Deadwood Valley Scottish Rite celebrates quasquicentennial

November 6, 2018

DEADWOOD — The surprising amount of history housed in the massive Masonic temple is both marvelous and majestic, and Saturday night, provided quite an apropos, immersive backdrop for the Deadwood Valley Scottish Rite quasquicentennial (125-year) celebration, for the Masonic organization chartered Oct. 20, 1893.

“The Deadwood Masonic Temple building is one of the few buildings in Deadwood that is still owned and operated by the same entities that built it, with its ground breaking in 1892 and completion in 1902,” said Venerable Master Michael Rodman. “Among the Deadwood Valley Scottish Rite’s earliest members were Sol Star, Seth Bullock, George Ayres, David Swanzey, D.C. Booth, W.E. Adams, and Nathan Franklin. The Deadwood Valley Scottish Rite’s historical backdrops have been described as one of the five best Scottish Rite backdrop collections in the United States.”

Scottish Rite is directly tied to the fraternity of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, the oldest, largest and most widely known fraternal organization in the world.

It is the mission of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, SJ, to improve its members and enhance the communities in which they live by teaching and emulating the principles of Brotherly Love, Tolerance, Charity, and Truth while actively embracing high social, moral, and spiritual values including fellowship, compassion, and dedication to God, family and country.

“Non-profit and fraternal organizations celebrate anniversaries in a number of ways throughout a given year. This year, on Nov. 3, the Masons affiliated with the Deadwood Scottish Rite will celebrate the 125th year of service to the Deadwood community in particular and the Black Hills community in general,” Rodman said. “However, this celebration will be much different because the members of the Deadwood Scottish Rite are sharing the accomplishment with the immediate city of Deadwood. The fraternal organization has withstood the challenges and grown and expanded its services to Deadwood and beyond and the members realize that has been possible only because of the support, consideration and real assistance of the community known as Deadwood. This quasquicentennial is a joint celebration of partners united in common bond for common interests.”

That said, the upper floors of the Masonic temple, normally made available only to members, were open for viewing by celebration attendees and opened a veritable gateway to the past.

A trip to the third floor is via the building’s historic elevator, still featuring manually opened doors and the original push-button panel.

“This is the oldest operating elevator of its kind west of the Mississippi River,” Rodman said. “A few years ago, the Smithsonian was interested in purchasing it.”

The third floor of the temple houses the “new” auditorium, constructed in 1960, and home to 50 or so historic theatric stage backdrops that appear to be constructed out of canvas and hand-painted, run up and down by a Scottish Rite member trained to maneuver the historic pulley system (one of the few left in the nation), which brings the gargantuan reliefs up and down.

It is on the stage of this auditorium that degree work is done, during which the four divisions of the Black Hills Scottish Rite present the 29 degrees of this particular Masonic entity.

The backdrops are highly valued by the Black Hills Scottish rite and, as well, by theater professionals who have examined them, declaring them to be the fifth most valued scenery in all of the Scottish Rite in the United States.

One of the most exciting things that happened during a recent evaluation of one of the backdrops, referred to as “the DeMolay,” used in the March 1921 original meeting of the international DeMolay in Kansas City and documented in newspaper articles, was the discovery of even more of these stunning creations.

“We went up into the rafters and discovered about 15 or 16 more backdrops stored up above that we weren’t aware of,” Rodman said. “Next summer, we’ll pull those down and roll them out. We have a really neat collection. Deadwood is just so lucky to have them.”

Rodman said that all Masons earn the first three degrees and that 4-32 are considered further education.

“Different plays are associated with each of the backdrops,” Rodman said. “Before the pulley system, unique to the Scottish Rite backdrops, the backdrops were stored in the basement and were hand-carried upstairs.”

A stop on the second floor revealed the Shrine Room and the Lodge Room, where Scottish Rite meetings are held and featuring heavy, ornately carved furniture. The second floor also houses the library, which was recently greatly compromised, and thanks to help from Deadwood Historic Preservation, the damage was mitigated.

“Time and time again the city of Deadwood and the Deadwood Historical Preservation Committee, merchants and citizens have found ways to help support the charitable efforts of the Deadwood Valley and the maintenance of its historic building located at 715 Main Street,” Rodman said. “When restoration and repairs, elevator refurbishing, wiring and heating and cooling were major, costly projects the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission extended the hands of friendship, caring and support to ensure that the Scottish Rite and its charitable efforts could continue at the same historic location. When water lines burst in the building on Jan. 1 of this year, this community, through the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, stood tall in providing financial assistance beyond the coverage provided by insurance and even provided funds essential to initiate action toward saving the building and its historically rich contents.”

Deadwood Mayor and 32-degree Deadwood Scottish Rite member David Ruth, Jr. offered congratulations on behalf of the city and from the perspective of a fifth-generation Scottish Rite Mason.

“From a city standpoint, congratulations to the Scottish Rite on their 125th anniversary. There are remarkable resources and history contained in this building that residents and visitors in this town have absolutely no idea about; names of influential citizens who walked in this building … and shaped the future through their membership in this organization. We wouldn’t be able to have this building without the partnership of Deadwood Historic Preservation and the city of Deadwood.”

Also featured at the celebration were displays in the first-floor Great Hall of historic membership records and photographs, blueprints of the building, antique magic lantern slides, and large screens featuring information on influential founding members such as Sol Star and Seth Bullock. Tours were followed by a social in the Great Hall, dinner, and remarks from: Rodman; Ruth; Sarah Wold-Hanson, OTR/L Therapy Manager, Lifescape of Rapid City, Scottish Rite Charity; Harold Ireland, Deputy Grand Master-Grand Master Elect of Masons in South Dakota; and Jeffery Larson, Sovereign Grand Inspector General, Orient of South Dakota.

Larson, who delivered the keynote speech and described himself as the “grand puba” of the state, spoke at length of the charity work the Scottish Rite performs, as the organization’s philanthropy is demonstrated through its Rite Care speech clinics, locally supporting Lifescape of Rapid City.

“No other part of the state, probably, reveres and lives and practices Masonry in all its forms, than the Western part of South Dakota,” Larson said. “My brothers here are extremely dedicated, extremely forthright in their Masonry and it is something that everybody could emulate in our fraternity.”

“We have, really, two purposes in being Scottish Riteists,” Larson said. “One is to gather and discuss intelligently, the philosophical and moral things we talk about and make ourselves, hopefully, more thoughtful and better because of that. The second thing that we do is we spend a whole lot of time raising money to give to our charity, which is the Scottish Rite clinics. Those clinics, which, obviously, out here, include the Lifescape facility in Rapid City, which have a stunning impact on the lives of children. Speech pathology, and, in some areas, audiology, are enormous good we can do … and not unlike Shrine Masons and their clinics, are extraordinary facilities. When a child has a speech problem, communication is something that is taken for granted by most of us, but you simply will not, probably, be successful in school and be successful in life without the ability to communicate with others. Because of the work that speech pathologists and the work that’s done at these clinics, children who, otherwise, would be far left behind, in some gap, have the opportunity to live lives that some of us take for granted.”

Construction on the Masonic Temple began in 1892. In 1900, the cornerstone was placed and the building was completed and dedicated in 1902.

At its height, the Deadwood Scottish Rite boasted 1,200 members and today, calls 300 its own, with membership drawn from Western South Dakota and a small section of Wyoming.

There are 55,000 Masons in South Dakota and 71 lodges across the state.

An inquiry to Rodman as to how membership is gained in the organization garnered this response, “Just ask.”

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