Tuesday, December 12, 2017

John Wayne's Last Great Honor

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara on the set of Big Jake in 1971
"Sure I wave the American flag.  
Do you know a better flag to wave?" 

~John Wayne
Marion McDaniel Lodge No. 56, Arizona

I was shopping in a local antique store recently, when I ran across something interesting.  Two large bronze medallions featuring John Wayne framed in two dark wood frames against a dark brown felt backing.  My wife made it pretty clear she thought they were ugly and they certainly wouldn't be gracing the walls of the living room.  I had to get them anyway.  The antique store didn't know what they were, but I sure did.  I had told the story about these "medallions" in my first book Famous American Freemasons.  In fact, the chapter on John Wayne was the first chapter I wrote in that book.  You see, these aren't just "medallions."  Let me tell you the story . . .

In 1976, John Wayne began filming the movie The Shootist.  It is a film about an aging gunfighter, J.B. Books, who learns from the local physician, played by Jimmy Stewart, that he is dying of cancer.  He decides that rather than die in bed, he was going out in a blaze of glory--and he was going to take a few really bad dudes with him.  And what a great cast!  Jimmy Stewart.  Lauren Bacall.  Harry Morgan.  Ronnie Howard.  Richard Boone.  John Carradine. 

The irony of that script was that John Wayne really was dying of cancer.  Although he didn't know it at the time, The Shootist would be the Duke's last movie.  His health was failing when he took the role, and it got worse as they filmed.  It was uncertain he would be able to finish it.  He was gone off the set for long periods of time . . . first one week, and then two.  But finishing that film was important to the Duke and he was determined to do so.  And with the help of the director and the assistance of the cast, he did just that.  Despite terminal stomach cancer, he finished what many believe to be one of his best screen roles.

By 1979, Hollywood knew their favorite leading man was about out of time.  A delegation of some of the best actors in Hollywood, including John Wayne's favorite leading lady, Maureen O'Hara, flew to Washington, D.C. and testified before Congress that they felt John Wayne should be honored for his contributions to America.  Congress agreed and awarded John Wayne the Congressional Gold Medal on his 72nd birthday on May 26, 1979.  The Congressional Gold Medal featured John Wayne on horseback on one side, and his portrait on the other accompanied by the words that Maureen O'Hara suggested before Congress--the United States Mint liked the simplicity of her words and used them.  Her words said everything that needed to be said.  The medal designed for John Wayne states simply "John Wayne - American."

Great story, huh?

They look a little better the way I framed them . . .
I was happy to stumble on a set of these bronze castings of John Wayne's Congressional Gold Medal finally.  They do look dramatically different since I re-framed them than they did when Valerie and I first saw them.  And it doesn't happen very often, but Valerie was wrong--these are hanging on the living room wall.  She hung them there! 

~Todd E. Creason

originally published 5/26/15

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Taking The Train

I attended a three day conference in Chicago last week.  It's about a three hour drive for me to Chicago.  One thing I hate is driving in Chicago.  Usually by the time I get to my hotel, I'm ticked off, stressed out, and exhausted.  I'd been dreading that drive for a couple weeks.  Then somebody gave me a great idea, and I immediately realized I was going to do it.  I took the train to Chicago and back.  Last time I rode the train I was about five years old and my family rode the train to Baltimore.  The station is a couple blocks from where I work in Champaign, IL.  It seemed like a perfect solution.

And it was the perfect solution.  I got to the station a few minutes before boarding.  There were no security hassles, boarding was very organized and the train was on time.  It wasn't like the airport.  The travelers on the train weren't all  anxious and worried and pushing to get to the front of the line like you get when you're boarding a plane.  What is usually a three hour drive for me, was a two hour train ride--for about $22.  I stepped off the train at Union Station, got a cab, and was checked into my hotel within twenty minutes.

It was the same thing going home.  Relaxed and easy.  Ten minute cab ride to Union Station, boarded the train, and was on my way.  No stress.  The train was delayed a few times by northward bound freight trains on the way home, but I wasn't in a hurry, so I didn't really mind.  It was early in the day, so I found the dining car, got a cup of coffee and sat at the booth and watched the countryside roll past the windows.

As I sat there, I couldn't help but think about all those old movies I love to watch, and how important a role trains played in moving people and freight back in earlier times.  How the pace of life is so much faster now than it was then.  In fact, it's faster now than it was even twenty years ago.  We're always in such a huge rush to get to the next thing.  We can't seem to spare a moment to appreciate where we are.  Even on the train, I noticed a few people glued to their phones.  But I also noticed strangers doing something you never see many other places these days--I saw them visiting with each other.  Talking about the trip they were going on or had been on.  Talking about shopping in Chicago, or visiting a nephew at the University of Illinois.  You just don't see that much anymore.  Strangers visiting--we don't seem to have a problem being friendly and sharing with each other on social media, but we don't like real people face-to-face as much.

