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By Linda Emley
I was reading a 1917 Richmond Missourian newspaper on Saturday looking for an obituary. It’s impossible for me to read an old newspaper without skimming the other stories that were going on that year.
Sometimes a story jumps out at me and says, “Read me,” and then my whole mission changes. The following story is one of those because the timing is just too strange to ignore.
It took place 95 years ago on June 24, 1917 in Richmond, then appeared in the Missourian the following Thursday. I found it even stranger that June 24 was on a Sunday in 1917, the same as this year.
“The Masonic Celebration … Splendid Sermon By Rev. Cecil Miller Aker … A procession of Masons that filled one side of the square met at their hall at 1:30 o’clock on Sunday afternoon and moved as silently as a funeral procession around the square, going to the Methodist Church, where the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the forming of the first Grand Lodge, at London, England took place. The silent and graceful march around the square was a reminder, or rather symbolic, of the quiet way in which the Masonic fraternity has worked for these hundreds of years and accomplished so much.
“On the pulpit of the church were flowers of every imaginable color, and to some it was a reminder that in every civilized nation on earth are Masons, from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand, where Africa’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sands, etc.
“The services were begun by singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers,’ Mr. W.S. Alnutt leading the singing, with Miss Benora Maddux presiding gracefully at the piano, after which prayer was offered by the pastor, followed by the singing of ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds.’
“Professor W.S. Drace then read the minutes of the preliminary meeting of the first Grand Lodge in London 1717 and the minutes of the occasion when four lodges met in the World’s metropolis on June 24, 1717.
“The sermon of Rev. Aker was so good all the way through that The Missourian regrets that it is not here printed in full. The secretary of Richmond Lodge, Mr. Durward Brady, expressed the sentiments of all who heard it when he said to the writer, ‘I marveled at its excellence. It was the finest address that I ever heard on Masonry in all my life.’
“Brother Aker said there are 2,000,000 Masons in the world, and his tribute to the order was as beautiful as it was true. He touched the spot in reference to those who manifest a desire to criticize the order, and it is a pity that a few who are so inclined could not have heard what he said in reference to criticism.
“ ‘The only man who is not criticized by some individual in Richmond sleeps over yonder on the hill.’ he said, pointing in the direction of the cemetery.
“It has been well said that ‘The best Mason makes the best Christian and the best Christian makes the best Mason.’ The preacher wanted every Mason to become well acquainted with the Grand Master on high. Rev. Aker can preach an extra good sermon at any time on any text, with or without preparation, as occasion demands.
“All the Masonic lodges in the county had been invited. Hardin Lodge No. 322 sent a big delegation and Millville Lodge was also well represented, as well as other lodges in the county, state and elsewhere.”
After reading this article, I tried to imagine standing on the corner of Main Street as the parade of Masons marched by on their way to church. It was a hot Sunday afternoon and the church would have been warm without modern day air conditioning but that did not stop them from celebrating this 200th year anniversary.
The World’s metropolis mentioned in this story was London. I find it interesting that a small-town newspaper editor held London in such high regard, but in 1917, London was a major city of the world because many of today’s modern cites had not developed yet.
My favorite line in this whole story is “The only man who is not criticized by some individual in Richmond sleeps over yonder on the hill,” the minister said, “pointing in the direction of the cemetery.” I want to know who Rev. Aker was taking about. I assume he was talking about a brother Mason, but one thing I have learned over the years is to never assume anything.
My first thought was Alexander Doniphan, but he’s buried in Liberty. I thought about who else it might be because it was so obvious to everyone in 1917, that the editor didn’t even have to mention his name. My next guess was Gov. Austin King because his grave maker stands high on cemetery hill and looks like Washington’s Monument sticking high into the sky. But then I found a note that said that Austin King was buried south of town and his body was moved to the city cemetery in the 1930s, so Austin King was not on Cemetery hill in 1917. George Washington Dunn had a major role in Missouri’s Masonic history, but he’s not buried on Cemetery hill so that rules him out, too.
It’s going to take some research to figure this puzzle out and we may never know who it was, but it’s interesting that there was a man that no one criticized. I’ve known a few good men who came close to this standard, but not a perfect one so my search continues for the “only man who was not criticized by some individual in Richmond.”
Like any other small town in America, Richmond has changed a lot in the last 95 years, but we still have that hometown feeling that makes us special. Richmond isn’t the home of any perfect person, but it is the home of many perfectly good people, so I think we can hold our own with the citizens of 1917 Richmond.
Have an idea of the identity of the mystery man on the hill? You can contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org or see her at Ray County Museum.