The Mystery of the GROTTO!
The complete name of this organization is Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. Al Mokanna, the Veiled Prophet, bears also the name of Hakem ben Haschem, and according to Persian records lived sometime between the seventh and eighth centuries. Some authorities give the name of the prophet, Al Mokanna, the Veiled One, as Al Hakim ibn Otto, and the date of his activity as about the year 760. His prophecies were uttered from behind a veil, hence the term applied to him. Thomas Moore wrote a poem interesting on account of the details regarding Al Mokanna, as well for the mention of places and persons useful in the naming of the Grottoes. However, in the case of the Grotto, the poem by Moore was not the source of inspiration which produced the Ritual.
Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm was the name finally chosen because of the enchanting goodfellowship the members had found within the mystical realm of the Order. As expressed by Commodore W. C. Eaton, the Order was planned to be the most secluded of Secret Orders; it was to be veiled, and the Mokanna of the poem was adopted as the mask or veil of secrecy which the Order was supposed to wear before the world. Thus the Al Mokanna of the poem is not indicative of the ideals taught by the Order; he is only the veil, and the use of Persian names by Grottoes simply fringes the veil with the peculiar charm of mysticism and imagery associated with all that comes from the mysterious East. The real Mokanna of the Prophets dwells in the hearts of the faithful and is so opposite in character to the false Mokanna of the poem that he is known only to those who have looked behind the veil and beheld the Enchanted Realm.
Dr. Oren Root of Hamilton College gave at an early meeting of the Supreme Council a response to a toast discussing the Why of the organization. From this we take the following: Freemasonry deals with manhood, square and upright; it is practical and earnest. Speculative minds have built upon the practical tenets of Freemasonry extended systems having abstruse and complicated meanings. Others, fully realizing that “Life is real, life is earnests have felt that the real would be no less real, the earnestness no less strong, if there came the warmth of humor, the gleam of wit, and the glow of sympathy. We need sunshine in life as well as in the air. Master Masons, good and true, of Hamilton Lodge, No. 120, averse to trespassing upon the dignified earnestness of the Lodge, yet feeling the need and value of closer, warmer communion, were wont, after the Lodge closed, to tarry for social intercourse. In the flowing humor and the sparkling wit, in the joke and song, the heart warmth oft and long remembered of these tarryings, they entered a Realm Enchanted, and by and by they became its Prophets. To perpetuate what gave them pleasure, and as true warm souls are generous to widen the scope of it, they organized.
As they were Freemasons, they limited its boundary to the Masonic Fraternity though it makes no claim to be Freemasonry. So the Order came: Mystic in its subtle lessons as in its form; Veiled because no human heart stands all revealed: of an Enchanted Realm, because who does not know how duties wear and sorrows burden in any un-enchanted realm? If Rites are framed to teach higher speculative tenets and we honor them, so too may Rites well be framed to gather and scatter the warm-heart sunshine of life. The Grand Alchemist has tested it; it is elixir.
The origin and development of the Order is explained at length in Doctor Mackey’s revised History of Freemasonry (pages 198S91). The Grotto was born of an effort for stronger sociability among the Brethren of Hamilton Lodge No. 120, Free and Accepted Masons, Hamilton, New York. The very informality did not tend to the keeping of complete records but any uncertainty later about the facts was met by the circumstance that several of the original members long continued their able activities in the Grotto, Brother Sidney D. Smith becoming the Grand Secretary. Brother LeRoy Fairchild and other Brethren of Hamilton Lodge had often met for fun and frolic.
Their lively social relations, some times mischievous but never mean, resulted during the summer of 1889 in an initiation promising rich enjoyment. This project received a warm welcome and a more permanent organization seemed necessary. September 10, 1889, there was an organization meeting held in the Masonic Hall at Hamilton of the following Brethren: LeRoy Fairchild, George Beal, Sidney D. Smith, Thos. H. Beal, Wm. M. West, J. W. Clark, U. C. Van Vleck, B. J. Stimson, Adon N. Smith, H. S. Gardiner, C. J. Griswold. Robert Patterson, A. M. Russell, John A. Holmgren, John F. Howe, G. G. Waldron, and Edwin L. Peet. At this first meeting the following officers were elected: LeRoy Fairchild, K. D.; B. J. Stimson, C. J.; George Beal, C.; J. W. Clark, C.; Thos. H. Beal, W. D. R.; and Sidney D. Smith, Secretary.
