A History of the Shrine
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 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 fraternity for Masons, in which fun and fellowship would be stressed more than ritual. Two of the table regulars, Walter M. Fleming, M.D., and William J. “Billy” Florence, an actor, took the idea seriously enough to do something about it. As Shriners we look beyond ourselves to serve the needs of others, especially children who cannot help themselves. We believe Shriners Hospitals to be the world’s greatest philanthropy and we covenant with each other to support its “temples of mercy” with spirit, time, talent and means.
Billy Florence was a star. After becoming the toast of the New York stage, he toured London, Europe and Middle Eastern countries, always playing to capacity audiences. While on tour in Marseilles, France, Florence was invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat
Florence, recalling conversations at the Knickerbocker Cottage, realized that this Arabian theme might well be the vehicle for the new fraternity.
Dr. Walter Fleming was a prominent physician and surgeon. Born in 1838, he obtained a degree in medicine in Albany, N.Y., in 1862. During the Civil War, he was a surgeon with the 13th New York Infantry Brigade of the National Guard. He then practiced medicine in Rochester, N.Y., until 1868, when he moved to New York City and quickly became a leading practioner.
Fleming was devoted to fraternalism. He became a Mason in Rochester and took some of his Scottish Rite work there, then completed his degrees in New York City. He was coroneted a 33 degree Scottish Rite Mason on September 19, 1872.
Fleming took the ideas supplied by Florence and converted them into what would become the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
With the help of other Knickerbocker Cottage regulars, Fleming drafted the ritual, designed the emblem and costumes, formulated a salutation, and declared that members would wear a red fez.
The initiation rites, or ceremonials, were drafted by Fleming with the help of three Brother Masons: Charles T. McClenachan, lawyer and expert on Masonic Ritual; William Sleigh Paterson, printer, linguist andand ritualist; and Albert L. Rawson, prominent scholar and Mason who provided much of the Arabic background.