by Frank Pope, P.M.
(Transcribed by Susan Wineberg, M.A., A.B.D., WCHS Newsletter Editor)
The Grottoes of North America serve as Freemason social clubs. Zal Gaz (a made-up name which is supposed to sound Persian) is both a social club and a club which raises money for cerebral palsy and dental care for children with special needs. The Grotto No. 34 is located at 2070 W. Stadium Blvd and was founded in 1911.
In 1889, Leroy Fairchild and other masons from the Hamilton Lodge in Hamilton New York, banded together to form “Fairchild’s Deviltry Committee.” These guys visited other lodges, and had a good time with pranks and fun—a devil of a good time. Master Masons of other lodges thought this was a great idea, and in 1890 Fairchild and his group organized the ‘Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets” or commonly known as the Grottos, emphasizing fun and the brighter side of life.
The Grotto is not part of the Masonic ritual but you must be a Master Mason in good standing to belong. Fairchild and his group put together rituals based on the ancient mystic land of Persia, which is now Iran, where of course there are many grottoes or caves. Having fun wasn’t quite enough and it was felt there was a need for a more serious purpose to help others less fortunate. In June 1949, the Supreme Council—the governing body of the grottoes—formed a humanitarian foundation to fund cerebral palsy research for children. Over $2 million has been raised for this cause to date. In 1970, the Supreme Council added a program for Dentistry for Children with Special Needs. Cleft palate kids are treated for no charge. Over 30,000 children have been treated and much of this has been in Chicago and Cincinnati. Recently the Grottoes have voted to support the Special Olympics in North America.
Zal Gaz got its dispensation in 1910 and on September 27, 1911 received its charter with 100 local masons becoming charter members. Some of them have well known names, which are familiar because there are streets, parks, businesses etc bearing their names: Abbott, Breakey, Dolph, Heusel, Hutchins, Morton, Nickels (Nickels Arcade—our first monarch in 1911), Traver, Wilkinson and Wuerth. Other names involved with Zal Gaz are Allmendinger, Bonisteel, Doty, Ellsworth, Hiscock, Lutz, Frisinger, Goddard, and former President Gerald R. Ford! The first home of Zal Gaz was in rented rooms on the second floor of an old wooden building at the SW corner of Main and Washington, now occupied by the Old Kresge Bldg (Mongolian Barbecue).
In 1918, the Grotto moved to 111 ½ W. Huron St., where it remained for 32 years. Larger quarters were eventually found in the Wedemeyer Building at 213 1/2 N. Fourth Ave. But we always dreamed of having our own building and a permanent home.
The dream became a reality when Gottlob Schumacher and his wife Caroline donated land at 2070 W. Stadium Blvd., with no strings attached except that the Grotto Club be built there. Funds were available from the funds established at the Temple for special projects. A mortgage was obtained and the current building on Stadium Boulevard was built almost entirely by its own members (we don’t do sacrifices or other strange things there!). It is now named the Schumacher Building in memory of the donor of the land. We moved in there in 1958.
A women’s group—the Daughters of Mocannah—was established. They were chartered in April 1921. Sadly, after 79 years of existence, the daughters had to surrender their charter in 2001 due to lack of members. The late Emma Sands was the one Supreme Officer. During World War II, the group raised over $40,000 for war bonds. The Drum and Bugle Corps was started in 1946 and the Clown Unit has had a resurgence lately. The Grotto used to have circuses—they started in 1939 and lasted until 1945, and many were held in the Masonic Temple downtown. We owned a steam calliope that we played but we had to convert to compressed air when we couldn’t afford a steam tender.
The Grotto continues to support “good fellowship” which is what we are really all about.
Frank P. Pope, dressed appropriately in elaborate fez, spoke on the “Zal Gaz Grotto.” He was a Past Master of Golden Rule Lodge and past Secretary of Zal Gaz. This historical account was presented at:
MASONS OF WASHTENAW COUNTY
Bentley Historical Library
The University of Michigan
October 20, 2002