Like many other forgotten activities of so long ago, the Masonic or Master’s Ball (along with the glamoured events of other Organizations) has found itself placed firmly in the collective rear-view mirror. With the exception of a few notable hold outs- it seems as if Masonic and other Fraternity’s, groups, and society in general is no longer in favor of a night out on the town…. even where dances and balls still exist, they are not nearly as common, accessible, or popular as they once were.
It seems as if these hold outs from a by-gone era are indeed gone, and can only be spied upon through the occasional peephole to the past that is often accidentally found behind bricked up doorways and the water damaged plaster walls of some old building. Here, we find the remnants of what used to be, and through the musty perfume of many decades can still imagine gilded figures gliding across parquet tiled floors, under chandeliers and then off into the blackness from whence they came. Gone- forever lost and only found in the imagination.
Almost as certainly as our Ritual Work has taken detours bent on accessibility and ease of use; so to have the many rituals of Fraternity and society. Once upon a time, to get dressed up and head out for an evening of music, drink and dance was something looked forward to. And this was commonplace with those in the middle class as well as the populace of the “upper crust”. Although many claim that T.V. and other distractions has been the culprit for the demise of what once was a solid social structure, it may very well be that a collection of things have added into the reasons why Saturday night is just another night.
A visit to the the Mason’s Lady provided a quick descriptive of what might have been experienced in the past, and what this current Worshipful Master and his Lady were to plan as a Master’s Ball in the present! Perhaps the only other mentions of such events in the Freemasonry of today (and a couple of places that I place tremendous faith in) are DeMolay, Rainbow Girls and Job’s Daughters. Are your kids members? If not, please consider and encourage them to join! These are tremendous Organizations for our youth.
If any are to be the ones will not only continue our current traditions but also attempt to resurrect older and perhaps forgotten ones, it can only be our Masonic children and these venerable Organizations to which they belong. Indeed, the youth of today, while IN their youth, are exposed to what Masonry USED to be long. Long form Ritual Work, proper attire while in Temple, and the ability to plan and execute wonderful social engagements.
From the Montana Standard, dated today, Renata Birkenbuel provides all of us a glimpse into the societal practices and norms that existed not so long ago in Butte, MT. I am going to suggest that the following story is NOT unique to Butte, or even to Montana. It is the story of ALL of us, Masonic or NOT! My friends, society used to interact as a commonality and these formal events were part of the cement which held that society together. Such bonding, whether it is accomplished in evening attire or not, is a crucial and dying element of not only our culture at large, but certainly within the Fraternity. I might suggest taking the Mason’s Lady’s advice, and reversing this trend by hosting your own Masonic Ball.
The location or even grandeur of the even is not as important as the event itself, and the lasting effects which one will have on your Lodge and all who might be involved or surrounding. I will wager that should you host such an event, the effects will be immediately apparent and positive. Let’s take a page from history and rekindle this fading tradition!
Birkenbuel’s story follows here:
There was a time when folks danced outside the home in swanky Butte ballrooms — way before Nintendo Wii dance video games kept them in their living rooms and out of the public eye.
Three forgotten spaces are only a few of ballrooms past that now sit empty, like dusty interior ruins that few generations have seen.
Once a go-to ballroom for the middle-aged and devoted members, the Pioneer Ballroom above Headframe Spirits, 21 S. Montana St., hosted regular dances for members of the Butte Pioneers Club.
Across the street, the Elks Lodge, No. 240 at 206 W. Galena, boasts a once-glorious ballroom upstairs with 15 stuffed elk heads adorning the walls and at least four built-in thrones equally spaced along the member chairs splashed up flush to the walls.
Elks members danced, held ceremonies and the exalted rulers sat at the thrones, holding court over their membership during rituals, ceremonies and dances.
“We don’t use the second floor and third floor anymore,” said 50-year member Frank Snyder, volunteer manager of the entire Elks building with wife Scharlene. Both are past exalted rulers, as is son, building volunteer Marvin Snyder.
Sparingly used now as membership has steeply declined in recent years, the ballroom may be used for Civil Air Patrol drills, said Frank Snyder. The sprawling three-story building was built in 1924 and has 2,240 square feet of space on the second floor alone. It’s too expensive now for low membership to heat the top floors, he said.
The Mother Lode Theatre, built in 1923 at 316 W. Park St., now uses its expansive old ballroom upstairs for storing myriad theatrical equipment and materials, scattered willy-nilly across the dance floor. A large throne for the adjacent Masonic Lodge is built into one end and tall corners show water damage and disrepair.
Historian Richard Gibson said the Masonic Temple annex to the immediate east of the Mother Lode was built in 1901. The Masons used the ballroom, he said, until about 1930, when the space was rented as a movie theater.
Like so many other fraternal organizations, the Masons struggle for membership, as fewer modern young families join due to competing activities.
Still, it’s easy to imagine members floating past, dancing to a live orchestra or band.
Like all the forgotten ballrooms, it seems as if ghosts of dances past simply got up and left. The Pioneer Club’s hand-painted maple floor still has connected rows of wall seats with old-time, built-in hat racks under the seats, panoramic photos of the huge 1950-era memberships on the walls, a stage in one corner and adjacent kitchens replete with cooking utensils and appliances.
Courtney and John McKee bought the Schumacher building in 2010 to open Headframe Spirits, but spirits of a different kind seem to lurk quietly upstairs, where Pioneer Club members, dressed to the nines, climbed stairs to dance and socialize evenings away until a few decades ago. An old newspaper clipping touted it as “Butte’s Premiere Dance Floor.”
“What a great opportunity to be the stewards of history — whatever we do, eventually we’ll do what we can to honor the spirit of the club,” said McKee. “There’s no reason to let it all decay.”
Such social clubs meant getting out of the house, catching a cable car and putting your best foot forward during Butte’s heyday of mining and bustling city life.
Now modern organizations like the Butte Idea Exchange and the Silver Bow Democrats hold occasional events in the Pioneer Club ballroom.
McKee envisions opening the space to yoga classes and dances — or whatever events the public demands. An upstairs railing overlooks the dance floor. Five turnbuckles and a wall on the first floor — where the distillery is now — hold up the moving 5,000 square-foot dance floor and absorb shock.
The McKees plan to install an elevator for easier access to the ballroom. But for now, they want to stay true to the original space as much as possible.
“Otherwise, we’ve had no changes,” she said. “Whatever I do with it, I want to do with respect to the history.”
Forgotten or not, the ballrooms evoke images of joyful days past when folks socialized face-to-face instead of online.
One can only imagine the gown-and-black tie attendees and lovely music wafting throughout the ballrooms, sitting demurely, waiting patiently for someone to fill their dance card.”