In August, 1870, William J. Florence, a prominent American actor traveling in Europe, was enthralled by a magnificent pageant presented by the Council from Egypt in Marseilles, France. Mr. Florence related this experience to his personal friends, Dr. Walter M. Fleming, in New York. Dr. Fleming was a noted Masonic scholar, and he utilized this ability plus his knowledge of Arabian and Egyptian literature to contrive a ritual. This brilliant physician spaced mystery and enchantment through the manuscript and submitting it to actor Florence and eleven other distinguished men, explained it was his desire to form a order that would act to relax and appeal to the humoresque portion of human nature after being subjected to the continuous serious presentation of the Knight Templar Orders and Scottish Rite Degrees.
These thirteen founders of what was to be known as “The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” decided the prerequisite to membership would be members of the Masonic Order who has attained the status of Knight Templar and/or Thirty-Second degree Scottish Rite Masons. The first “Temple” was founded in New York on September 26, 1872, and named “Mecca.” The Shrine enjoyed rapid growth. The National Order was founded June 6, 1876.
On June 25, 1888 Rameses Temple in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was chartered and the Order became the “Shrine of North America.” the name “Imperial” was adopted to signify the International Order.
In Kentucky, Temples were chartered as follows: Kosair in Louisville in 1886; El Hasa in Ashland in 1906; Oleika in Lexington in 1908; Rizpah in Madisonville in 1909. the Shrine held annual conventions, and for the first fifth years fun and fellowship were the only net results.
With the passing of World War 1, the men who composed the membership of the Shrine geared their activities toward deeds of more exalted usefulness. At the Imperial Council Session held in Portland, Oregon, in June 1920, the Shrine “found its soul.” The representatives authorized the formation of the “Shriners’ Hospitals for Crippled Children” to be supported by an annual assessment of each Noble. The first Hospitals for the treatment of orthopedically handicapped children was opened by the Shrine at Shreveport, Louisiana, on September 16, 1922. The Lexington, Kentucky, unit was opened November 1, 1926. The Shrine now operates 19 Orthopedic Hospitals and three Burn Institutes, the first of which was opened in Galveston, Texas, on March 20, 1966. Just as the Shrine has made America conscious of the crippled child, it is now performing the same humanitarian act in the fields of treatment and research of burned children.
The tremendous financial load of the Shriners Orthopedic and Burns programs of today must necessarily be supplemented by income in addition to the assessment of each Shriner. Football games, circuses, paper sales and other projects are conducted annually for this great charitable undertaking. Wills, bequests and the “Living Trust” are earnestly solicited from all friends of mankind.
The Shriners Hospitals for Children have zealously earned and cautiously protect the proud title of “THE WORLD’S GREATEST PHILANTHROPY.”