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The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, more commonly known as the Shriners, is a fraternal organization that has been referred to as a “playground for Masons.” The Order of the Mystic Shrine inducted its first two Master Masons on August 13, 1870, and the remaining eleven charter members on June 16, 1871. Arkansas has two chapters of the Shriners: Sahara Temple in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), founded on April 16, 1889, and chartered on June 23, 1890; and Scimitar Temple in Little Rock (Pulaski County), founded on December 19, 1904, and chartered on January 17, 1905.
At one time, to become a Shriner, a potential member had to complete three Masonic degrees and a series of tests to become a “Master Mason.” The aspiring Shriner then proceeded through the rituals of the Scottish or York rites (both Masonic organizations that confer degrees on their members) and received the Order of the Temple in the York Rite or attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite. As of 2014, Shriners in Arkansas are no longer required to be Masons to join the Sahara or Scrimitar Shrines. A man seeking admission submits an application to a membership committee, and members vote on whether to accept the application.
Shriners wear a red fez with a tassel. The motto of the order is “Strength and Fury.” The jewel of the order is a crescent pointing downward.
Pine Bluff’s Sahara Temple was organized on April 16, 1889, existing under dispensation until the June 23, 1890, meeting of the Imperial Council granted a charter that made the Sahara Temple the Mother Temple of Arkansas and the forty-ninth temple to take out a charter. Its jurisdiction included the entire state until 1904, when jurisdiction was divided with Al Amin Temple in Little Rock. It now holds concurrent jurisdiction in twenty-five counties and exclusive jurisdiction in twenty-three counties.
Sahara Temple held its meetings in the Masonic lodge at 2nd and Chester from 1889 to 1913 before moving into the mosque at 7th and Main. After outgrowing that facility as well, Sahara moved into a new mosque at Martin and Pine, dedicating the new temple on April 26, 1928. The Great Depression led the Sahara Temple to find less expensive quarters, moving 308 West 2nd Ave. on December 15, 1938. Sahara Temple moved to 9th and Main on October 11, 1972, due to growth and the need for additional parking. Sahara’s mosque has 16,000 square feet of floor space and parking for 200 automobiles. A 12,980-square-foot expansion that was started in September 1983 provided room for units, storage, activities, and events.
The Imperial Council recognized Sahara Temple for its work for the Shiners Hospital for Crippled Children. Sahara won the Sphinx for three consecutive years and earned the right to keep the trophy permanently. The trophy is now displayed at the National Archives of the Masonic Temples in Washington DC.
Little Rock’s Scimitar Temple was founded as Al Amin Temple on December 19, 1904, when sixty-six Sahara Shriners and five additional Nobles were granted consent to establish a sister temple in the capital city. In 1911, the Shrine bought the land at 21st and Main from the Knights of Pythias. Temple members bought bonds to finance construction costs; the cornerstone was laid on September 28, 1912.
In 1925, the Shrine purchased about 400 acres of land located south of Little Rock, near East End, fencing 300 acres and Pine Lake. With rock taken from Pinnacle Mountain and hauled by wagons and trucks to the property, they built a new country club featuring an eighteen-hole golf course. Businessmen bought bonds to supply funds for the Shrine Country Club, which served as one of Little Rock’s favorite entertainment destinations through 1937.
Following the 1929 stock market crash, the payment and principal interest due on the construction bonds became difficult to pay. In 1937, the Shrine relinquished both the country club and the property at 21st and Main under foreclosure proceedings. Meetings were moved to West 3rd Street, and Al Amin surrendered its charter on June 24, 1937; the Scimitar Temple received its dispensation immediately and was chartered on June 8, 1938, as the 159th Temple to take out a charter.
On September 10, 1939, the Pulaski County Chancery Court’s special chancellor Jerome H. Bowen ordered the temple sold. The Knights of Pythias bought the land, mosque, and personal property, but the property reverted back to the Shrine due to negotiations between the Knights and Shriners. The Shrine re-purchased the property, including the temple and an old adjacent building to the south. Meetings continued at 21st and Main until an arsonist destroyed the building in 1985.
In 1983, the Shrine purchased and cleared six acres at Scimitar Circle in Little Rock near Interstate 30. Construction started in 1984 on the $1.2 million temple, with the cornerstone laid in July 1986. An additional two acres purchased in 1988 include a parking lot, storage building, restroom facilities, pavilion, tables, and landscaping.
Membership and Activities
In 1994, Sahara Temple had 2,991 Shriners and Scimitar Temple had 6,500 Shriners, which marked high membership totals for both. In 2011, Sahara Shrine listed 673 members and Scimitar Shrine listed 1,207 members.
Arkansas Shriners host the Shrine Circus; march with band, drum, and bugle corps, and drive their funny cars and motorcycles in parades; and sell Vidalia onions. Scimitar Temple also operates a haunted house. Other activities include a father-daughter banquet, as well as occasional rodeos and golf tournaments.
More importantly, the fraternity helps juvenile burn victims as well as those with spinal and cleft palate deformities, primarily through the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Starting in 1922 in Shreveport, Louisiana, the Shriners Hospitals are now located in twenty-two locations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, providing relief to children from birth to eighteen years old at no cost to the family.
For additional information:
Sahara Temple A.A.O.N.M.S., 1987. Pine Bluff, AR: Sahara Temple, 1987.
Scimitar Shrine. http://www.scimitarshrine.com/ (accessed November 3, 2014).
Scimitar Temple A.A.O.N.M.S., Vol. 3, 1997. Little Rock: Scimitar Temple, 1997.
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 11/3/2014
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