Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Ghosts of Freemasonry: Haunted Lodges

As with many other aspects of life, the belief in spirits, and by extension, ghostly haunting, is subjective and highly personal. Two common popular responses attempt to establish the idea of spirit contact as either a frivolous idea suitable for entertainment, or gullible naïveté. For most, the search for understanding ceases there. For many who have been habituated to skepticism or disbelief, it's nonsense. For many who do believe, it's a matter of faith alone. There is another group of course, who straddle the world of the organic or natural view of the world, and the materialism that has so infested cartesian science.

As a trained folklorist (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2005) who spent a large part of my graduate career examining belief studies, I learnt early on that despite the public discourse which attempts to dismiss belief in disincarnate intelligence as superstition and a part of our past as a species, even in the United States according to various polls, more than half of the population believes in life after death, and a significant minority, nearly half, believe that ghosts or spirits can have contact with the living. Many also maintain that they, or members of their families, or friends, have had such contact. 


Wherever you may stand on the issue, in the absence of measurable proof, science, according to its own precepts, cannot offer an opinion on the matter. This is despite the claims made by materialists with axes to grind on the subject. Lack of evidence does not equate to a determination that something does not exist; it merely indicates that science has not been able to provide evidence. Further, despite science's presumption that all things will eventually be uncovered or measured, there's no proof to support that belief. 


None of that is a claim that ghosts or spirits do exist, or that we can have contact with them. Vast amounts of anecdotal accounts exist, and you can collect many from your own friends and relatives when you approach the matter in a way that puts them at ease. People who tend to deny having certain beliefs or experiences when they feel they may be subject to ridicule are often quite forthcoming when they feel they have a sympathetic ear. 

I cannot state to a material scientist's satisfaction that spiritual entities exist, and I am not interested in convincing other individuals to believe any particular perspective. This is one of those things we need to decide for ourselves, and if we are intelligent - or perhaps rather confident, we will not need to try to change other people's minds. The only reason anyone tries to convert another, whether in religion or in opinion, is due to insecurity. 

What I will note is that those who believe in the reality of spiritual entities or ghosts often do so as a result of the rational conclusions they draw from other beliefs they hold, but those who are certain of their existence do so as a result of personal experiences - either their own or those of people whose judgements they trust. More often it is from personal experience. There's an amazing amount of personal experience out there, as anyone who has studied the subject can attest.



All of this rambling commentary serves as an introduction to a fascinating subject - the haunting of Masonic lodges. You may approach this as a fascinating peek at paranormal science or as a piece of entertaining fluff. If you enjoy the entry, I frankly don't mind which view you entertain.  For a long time, it was taboo among academics in the social sciences to admit that they accepted spiritual realities as, well, reality. With the discussion of personal metaphysical experiences in the course of cultural research by no less a figure in Anthropology than Edith Turner, and the subsequent founding of the anthropology of experience, this should no longer be an issue. Scholars have written about their personal experience of phenomenon such as possession without putting their credentials at risk. I am no exception. However, it remains, until such time as the obsessive cartesians can figure out how to materially quantify an essentially immaterial phenomenon (they never stop trying except when they want to deny it's possible), a matter of personal belief. I leave that to each of you to decide. 


In the meantime, I wish to offer a sampling of reports in the media and online concerning haunted Masonic lodges. This is by no means a scientific study. I have done no academic study of the subject, nor should my mention of any one of these stories or sites be taken to infer a viewpoint about their authenticity, nor approval of whatever techniques or approach used by any individuals in any of these cases.  In fact, the majority of references we find online, after weeding out announcements of "Masonic Haunted Houses" being organized for Hallowe'en, fall into three general categories. The first is reports concerning "hauntings" including in the majority variations of the traditional "ghost story." The second category is one which is on the rise. These consist of reports relating to "ghost hunters" who purport to use electronic equipment and recording devices - sound, video, and still cameras, to document and "prove" hauntings. These have mushroomed after the genre became popular on cable television. The third and by far the least common are performances of or in haunted Masonic lodges. Some are dramatic, some are staged by entertainers and stage magicians. 

