The Shrine, or more properly the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.), was founded in New York City in 1872 by Billy Florence, an actor, and Walter Fleming, a physician. The idea was to create an appended fraternal body that would provide a fun outlet. In 1870, several thousand of the 900,000 residents of Manhattan were Masons. Many of these Masons made it a point to lunch at the Knickerbocker Cottage, a restaurant at 426 Sixth Avenue. At a special table on the second floor, a particularly jovial group of men used to meet regularly.
The Masons who gathered at this table were noted for their good humor and wit. They often discussed the idea of a new fraternal organization for Masons, in which fun and fellowship would be stressed more than ritual. Two of those table regulars, Walter M. Fleming and William J. Florence, took the idea seriously enough to do something about it.
Both were 32nd degree masons and they envisioned an extension to the body which elaborates on the basic tenets of Freemasonry. As it stands today, a man must first be a Mason on order to become a Shriner.
In the beginning, Fleming and Florence realized it needed a colorful exciting backdrop. As the legend goes, Fleming attended a party in Marseilles, France, hosted by an Arabian diplomat. At the end of the party, the guests became members of a secret society. Florence realized this might be the ideal vehicle for the new fraternal body, and he made copious notes and drawings of the ceremony. When Florence returned to the States, Fleming agreed and together they created the elaborate rituals, designed the emblem and costumes, and formalized the salutation. Though the Shrine is not itself a secret society, it still retains much of the mysticism and secrecy of its origins.
As part of the requirements for membership, Florence and Fleming decided that all members must be either a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason or a Knights Templar York Rite Mason. These groups are concordant bodies of Freemasonry which is the oldest and most widely known fraternity in the world. It dates back hundreds of years to when stonemasons and other craftsmen on building projects gathered in shelter houses or lodges.
The basic unit of Masonry is the Blue Lodge, where members earn the first three Masonic degrees. There is no higher degree than that of Master Mason but for those who wish to further explore the allegory and symbolism learned in the Blue Lodge, the Scottish Rite and York Rite elaborate on the basic tenets of Freemasonry.
Charity has been a part of the Shrine almost from the beginning, but Shriners sought a greater purpose to define the Order. In 1920 the organization voted to adopt its own official philanthropy, dedicated to providing free orthopedic medical care to children in need, after whcih the first Shriners Hospital was built in Shreveport, LA, in 1922.
Today, the Shrine's philanthropy has now evolved into and consists of 22 "Centers of Excellence" including three Shriners Burn Institutes.
Nineteen Shriners Hospitals provide orthopedic care and rehabilitation to children with congenital orthopedic deformities, problems resulting from orthopedic injuries, and diseases of the musculoskeletal system.
Some of the orthopedic problems most commonly treated at Shriners Hospitals include:
Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and spinal deformities
Clubfoot and related deformities
Osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease)
Skeletal growth abnormalities
Hip disorders, including Legg-Perthes disease
Orthopaedic problems resulting from cerebral palsy
Leg length discrepancies
Metabolic bone disease
Shriners Hospitals were among the first children's specialty hospitals in North America, and their pioneering efforts have earned them an international reputation in orthopaedic medicine and research.
Shriners Hospitals treat children in a family-centered environment, recognizing that while medicine might heal the child's body, tending to the child's sense of well being is equally important. The family is involved in the child's treatment, and each patient finds special support in meeting the challenges of his or her particular problem.
The medical staffs of Shriners Hospitals include pediatricians, urologists, neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, geneticists, and other specialists to ensure comprehensive care for children with associated medical problems. The interdisciplinary medical team includes physicians, nurses, physical, occupational and recreational therapists, specially trained orthotic and prosthetic technicians, nutritionists, gait lab specialists, and other medical personnel.
There is never a charge to the patient, parent or any third party for any service or treatment received at any of the hospitals.
The Abou Ben Adhem (“May his tribe increase!”) Shrine Mosque was built in 1923 and was hailed as the largest auditorium west of the Mississippi. It is one of Springfield’s most recognizable buildings with its red brick walls and terracotta polychrome turrets.
The Saracenic, or Moorish, style of architecture was the design of Springfield architects Heckenlively and Mark. Two stained glass windows designed by Stanley Uthwatt depict a camel caravan.
The cost to build the Temple was $600,000. 4750 people can be seated in its main auditorium. The stage, at the time it was built, was second in size only to the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York City. Much of the city, as well as Shriners from 12 states, turned out on November 3, 1923, to view the building’s dedication.
Abou Ben Adhem first met in the Baldwin Theater in Kansas City by officers of the Ararat Temple of Kansas City on October 15, 1903. The membership of the order was then limited to Knights Templar and Scottish Rite fraternal organizations.
In 1906 the Masonic Temple on East Walnut was built. On October 28, 1920, the membership voted to build a Shrine Mosque on St. Louis Street and Kimbrough. The site was purchased from the Frank Herman Saddlery Company. The Temple was built near the center of Springfield, both in its location and its spirit.
In addition to Shriners conventions, dances, circuses and other entertainments, the Mosque has also been the site of wrestling matches, Jackson Day activities, telethons, dance-a-thons, war bond drives, revivals, dog and cat shows, roller derbies and concerts featuring acts from John Philip Sousa to the Vienna Singers to Elvis Presley (whose concert, by the way, sold few tickets). Presidents Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan also appeared there.
The lower level of the Mosque contains a large room that can seat 1,300, special rooms for Shrine units and a museum. For a period in 1973-1975 there was talk that the Mosque might be torn down because it had deteriorated over the years, but in 1975 the Shriners announced that it would be renovated.In 1982 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The renovation began in 1987 and was finished in 1990.
Today, the Shrine Center is still available to host and has recently hosted a variety of events from the Shrine Circus to the Amazing Acrobats of China to other entertainers which include concerts from bands ranging from Country Western to Pop, as well as serving as popular venue for the national Blue Comedy Comic Tour.