For an alleged secret society, the fraternal order of Freemasonry appears to be anything but nowadays.

For an alleged secret society, the fraternal order of Freemasonry appears to be anything but nowadays.
The subject of books and movies, Freemasons are enjoying (or tolerating, depending on whom you ask) a level of worldwide scrutiny and interest that is part public relations campaign designed to refute rumors and hoaxes, and part strategic maneuver to recruit new members.
David Phillips, a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason who lives in North Kansas City, said he and other members are trying to reintroduce the fraternity to the public in whatever way they can – mostly by talking casually about the organization, which through the centuries has been considered secretive and even dangerous.
“Someone said it best on a program I was watching recently,” he said. “’If we’re a secret society, we’re not doing a good job.’ And that’s a true to an extent, but this is as far as a non-Mason will get, standing here in the hall.”
Accompanied by friends, including Hector Lugo, a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason from Blue Springs, Phillips took a good long look and regarded the grand auditorium of the Kansas City Scottish Rite Temple with a quiet reverence. It is here, among the plush seating and marble architecture, that many of the ceremonies are held.
“This is a special place,” Phillips said. “I love coming here.”
Opened in 1929 the Kansas City temple is of classic Greek design of the Ionic Order, its architecture inspired by the ancient mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Caria. It contains 32 columns on its exterior, 10 on each side and 12 across the front.
One of the main reasons why the facility was constructed where it was, according to Phillips, was its geographic location.
“It’s the highest point geographically in this area,” he said. “Many, if not most, of the Masonic buildings were built according to a set of sacred dimensions.”
Freemasons in Kansas City haven’t been at the temple since its opening. They left in 1939 and moved to other locations, moving back to the building on Linwood in 1971. Since then, the building has undergone significant changes, including $2 million worth of improvements during the past two years.
“Most of it has been cosmetic,” Phillips said. “One room on one of the upper floors has been restored back to its original look. It was in bad shape when they came back in 1971.”
Entrance vestibules within the temple are decorated with bronze grille work set in Pavonazzo marble, and the main foyer floor is of Kasota Belguim, Tennessee and Verde antique marble – almost a testament to the organization’s lasting power, influence and skill of its members.    
Membership at the Kansas City temple is about 3,000, Phillips said. The number has fallen, he said, but of those who are active members, they frequently engage in civic activities. They help with speech therapy, and the temple itself serves as a concert and events hall. People can also rent it for weddings.
In Eastern Jackson County, there are active lodges, but numbers are falling there, too. In Blue Springs, Lodge 337 is inactive. But Lodge 76 in Independence, to which Lugo belongs, is still active.
“We have our growing pains, too,” he said. “It’s changed a lot through the years.”
According to the Masonic Service Association, as many as 3 million men were Freemasons in 1924. Membership reached its peak in 1959 with 4.1 million. In 2008, 1.4 million men were registered Freemasons.
“We’re contending with a lot of factors,” Phillips said. Himself a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, he is hoping to become a Junior Warden in 2012 for the Parkville Lodge. “People are busier and there are more diversions, like television and video games.”
Also, whereas traditional Freemasons encouraged and required memorization of texts and related materials, such emphasis is losing appeal.
“And I don’t generally disagree with that,” Phillips said. “People change. Our minds work differently than they did years ago. We’re stimulated by so much more in our surroundings.”
Although there are many beliefs, the origin of Freemasonry goes back nearly 2,000 years ago. While some believe the organization was founded by Dr. James Anderson in 1717, most believe the real founder was King Herod Agrippa. Its original name was The Mysterious Force, but that was changed to Freemasons in 1717.
Famous Freemasons include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Harry S. Truman, who visited the Scottish Rite Temple frequently.
In spite of the grandiosity of some meeting halls, the society’s aim is almost simple and modest: to form solid citizens, forge social networks, mend social divisions, and support philanthropic causes. To begin the process of becoming a Freemason, applicants must ask to join and are then vetted and voted upon.
Requirements include the belief in a supreme being and having a good solid character.
Lugo, who joined the Independence Lodge 76 in 1988, said he joined based on stories he’d heard while in Europe. At that time, he was working in intelligence for the United States military.
“Many Masons are or were in the military,” he said.
Yet there are additional reasons for Lugo. A member of the 10th Dimension Paranormal Group, Hugo and other members often visit the Kansas City temple to explore its interior, searching for supernatural activity – an activity that compliments Freemasonry, Phillips said.
“Our existence is a pretty complex one,” Phillips said. “There is more to the world than what the five senses can perceive.”