For more than two centuries, the Freemasons and their grandiose rituals have played a secretive, mysterious role in American life. One of the Masonsâ€™ symbols looks a lot like the all-seeing eye on the back of every $1 bill. And look whose picture is on the other side.
George Washington was not the first Mason, and not the only famous one. Mozart worked thinly disguised touches of Masonry into operas. Fourteen presidents and everyone from the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale to the comedian Red Skelton belonged. Masons presided when the cornerstone was laid at the Statue of Liberty.
But the Masonsâ€™ numbers have been steadily dwindling â€” whatever their secrets are, they apparently do not have one for avoiding death â€” and their ranks have been graying. So the New York State Masons have followed other state Masonic societies in doing something that they would have once considered heretical: they are actively reaching out for new members. And, in the process, a famously reticent fraternal organization that now puts a premium on its community service has lifted its veil of secrecy just a bit.