It would appear that the "Haunted Masonic Lodge" is itself something of a trope, a literary or rhetorical device or figurative scheme of thought which may be constitutive of our experience. The idea of a haunted Masonic lodge seems to be a coming together of a number of standardly held stereotypes. Masons are mysterious and secretive; Masons delve into the metaphysical; Masons are dangerous; and of course, large old buildings, especially deserted ones, are subject to hauntings.

So, as you might have expected, or been hoping, if you've read this far, you will now be treated to some brief reports of ghostly encounters in haunted Masonic lodges. 

We start with Boston's abandoned Masonic Hall. Of this site, we find that the old temple was recently bought by photographer Liam Carleton, 36, who told the UK's Daily Mail that ‘We've heard things and seen a few things, there have been a few cases of footsteps running around the building. There's also been a female form shown up in the hallway, that's only happened twice in the time I've been here and on both occasions it was during sunset.’ Mr Carleton, who is currently renovating the building, has been told he should try and do something about the hauntings, although he doesn't agree. ‘If it isn't trying to hurt me, I won't mess with it, I'll just let it be.’ 

The old Davenport Lodge No. 37, in Davenport, Iowa, was donated in 1996 to Palmer College. It now houses a museum and lecture halls. Many types of haunting phenomenon at all hours of the day have been reported by the college's security staff. These involve moving objects, items winding up in odd places, furniture rearrangement, foot steps, weird moving lights, the aroma of cigars, cold spots, cool breezes not coming from the air conditioning or natural wind source, odd noises, disembodied voices in discussion, or the calling out of names, individuals being touched by an unseen presence, having the feeling of being watched, and actual visual sightings of apparitions. It is claimed that security cameras have provided clear evidence of an entity or entities unknown, still enjoying their good times as Masons.


It appears that Detroit's awesome Masonic Temple, said to be the largest in the world, is haunted by more than economic woes. Built in 1912 by George D. Mason, the Detroit Masonic Temple has over 1,000 rooms, several secret staircases, concealed passages, and hidden compartments in the floors. Br. Mason went slightly overboard when financing the construction of
the building, and eventually went bankrupt, resulting in his wife leaving him. Overwhelmingly depressed about his financial and personal circumstances, Mason jumped to his death from the roof of the temple. Security guards claim to see his ghost to this day, ascending the steps to the roof. The temple, abundant with cold spots, inexplicable shadows, and slamming doors, is known to intimidate visitors with the eerie feeling of being watched. The financial woes associated with this building have remained with it and continue to haunt the Masons of Detroit much like the man who built it does.

Over the years, Lodge members and visitors alike have reported many strange and ghostly happenings at the Morrison Lodge in Elizabethtown, Ky., including apparitions of what appear to be Civil War era soldiers; door alarms that ring even when no one leaves or enters the building; phantom footsteps; objects that move around on their own; strange knocking sounds; ghostly figures; and even helpful ghosts (possibly former Lodge members) who once saved a Lodge member from unconsciousness when he fell ill and passed out while alone in the building. Past investigations in the building have collected photos, EVPs and first­ hand accounts of the hauntings. The Masons in Elizabethtown at least from time to time offer ghostly tours as well.

Lastly, although I have no details of the purported ghostly activity at this lodge, we have to make mention of this lodge in the Indianapolis area. The reason? It is named Irvington Lodge, No. 666.

1 comment:

48c2ef18-0b64-11e5-a295-efb48091e94d said...

Thank you so much for writing this! In some way it calmed my mind, maybe I'm not crazy...
Because currently, I'm living in a Masonic temple that used to be vacant in the bad part of town. However, the city completely refurbished both the building and downtown area just in the last couple years. Anyway, had an overwhelmingly creepy feeling ever since moving in of course. Being built by masons I was sold on the beautiful architecture and also how my little apartment space was the one where they decided to store the historic temple doors. So historic in fact, I had to sign a waiver to not tamper with these huge, wooden, sliding wall doors in any way.
So this unbearable creepy feeling takes over me when I'm near these doors. There's also a brick portal I can't quite get to, way behind these doors in the wall where it seems to be the source of this bad energy. Probably a secret compartment of the masons or something. But I've definitely seen the shadows, heard the muted voices of many, mumblings, things going missing all the time, felt the cold air with no windows open, always feel watched... And have had the worst fights ever with my significant other?! Oh, there's also a sulfur smell that comes and goes. This is all almost comical and I wish I was making it up. Thoughts?