The Early Years
The year was 1833. Only 15 years after Illinois became one of the United States of America, a small town was incorporated from the trading center that had grown up around Fort Dearborn. Named after an Indian word meaning "wild onion," the town of Chicago had less than 350 residents, yet Chicago was already a small but thriving trading center. It is even at the beginning of Chicago that Oriental Lodge No. 33 has its roots.
In 1834, Mr. Buckner Stith Morris founded The Chicago Lyceum, Chicago's first Literary Society. In 1838, just one year after Chicago was reincorporated as a city, Buckner Morris became the second Mayor of Chicago. Morris Later became Brother Morris of Oriental Lodge No.33.
The country was moving west and Chicago experienced what could only be called explosive growth. In 1842, the first Masonic Lodge in Chicago was established as Lafayette Lodge No. 18. On June 13, 1843, Mr. P.T. McMahon was the very first Freemason initiated into a Chicago Lodge. Soon Lafayette had more members than she could handle. Chicago continued to grow and Masonry grew right along with it.
On August 8, 1845 the Grand Lodge of Illinois granted a Dispensation for the establishment of a new Lodge. Seven prominent Chicago Masons assembled the next night for the first meeting of Oriental Lodge No.33. William F. Walker, the Episcopalian rector of St. James Cathedral, served as the worshipful master; William B. Herrick served as Senior Warden; C.L. Schlatter served as Junior Warden. Other members present were J.V.Z. Blaney; S.W. Sherman; N.H. Davis and Hamilton Hough.
On October 12th of that same year Mr. George Ryan was initiated as Oriental's first Entered Apprentice. Oriental Lodge No. 33 finally received its Charter on October 9, 1845, just after Apollo No. 32 received theirs. M.W. Bro. William F. Walker who was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois had the honor of granting Oriental her charter and taking his place as her first Worshipful Master. On December 20th, the brethren of Oriental Lodge elected James Van Zandt Blaney as its second worshipful Master. Blaney in addition to being a Mason was also a founder of the Chicago Board of Education and one of the founders of Rush Medical College, an institution that is known today as one of the finest teaching hospitals in the nation. He was also one of the pioneers in medical pathology and was the first to develop a test to detect strychnine in human tissue.
Oriental prospered from its beginning and in 1847, Apollo Lodge merged with Oriental Lodge. That same year, All the members of Apollo Lodge No. 32 demitted from their lodge and petitioned Oriental. The reasons why are shrouded in mystery, but it may have something to do with a scandal that rocked Oriental Lodge in that year. At that time the Abolitionist movement was beginning to gather steam in the northern states, and a lodge from downstate accused Oriental Lodge of "initiating a Negro." And allowing the men of mixed race to visit the lodge. While the former charge was denied by the lodge (though only on the basis of fact), they did allow a man of mixed race from Louisiana to visit the lodge. The members felt at the time that the man came to them a fully qualified Master Mason and it was not their obligation to turn him away, so he was welcomed into the lodge. This may have been the beginnings of Oriental's tradition of encouraging diversity in the lodge. Oriental was later found innocent of any wrongdoing by the Grand Lodge.
Among the prominent members Oriental gained was the famous and colorful "Long" John Wentworth, Chicago's Mayor from 1857-1858 and again from 1860-1862. It is thought that Chicago's colorful political history is so much more colorful because of Brother Wentworth. Called long John, because he stood at over 6'6" and weighed in at over 300 pounds. He was known to drink a quart of brandy every day for most of his life, and eat up to 30 different foods at each meal.
Long John was elected Mayor despite giving a speech that famed Illinois poet Carl Sandburg called "the shortest and most terrifying stump speech ever heard in Illinois." Standing outside the courthouse he shouted to a large and unruly crowd, "You damn fools…you can either vote for me…or you can go to hell!" Apparently the citizenry decided against hell and Wentworth was swept into office winning by a landslide.
By the time Wentworth took office, Chicago's population was tipping the scales at 100,000. It was during Wentworth's administration Chicago's Police force threatened to strike. Rather than negotiate, Wentworth publicly fired the entire police force, and for the nine and a half hours that Chicago was without law enforcement crime actually went down. Only two robberies were reported.
One his finest moments came when he introduced the visiting Prince of Wales to the city. As he and Edward Albert Saxe-Coburg (later Edward VII of England) stepped out onto the balcony of the Tremont Hotel, the Mayor made a most unforgettable introduction. "Boys, this is the Prince!" he shouted to the crowd below. Then, turning to the Prince he said with a toss of his head, "Prince, these are the boys!" In addition to serving two terms as Mayor, Bro. Wentworth was a founding member of the Republican Party, and served six terms in the US House of Representatives. He also published a daily newspaper the Chicago Democrat.
In 1867, Oriental Lodge erected its first Masonic Temple, at 122 LaSalle Street. It stood only a short time, however. On October 9th, 1871 the fire started in Mrs. O'Leary's barn that would consume much of the city of Chicago. Oriental Hall was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. It is a testament to the people of Chicago that they started rebuilding their city even before the fire was fully extinguished. Curiously, the records of Oriental Lodge indicate only that on October 27, 1871 a special meeting was held to determine the future of the Lodge and to find a new place to meet. It was decided that Oriental would meet at the Masonic Temple at West Randolph and Halsted Streets, an area that today is home to wholesale grocers and hip restaurants and clubs. Like the rest of the City, the members of Oriental rolled up their sleeves and got to work, and only a year later the new Oriental Hall at No.122 LaSalle Street was opened for Masonic meetings and work.
In 1875 His Majesty, Kalakaua,the King of Hawaii having heard of the splendor of Oriental's Third Degree, decided to pay the Lodge a visit. Brother Kalakana was met by Brothers Johnson, Burley and Stevens who escorted the King from his hotel to the Lodge. The King helped with the work, and then addressed the Lodge, along with other lumineries.