When the many grand cathedrals of Europe were being built, a call went out for skilled stone masons to offer their services.Masons were often the highest-paid workers on the job site, so many men would claim to be masonry professionals to earn more compensation. To keep impostors at bay, a series of handshakes and symbols was devised to show not only that a man was, in fact, a mason, but to show his level of education in the field. Those who passed that test were granted lodgings while working on the large buildings, many of which are still visited today.
While the Masonic organization has come a long way since the start of the first Masonic lodges, the group is still rooted in its proud past, and celebrates the ceremonial history of the first masons. Now a fraternal philanthropic organization, the Southampton chapter of the Masonic Lodge celebrated a milestone last week—100 years of service to the East End.
“We are, first and foremost, a philanthropic organization,” said the new chapter master, Marty Moscicki, last week. “We make men become better men, and, as a result, we support the community in a large number of ways.”
The Southampton chapter of the Masonic Lodge was established in September 1913 as an offshoot of the Sag Harbor chapter. At the time, members from Hampton Bays and Southampton were finding it difficult to make it to Sag Harbor for meetings, so they asked for permission to operate in Southampton, where they shared a building with the Oddfellows, another fraternal organization, until they purchased the Main Street lodge building in 1936. In May 1914, the men were recognized by the Grand Lodge in New York City as state lodge number 908 and granted a charter, said Bill Smith, a member of the Southampton organization for 10 years and a former lodge master.
According to Mr. Moscicki, who was installed as the newest lodge master on June 3, the fraternity is based on the “fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” and requires that members have a belief in God and religion—though it does not matter which religion—and a deep desire to help the community. The goal of the masonic fraternity, he said, is not for one person to donate large sums of money to help one cause, though that does happen, but instead for a large group of men to come together and do their part to help those around them.
As part of their philanthropic ambitions, the 105 chapter members of the Old Town Lodge in Southampton, still located on Main Street, donate thousands of dollars to charity annually, donate to the local food pantries, participate in the annual Polar Bear Plunge, and generate scholarships for both Hampton Bays and Southampton graduating seniors, among other activities. They also support national causes, noting that masons support burn hospitals worldwide, children’s hospitals, geriatric care facilities and cardiac research.
While the all-male organization is charity-based, it is steeped in tradition stemming back to the 1700s, when masons first arrived in the United States, bringing a series of passwords, handshakes and rituals from Scotland, England and the rest of Europe. The traditions are kept secret from non-members, and a former lodgemaster, David Steiber of North Sea, said it takes a lot of work to be a member of the organization, let alone move up in the ranks. Members, he said, cannot just join the organization freely, but must study and memorize literature compiled over the years and designed to build morals and character.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Old Town Lodge, the Southampton chapter was honored with a rededication ceremony on Saturday. At the event, members of the Grand Lodge in New York City came to Southampton to for a dedication ceremony, which renewed the Southampton charter for another 100 years.
To learn more about the Southampton Masonic Lodge and its philanthropic activities, interested parties are encouraged to write to the organization at 40 Main Street, Southampton.
“You have to have it in your heart to be a mason—it is a lot of hard work,” Mr. Moscicki said. “You have things you have to study and memorize that will help you with your moral values. We are dedicated to taking good men and making them better.”