A Ghostly History of Historic Lodges
by Charles Spratley
When you take my tour of Old Town Orange and we start the tour early or perhaps I find myself divinely inspired I share a small story with my guests, that of the haunted Masonic Lodge in the plaza area above the Chase Bank branch. The story consists of members of the lodge seeing shadowy figures or hearing sounds in the quiet of the building that simply should not be. Many of the members of Orange Grove Lodge # 293 believe that there is more than one brother who does not realize that his eternal dues are up and he is no longer amongst the living.
As I point up to the Lodge and tell the tales associated with this beautiful historic building, I sometimes remind myself of the first time I became fascinated with Masonic Lodges and their ghosts during a cold winter in Colorado. I was on a trip, making a grand circle from Taos, NM to Colorado Springs and through Denver and loop back towards NM. This route led me to many interesting places. Small towns that time forgot. I choose carefully my accommodations. Where every aspect of my life is either about history or the paranormal, I choose both; historical hotels known for their ghosts. And of course, I have to ask for the rooms known for their activity. I’ll never forget staying in an old hotel on the top floor which served as a morgue when the ground froze and experiencing the activity surrounding their elevator and several of the rooms, but that, is a story for another day. Something else caught my eye during my tour of Colorado, old Masonic Lodges. And being a Mason myself, I was granted access to some of the oldest lodges in the region with several dating back to the 1860s.
As I walked through the old lodges, I could literally feel the history in the air. The memories. I saw one lodge where they had the murals for each of the three degrees that would help the candidate with visual references during the lectures pertaining to the degree. As I walked up to the mural, I felt the coolness of the room and the plastered walls and the beauty and the intricacy of the paintings. I asked the secretary how old the murals are and he stated that some of them date to the founding of the lodge in 1861, when one of the founding members, Kit Carson, presided as Master.
My intuition kicked in and as my eyes wandered through the lodge, I could feel the past coming in on me. I asked the secretary of the lodge if he ever noticed anything unusual, or as I sometimes like to say, “wonky” (a term I like to use with people I don’t know, leaving it open for them to interpret my meaning for themselves). The secretary, an older gentleman who had obviously been part of the lodge for years, furrowed his brow. Yes indeed, he commented, the building is haunted by past members. I left it to him to elaborate. He talked about how many times he would walk past the main lodge room, where meetings are held, and as he walked past the closed door, he could hear the sounds of lodge in progress, even though he was the only one in the building. He spoke of hearing the voices of members reciting ritual written hundreds of years ago, and even the muffled slamming of the gavel by the Master, and when he opened the door, the room was empty and dark.
We talked a long time that afternoon. I explained what may be happening and he totally agreed and has actually heard of similar things from other Masons, in other lodges, a residual haunting. The energy and psychic imprints of the past making their way into our world. For those unfamiliar with residual hauntings, you have at least probably heard of them. It is sometimes referred to as a specific person or event that can be seen at a certain time, at a specific place. It never alters or tries to communicate with anyone who witnesses it. I sometimes refer to it as a record skipping in time. It isn’t spirit, it cannot communicate or change its pattern. As I traveled to several lodges in the area, I spoke to the secretaries and some spoke of the same phenomena. I became fascinated with the frequency of the supposed hauntings.
The idea of a residual haunting taking place in a Lodge is not far-fetched to me. The idea of people, usually the same group of people, reciting rituals hundreds of times over, can leave a psychic impression on a room. And the ritual is usually of a religious connotation, which may actually add a little “push” in its power (I often talk to people about the hauntings that take place at churches, monasteries, and other sacred sites which are sometimes centers of power of the paranormal).
There have also been tales that I’ve come across over the years of other types of activities at Lodges. Spirits have been reported as well as poltergeist activity. After all, a death takes place every time a mason is raised to his 3rd degree. Granted, it’s a metaphorical death, but the lesson is strong and true. Also, many members attended the same Lodge most of their adult life. It was an extremely important part of their social life. Perhaps they are simply more comfortable amongst their brothers as specters than to move along into the great Beyond. Whether they are residual or active, the hauntings of many Masonic Lodges are accepted by their members, and sometimes they are comforted knowing that the past truly hasn’t left. And there is at least one more degree the Mason must pass, and that is when he takes his last breath.