The Freemasons are coming. Twenty thousand will be in town for the annual Shrine of North America Imperial Council Session, where they'll perform their mysterious degrees and rites, including the Freemasonry initiation ritual that requires candidates to swear to maintain the order's moral code and secrets. Once, when a former mason threatened to publish the secrets, he mysteriously disappeared, and the Freemasons were blamed for his death. Oooh, spooky.
And after they do all their scary ritual stuff, they'll don their tall, tasseled red fezzes and hit the streets of the West End in their brightly painted mini cars for the annual Shriner parade. They'll bring the horse drill teams, the camel patrols, the Scottish Highlanders, marching bands, Keystone Kops, a mule train, the Legion of Honor, firehouse jesters, scooters, and drum and bugle corps. The scene sounds more like an episode of Monty Python than a parade by some fraternal group that once inspired an American Anti-Masonic Party to protest the control Masons have in government. (Where ya think those weird symbols on the dollar bill came from?)
Besides, who could begrudge a few secret rites to a Shriner -- a cute little old man in a funny hat driving a car that looks like a flying carpet? The Shriners are a dying breed, the last (six million worldwide) symbols of tradition in which husband, wife, and kids joined fraternal organizations together. It's a nostalgic look at American history from revolutionaries such as George Washington and Ben Franklin to television characters such as Fred Flintstone and Ralph Kramden, who, respectively, belonged to the royal orders of water buffaloes and raccoons.
Once many families belonged to fraternal organizations. Now it just seems like everyone's grandfather is a Shriner, that is as long as they're not Catholic or another religion that shuns the group's rituals and anti-clericalism. But don't think of the shady past and the secrets. Think of the world's largest parade held in a different city every year. And, think of all the money the Shriners collect to support their organizations and 22 hospitals that provide free medical care to children, severe burns, and spinal-cord injuries. There's nothing scary about that -- well, except for the idea of a bunch of old men driving tiny cars downtown.