Technology is a great thing, but I sometimes think if comes at a tremendous price.  Sometimes it's nice to just turn it off, and enjoy the journey.

~Todd E. Creason

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Michael R. Poll Lecture

I ran across this last night, and I thought I'd share it with you. This is an excellent lecture by Michael R. Poll. Take some time to enjoy it!


 ~Todd E. Creason

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Knowing When To Speak, And When To Be Silent

"The difference between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say, a wise man knows whether or not to say it."

~Unknown

I must tell you.  I'm saddened by what social media has become, and I'm very disappointed on a regular basis by the conduct of Freemasons on social media.  I wrote a piece about it recently on the Midnight Freemasons.  Over the weekend, I saw the Odd Fellows had picked up on what I'd said, and covered the subject of Odd Fellows on social media as well.

It's a problem without a doubt.

When I first got involved in writing about Freemasonry back in about 2006 or so, there wasn't much of a Freemasonry presence on the internet--there were a few of us out there, but not many.  But in those small groups, there was a meaningful exchange of ideas and resources, I made innumerable contacts, and in a few closed forums, we had marvelous discussions about Freemasonry.

It's become something quite different today.  If you want to know why Freemasonry has such a difficult time attracting new members, you don't have to look very far--just look at how Freemasons behave on social media these days.  It is something that has been on my mind a lot lately.

Last week, on the Facebook page of one of our Fraternity's most notable researchers, I saw a Freemason viciously attack another Freemason.  The man attacked is an expert in one field in particular, and he was attacked on the very topic he is a leading expert on!  Seriously, if you have a question on this particular topic, this is the "go to guy" in our Fraternity.  It went on and on, one attack after another from this same hostile Brother, until our researcher finally came back to Facebook and saw what was going on in his absence and put an immediate stop to it.  He basically said if this Brother said one more word he'd take down the entire post and possibly end his ability to post on his page.  I applaud his handling of that situation once he became aware of it.

Sadly, examples like that are all too common these days.  I constantly see well-known Freemasons posting controversial topics for the purpose of creating conflict--and then they sit back and watch.  Yup, Freemasons are out there trolling other Freemasons.  Now they'll tell you they're "moderating a discussion" or "bringing awareness to an important topic."  That's nonsense and they know it.  What they're doing is creating a forum for conflict, dissension, and incivility.  And that's exactly what it becomes more often than not.

I stumbled into one of those recently.  I knew better, but I thought I could make a good point in the discussion.  As a historian I actually know stuff--facts and such.  I did make an excellent point and then had my opinion called "childish and naive."  But that's not an insult according to the Freemason that said it, and he would know as he was quick to point out, because he is a Grand Lodge web moderator and member of the Leadership Committee (I won't say which jurisdiction).  Yes, I know.  The irony.  And we wonder why we have these social media issues when the moderators and leaders become part of the problem--the ones that are supposed to be the adults in the room.

I've not always been innocent in all of this.  I have opinions, and until recently, I believed I had a right to express them.  I don't do it to start arguments, I do it because I enjoy discussing different points of view--and I do enjoy debate.  Up until a few years ago, we had some really good discussion on *gasp* politics and world events--they were polite, they were civil, and nobody left the discussion angry.  Those days are over.  You can't debate on social media, and it's pointless to try.  If you post a picture of an American flag these days you're probably going to draw fire. 

In the last several weeks, I've been reevaluating how I use social media, and I've taken a step back.  I tried to think of one thing I've seen on social media that has had any meaning to me, or one discussion I've had on Facebook in recent memory that I gained anything from (or felt good about afterwards)--I was unable to find a single example in recent history.  I unfollowed, unfriended, and blocked about 300 people from my Facebook page--well known spewers of vitriol.  Sadly, many were Freemasons.

I'm using social media sparingly--I expect to use it even more sparingly going forward.  No more trolls.  Not dealing with nasty comments on my homepage, and I'm not leaving any opinions anywhere else either. 

Social media has such tremendous power to do good--that was my experience in the very beginning.  Unfortunately, few are using it like that anymore.  I urge you to think about how you're using it.  Think of the things you say, the things you share, and how you're interacting with others--especially if you're a Freemason.  Think about your motives for posting a particular item--learn to moderate yourself.  We're supposed to be men of good character--leaders in our communities, mentors, and builders.

Too many of us are acting like children on the playground--and too many more of us aren't doing what we should do by stepping up and showing a little leadership by pulling them aside and offering wise counsel in regards to their public conduct. And we should be doing that, and I'm certainly going to be doing that going forward.  A few bad actors can do serious harm to the reputation of our time honored institution, and I'm afraid a few already have. 

~Todd E. Creason

*CORRECTION*  I had said in this piece that one of my opinions was called "childish and naive"   That was incorrect, my opinions were called "silly and naive."  I'd like to thank the person who pointed out this glaring inaccuracy for helping me make my point.  Using the terms "silly and naive" isn't any better or any more polite than using the terms "childish and naive."  My point was that it was unnecessary to use those terms at all.     
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