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Five Secret Societies That Have Remained Shrouded in Mystery

December 11, 2019 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

From the Knights Templar to the Freemasons to Skull and Bones, here’s what we know (and don’t know) about secret societies through history.

Secret societies have flourished throughout history and count ?

2. The Freemasons

The steps of Freemasonry.

The freemasons loom large in American history—after all, 13 of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution were Masons. Founding Fathers like George Washington, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere all counted themselves as members of the fraternal order. But who are the freemasons?

The freemasons can trace their routes to the Middle Ages in Europe, a time when most craftsmen were organized into local guilds. Cathedral builders, by nature of their profession, had to travel from city to city. They identified one another via signs of their trade, like the builder’s square and compass in Freemasonry’s now-iconic symbol.

The earliest reference to masons is in the Regius Poem, or Halliwell Manuscript, which was published in 1390, but Freemasonry as we know it today was founded in 1717, when four London lodges merged to form England’s first Grand Lodge. Freemasonry quickly spread across Europe and to the American colonies.

Freemason Beliefs

Freemasonry is not a religion, though members are encouraged to believe in a Supreme Being, or “Grand Architect of the Universe.” Masonic temples and secret rituals have brought them into conflict with the Catholic Church. The Church first condemned the freemasons in 1738 and has gone on to issue around 20 decrees against them. In 1985, Roman Catholic Bishops restated over 200 years’ worth of these strictures in the face of an increased number of Catholics joining the order.

The Church wasn’t their only enemy; the secrecy of the masons garnered such distrust in early America that it inspired America’s first “third party”: The Anti-Masonic Party.

Are There Freemasons Today?

A depiction of a Masonic ritual taking place in a New York Masonic lodge, circa 1900.

Freemasons exist today, and their public image has been greatly influenced by the high profile charity work of the Shriners, a subset of freemasons also known as “the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” The Shriners were founded by freemasons in 1870 at New York City’s Knickerbocker College and continue their volunteer work today.

How Do You Become a Freemason?

The rituals around becoming a freemason are shrouded …read more


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6 Myths About George Washington, Debunked

December 11, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

No, he didn’t really chop down that cherry tree, and his teeth weren’t wooden.

When it comes to mythic American figures, (2011), Washington did visit Philadelphia briefly in 1776, but he did not meet with anyone in Congress or anyone else about flags, and he most likely didn’t even know Betsy Ross.

READ MORE: Did Betsy Ross Really Make the First American Flag?

Myth #3: He had wooden teeth.

Dentures worn by George Washington.

Next to the cherry tree legend, Washington’s supposed wooden teeth are possibly the most repeated myth about the first president. The truth is, though Washington was famous for his enviable strength and healthy constitution, he suffered from dental problems his entire life. By the time he became president in 1789, Washington had only one of his natural teeth remaining; he finally had that one pulled in 1796.

Uncomfortable to wear, dentures affected how Washington looked in portraits, as well as his public speaking. The dental appliance he wore featured filed-down teeth from animals (probably cows or horses) as well as human teeth (possibly, but not definitely, those of slaves) and teeth fashioned from ivory (including elephant, walrus and hippopotamus). While they may have taken on the appearance of wood after being stained through use, they were never made of wood, which with its porousness, splinters and susceptibility to expansion and contraction with moisture, was not a material commonly used by dentists at the time.

READ MORE: Hitler’s Teeth Reveal Nazi Dictator’s Cause of Death

Myth #4: He knelt in prayer in the snow at Valley Forge.

The prayer at Valley Forge.

Among the most prominent legends that grew up around the Continental Army’s now-famous winter encampment at Valley Forge in 1777-78 is the story of a pacifist Quaker man named Isaac Potts supposedly stumbling on Washington kneeling in the snow and praying to God for his army’s deliverance. Moved by Washington’s faith, Potts converted to the Revolutionary cause. Over the years, the scene has been painted, depicted on postage stamps, plaques, marble sculptures and stained glass. President Ronald Reagan even called the image of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge “the most sublime picture in American history.”

But like the cherry tree legend, little hard evidence exists that this story actually happened. The first version, again, came from Weems, who wrote about it initially in 1804 and later included it in …read more