Despite the 100-degree heat on Monday, about 25 cyclists (and B-cyclists) followed 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Freemason James Rodriguez for the Something Monday informational, social bike tour.
Rodriguez led the group to two Freemason lodges/club houses in the King William Historic District, Alamo Plaza’s cenotaph, the San Antonio Scottish Rite Museum and Library – an auditorium and temple operated by a Masonic nonprofit of the same name – and, ultimately, to The Friendly Spot for a dash of relaxation and chatter.
[Read more about Rodriguez’s background in local Freemasonry here: “Something Monday: The Mysterious Masonic Lodges.”]
Overall, attendees appeared interested and satisfied throughout the tour, a partnership activity organized by The Rivard Report and San Antonio B-Cycle. However, I certainly learned a few things that we’ll keep in mind when organizing the fifth Something Monday tour next week. So before I dive into the play-by-play of this week’s tour, I’d like to include Rivard Report readers and riders in on this and hopefully we can make future rides go even more smoothly. Please send us your feedback via the comment section of this story!
Timing is Everything
When working with bikes that need to be checked in every half-hour (unless your a member, then it’s one hour), every minute counts. It took us a bit longer than expected between B-cycle stations and we had to make an emergency stop to reload time for almost all of our B-cycle friends. This can rush speakers and limit people’s engagement during Q&A sessions because they’re watching the clock. It’s possible that we could work a discounted rate for Something Mondayers on B-cycles, so stand by for updates.
I probably shouldn’t have had us stop on the Arsenal Street Bridge to check out the wabiStory App. It was a bit off topic and took longer than I expected (though I highly recommend checking out the digital, place-making, storytelling app from local website developer and writer Ben Judson. I just couldn’t help but take the opportunity to check it out).
At any rate, we’ll try to make future Something Monday rides last only about an hour (this one was about an hour and a half) by taking the time to anticipate route options, questions, problems locking up bikes or any other hiccups. As the days grow shorter, this may become even more important. Unless, of course, the consensus is that y’all like longer, evening tours?
After the tour I got to sit with local dentist, cycling instructor and historical bike tour guide Sara Reid. She noted that this ride would be a fantastic opportunity to go over some brief “rules of the road” before heading out into downtown traffic. Nothing too intense, just that we’d be taking up a full lane, signaling our turning intentions, riding together, etc. For new riders and experienced riders, taking five minutes to refresh our memories wouldn’t hurt. So we split up a bit after the tour had ended and many smaller groups broke off to head back to King William. Which is fine, but I’d like to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the ride back home by making sure that either someone from B-cycle or from the Rivard Report is there as a guide.
Future Something Monday Ideas
If you or someone you know has an idea for our Something Monday rides, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll look into it! We’ve already received lots of suggestions and are working on some now. Stay tuned later this week for an announcement here at www.rivardreport.com, our Facebook page or Twitter @rivardreport.
The Cyclists’ Voyage Through Freemason Turf
As the team gathered at the B-cycle station at 827 S. Main Ave., we saw some familiar and some new faces join the rank of curious urbanist. Our first stop was at the nearby Nat M. Washer Lodge on City Street – for a secret society, they sure are vigorous about labeling their buildings.
Modern Freemasonry has its roots in European craft guilds (stone masonry, hence the craftsmen tools in the emblem) and lodges are organized under regional and national Grand Lodges. Which lodge belongs to what region, district, rite or order can become quite convoluted to a Masonic newbie – but it’s more important to just understand what it is. Many Freemasons are public about their community works, their over-arching missions as lodges, their buildings and their history – to a certain point.
From the 19th Masonic District’s website: “Freemasonry is a fraternal organization, religious Brotherhood of man, which does charitable work in the community and among its members, and through its teachings and ceremonies seek to make good men better, and thereby make the world a better place to live in.” It’s not a religion, it’s not a cult, it’s not an underground political structure plotting world dominance – though Rodriguez could technically (playfully) neither confirm nor deny.
