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De-mystifying the Masons

Mason Steve Schwartz shows off the historic Mason Lodge, 122 E Walnut St., built in 1928. Submitted photo1 / 2
Outgoing Master of the Lodge Jim Graham receives his Past Masters Certificate from newly installed Master of the Lodge Dave Hoffman.2 / 2

Hollywood likes to sensationalize many things -- the Freemasons have been no exception.

In movies such as National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, the Masons have been portrayed as a group with deep, dark secrets.

According to Freemason Steve Schwartz, this is not true. "We are not a secret society. We are a society with secrets."

"The Masons, a fraternal organization, are much like other organizations, the inner group knows more," he said.

During World War II, Masons were being persecuted by the Nazis and had to hide their status. According to Schwartz, many wore forget-me-not pins to recognize each other and ensure their survival.

Master of the Lodge, David Hoffman, also took issue with how the Masons are portrayed, saying, "It makes for good TV, but none of its true."

Although Hollywood has gotten many things wrong, Schwartz credits it with "sparking an interest" in the Masons.

One of the rumors out there is that the Masons, whom are associated with the Knights Templar, are hiding the Templar Treasure.

Laughing, Schwartz replied, "No, we don't have a treasure -- I am still looking for it, though."

Another often heard rumor is that the Mason organization is a cult.

"We are not a religion or a sub-religion. We are biblically-based and a Mason must have a belief in a supreme being. We embrace all religions; atheists are not allowed," Schwartz said, dispelling the myth.

As for whether Washington D.C. is made up of Mason symbols, Schwartz says any city block can look like a Mason symbol if you extend lines and look for it.

So what is the purpose of the Freemasons?

Established in 1717 in England, the organization was designed to allow stone masons with the secrets and skills of their craft, free travel throughout Europe. Many were responsible for the building of Europe's cathedrals.

In present time, Freemasonry's purpose is to make "good men even better".

There is an emphasis on building character, increasing personal responsibility and morality.

When asked why he joined, Hoffman pointed to family legacy.

"My father was a Mason and my brothers are Masons," Hoffman said. "There are four Hoffmans in the River Falls lodge."

"It gets you more involved in the community. You strengthen local ties and refine yourself. Like a church, it's a support system," Schwartz said, referring to why he joined.

One benefit, according to Hoffman, is "You can't be a Shriner without being a Mason. We get to be little kids again and drive go-karts around."

Hoffman also finds it really rewarding to be part of something that tries to make someone a better man and contributes to a better community.

Although not a charitable organization, members contribute to scholarships, foundations and are encouraged to volunteer within the community.

At one time the River Falls lodge had 160 members.

Recent numbers have dwindled to 110, with an average age of 60-65. There has been a push towards getting newer, younger members.

The goal, according to Schwartz, is to get others in to replace you.

Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at the Masonic Lodge located at 122 E Walnut St. The lodge sponsors friend nights to introduce perspective members to Freemasonry. For more information visit FreeMasonry

Jillian Dexheimer
Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.
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