit to make public declarations condemning this and taking action against it. Two. One more rather cautiously suggested to their membership that it should know what they will want to do. Of the rest, one can feel the pressure of the inflated lungs collectively holding their breaths.
But that's not all. Today, I read about a law case against the Florida Grand Lodge for maintaining a Jim Crow statute on its books. Really folks?
So, let me get around to asking that question. If you don't offer equal access to the public, we can't share our masonic experience with our friends of different races, different gender preferences (much less different genders) and in many places, Florida included, of different religions, or no religions, and we get to spend most of our time attending financial meetings because we don't really approve of esoteric freemasonry, or metaphysics, and we can't really explore a variety of rituals, or discuss politics, or discuss religion, or pretty much any other current event, and we can't really deal with the issue of personal improvement unless it conforms to the official GL scripts whether they serve the intended purpose effectively anymore or not, then what is it within Freemasonry that is supposed to attract new members?
While this question may have the appearance of a rhetorical one, and on the surface, it is just that, it also is meant as a serious question. No, it is not my intention to simply speak ill of Freemasonry. Lately, it doesn't need my help to do that. Nor am I looking to have any of you send me your responses. Although you are more than welcome to do so, it's not that sort of question. It is a question that I think each mason, especially now, needs to be asking themselves. The individual to whom the answer to this question should be directed is the reader; each and every one of you. If you don't like the answers, what are you going to do about it?