“It’s nice that people think we’re capable of all that, but it’s hard enough managing one building,” said Rodriguez, referring to the Mason’s Scottish Rite Cathedral.
For the Scottish Rite, which has its headquarters in Washington D.C., this mission manifests itself in many ways: a free children’s hospital in Dallas, scholarship programs, and the RiteCare network of programs that help children with communication disabilities, like the Scottish Rite Learning Center of South Texas located in downtown San Antonio.
During the several Q&A sessions and informational talks, Rodriguez was bound by his oath to the Freemasons not to reveal too much information.
“I can’t actually tell you that,” he said in answer to being asked what the “G” within the Freemason emblem stands for. “But I can tell you that it’s unique to lodges in the U.S. … (W)e do have secret signs and passwords to let another mason know of our status … (M)eetings and the meanings behind most symbols (and rituals) are secret.”
“Are there Masonic symbols on the dollar bill?” asked a Something Mondayer.
“No,” said Rodriguez, but added, “Masons often incorporate existing symbols into their own … like the eyeball– it’s not an original Mason symbol.”
The Nat M. Washer Lodge is also a meeting place for the Eastern Stars – a Masonic organization that allows women membership, a sign of the times for sure as lodges have been fraternities (men-only) for most of Freemason history starting in the 1300s.
In Europe, however, temples and members are not as public as in the states, Rodriguez said as he stood in front of Texas Lodge No. 8, the second stop on our tour.
During World War II, Freemasons were third on Nazi Germany’s list, after the Jewish and homosexual, to find and send to concentration camps. Freemasonry encouraged the meeting of and conversation between smart people – not something that any dictator likes.
“In Europe during WWII, they went underground and never really came back up,” he said. Masons took to wearing forget-me-not flowers instead of emblems and that tradition is still widely used today.
At the Alamo Plaza, riders gathered in the shade of the “Spirit of Sacrifice” memorial cenotaph for a briefing on famous Masons (locally and nationally). Most of the figures depicted in marble and granite were Masons and the sculptor himself, Pompeo Coppini, was as well.
It seems that many men involved in revolutionary efforts throughout history “happen to have been Masons,” Rodriguez said. “Being a Mason doesn’t mean you’ll be famous (and influential), and being (an important figure) doesn’t mean you have to be a Mason … they’re just coincidences.”
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Will Rodgers, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and even General Antonio López de Santa Anna were members. It’s rumored that Santa Anna’s status is what saved him from execution, Rodriguez said.
When the group arrived at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, many were surprised that the structure has been home to a large auditorium, library, museum, banquet hall, office and ladies’ lounge since its creation in 1922. It looks like a courthouse or some other government building, but the cathedral was built by local Masons with local money ($1.5 million).
The auditorium is impressive, to say the least. In its heyday, the San Antonio Symphony was going to claim it as its permanent home, but the prohibitive cost to make essential upgrades to entrances and bathrooms for people with disabilities took it out of the running. It’s now rented out for weddings, plays and other events, but it’s main purpose is to serve as a place for degree ceremonies for Masonic hopefuls and members. There are three degrees of Masonry: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. Upon arrival at each degree, lessons and information are passed onto members through theatrical production.
These secret ceremonies and scripts are accompanied by historic costumes (some are modern renderings, but some date back to 1910).
The main meeting room “is probably the most boring room in the place,” Rodriguez said with a laugh as the group entered the meeting chambers. This is where regular meetings are convened and business matters are discussed, which he couldn’t really describe to us. Of course.
However, he did offer this tidbit: “If you need to know who’s in charge (at a meeting), look for the man in the hat.” All Masons, except for the leader, are required to take off his hat – or in the case of modern times, the leader puts one on.
As riders filtered back towards the King William neighborhood, some checked out bikes for a ride home, some packed up their gear into cars and some joined Rodriguez and other Something Mondayers for a drink at The Friendly Spot. Most conversations were historical or Masonic in nature, but all seemed satisfied with a drink in the shade of Southtown.