This organization developed into the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm, but there was at the start nothing more intended than a local affair. Of this we are assured by the name. The assembled Brethren chose as a title the Fairchild Deviltry Committee, and the presiding officer was called the King Devil . Membership was decided at this first meeting to be confined exclusively to Master Masons in good standing. Brothers R. R. Riddell and H. P. Tompkins were proposed as the first candidates and a date was set for their initiation. The ceremony proved a great success. A Ritual had been written by Brothers George Beal and Adon N. Smith. This work evoked warm praise and a Ritual Committee comprising Brothers R. R. Riddell, George Beal, A. N. Smith, LeRoy Fairchild, T. H. Beal, and W. M. West, was appointed to further perfect the ceremonial.
When contributing his recollections freely for this account of the Grotto, Grand Secretary Smith accorded to Prophets R. R. Riddell and George Beal the credit for successfully working out the revision. Brother Riddell brought ideal qualifications to the task, brilliantly embellishing the revised work with gems fanciful and sparkling, and inspiring much of the showy dash, urge and glitter. His suggestion was that the characters be given mythological names. This idea worked out splendidly though there was scarcely anything of classical mythology in the drama. Prophet George Beal was the author of the original Ritual and received valuable assistance from Brother Riddell and others in working out the first revision but all the later work was done by him alone. The pioneer labor of Brother Beal survived. Brother Smith so s that none of the changes since made in the Ritual disturbed the main lines laid down by Brother Beal.
The services of Prophet Beal were officially recognized by the Supreme Council at the Annual Session held in June, 1917, at Washington, District of Columbia, when a suitable resolution was unanimously adopted and a Committee comprising Past Grand Monarchs Charles E. Lansing, Hiram D. Rogers and J. F. McGregory was appointed to have it engrossed and presented. The following quotation is from this testimonial:
Resolved, that the Supreme Council in conjunction with all Veiled Prophets of the Realm do assure our worthy and esteemed Prophet George Beal of our appreciation of his work as Committee on Ritual, embracing as it does all the essential and beautiful Sects of the Order, the promulgation of which has been a potent factor and conducive to the advancement and up-building of the Order.
Brother Smith contradicts the statement that the Grotto was founded on Chapter Twenty-four of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, as the original Ritual will show. A copy of this as well as every revised edition is preserved in the safe of the Grand Secretary and nearly all are in the handwriting of Prophet George Beal who, Brother Smith tells us, never saw the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Minor modifications became advisable and another Committee was appointed. This comprised Brothers LeRoy Fairchild, George Beal, W. C. Eaton, and J. F. McGregory. They eliminated some features and some additions were made by this Committee, and these proved most acceptable. These amendments left the Ritual in a form which at once became practically permanent.
Temporary and local as the organization may have appeared at the beginning the success attained such proportions that the growing institution needed a suitable governing and organizing body. May 28, 1890, the Brethren of the F. D. C. met and studied the extension of the Order. They unanimously resolved to establish a Supreme Council with power to control affairs. Measures to that end were adopted. Thereby the Supreme Council of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm was duly set in operation on Friday, June 13, 1890, to carry systematically onward to Master Masons everywhere the fun and frolic of the Grotto. When the Supreme Council was organized there were fourteen members present, Brother LeRoy Fairchild presiding, with Brother Sidney D. Smith acting as Secretary. The Constitution and Statutes of the Supreme Council of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm were read and approved. Officers were elected as follows:
- Thomas L. James, Grand Monareh, New York City.
- LeRoy Fairchild, Deputy Grand Monarch, Hamilton, New York.
- George H. Raymond, Grand Chief Justice, New York City.
- J. C. Terry, Grand Master Ceremonies, St. Paul, Minnesota.
- William M. West, Grand Treasurer, Hamilton, New York.
- Sidney D. Smith, Grand Seeretary, Hamilton New York
- Oren Root, Grand Keeper of Archived Clinton, New York.
- James Byron Murray, Grand Orator, Auburn New York
- V. G. Prophet, Hnmilton, New York.
- U. C. Van Vleek, Trustee, Hamilton, New York.
- Adon N. Smith, Trustee, Hamilton, New York
- D. B. West, Trustee, Hamilton, New York.
- The remaining offices were filled by the appointment of the following Brothers:
- Thomas II. Beal, Grand Captain of Guard, Hamilton New York.
- J. F. Gregory, Grand Alchemist, Hamilton, New York.
- Samuel J. Todd, Standard Bearer, New Orleans, Louisiana.
- John Cunningham, Grand Marshal, Utiea. New York.
- J. W. Clark. Grand Steward, Hamilton, New York
- B. J. Stimson, Deputy Grand Chief Justice, Hamilton, New York.
- George Beal, Deputy Grand Master of Ceremonies, Hamilton, New York.
These Brethren were installed by Grand Chief Justice George H. Raymond and the elected Grand Officers were empowered to complete the organization. A Charter was granted to Druid Grotto No. 1 at Hamilton, New York, but this name was afterwards changed to Mokanna Grotto at a meeting of the Supreme Council held on July 5, 1890. An Obligation presented by Brother W. C. Eaton was formally adopted, and on his motion also, the Deputy Grand Monarch, the Deputy Grand Chief Justice and the Deputy Grand Master of Ceremonies were appointed a Committee to act upon reports submitted by various Committees of the Supreme Council. After a banquet in the evening, the Supreme Council adjourned to the following afternoon of June 14, 1890, at 3 P.M., when Deputy Grand Monarch LeRoy Fairchild installed Brother Thomas L. James as Grand Monarch of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. At this session the seal and badge of the Order were adopted. The turbans of the Veiled Prophets were by resolution at a later session of 1890 permitted to be of any color a Grotto might select but to be used with a silver veil. All turbans of the same Grotto were to be alike as to color, but no purple to be worn except by members of the Supreme Council.
The Supreme Council meeting at the Masonic Hall, Hamilton, June 11 l891, was memorable because a Dispensation for the second Grotto was granted. This Body received a Charter from the Supreme Council June 9, l892, as Khorassan Grotto No. 2, of Ilion, New York, and at the same session a Charter was issued to Zeba Grotto, No. 4, at Rome in that State. Dispensations had previously been given on August 26, 1891, to Lalla Rookh Grotto, No. 3, of Rochester, New York, and to Zeba Grotto Lalla Rookh receiving a Charter on June 27, 1893 at the first New York City meeting of the Supreme Council when a Charter was also issued to Mirzola Grotto, No. 5. at Amsterdam, New York. Hiawatha Grotto, No. 8, at Anoka, Minnesota; Azim Grotto, No. 7, of Nest York City, and Shiras Grotto, No. 8. at Antwerp, New York, were granted Dispensations at this session. Charters were given to these three Bodies together with one to Zelica Grotto, No. 9, at Kinderhook, New York, on June 14, 1894, at the annual meeting held in the Scottish Rite Hall, New York City.
Brother Adon Smith Was elected Grand Monarch at the session of 1894 succeeding Brother James who had served in 1890, 1891, 1892 and 1893. Grand Monarch Smith was reselected at the Supreme Council annual sessions from June 14, 1894, to October 31, 1899. He was also Monarch of Azim Grotto, No. z. A revision of the Constitution and Statutes, and a Password were adopted at the New York City session of the Supreme Council on June 6, 1895. The genial founder and constant inspiration of the Grotto was Brother LeRoy Fairchild who died at his home in Hamilton, New York, January 23, 1897, aged but 51 years. He was Deputy Grand Monarch from the institution of the Supreme Council up to his death. Brother George F. Loder of Rochester, New York;, was Grand Monarch in 1901 and 1902. He presided at the Buffalo session on October 19, 1900, of the Supreme Council, Grand Monarch Adon Smith dying in his 65th year on June 13, 1900, the tenth anniversary of the organization of the Supreme Council. Grand Secretary Sidney D. Smith resigned his office at the annual meeting in June, 1924, and was succeeded in that position by Brother George Edward Hatch of Rochester, New York, a Past Grand Monarch of 1910. In the Proceedings, Thirteenth Annual Convention, 1902, there is a tribute on pages 12S7 to Brother Smith by his old associate, Prophet George Beal, from which the following extract is taken:
“Grand Monarch Balston in writing on this matter said, ‘Surely, no one is more entitled to recognition than our Grand Secretary who by his zealous work in the cause has done so much toward the success of the Order.’ To be thus mentioned by the Grand Monarch is indeed a distinguished honor, but it is no more than is justly due Sidney D. Smith for the eminent ability zeal and fidelity with which he has ever discharged his duties as Grand Secretary.”
Of this we also bear tribute for he generously co-operated in making this account of the Grotto accurate and complete. Brother Smith died on November 12. 1924.