From fezzes to secret rituals: a Field Guide to Shriners

Updated: April 30, 2007 – 10:51 am

20,000 brightly colored creatures flock to Downtown this weekend. Here’s how to decipher their habits.

Twenty thousand fez-sporting Shriners and their Ladies will invade Downtown this weekend.

The elite Shrine fraternity, which evolved from, and remains connected to, the mysterious and world-renowned Masons, will hold its 129th annual Imperial Council Session at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Ave S., Saturday-Thursday, July 5-10.

When not in session, Shriners will participate in two Downtown parades, perform various antics throughout the metro area and spend loads of cash on area lodging, food and entertainment.

It’s not just fun and games: while here, the Shriners will make a decision affecting local health-care: whether to keep open their local Shriners Hospital.

Still, by design, the Shriners have bizarre plumage and entertaining habits. In recognition of the first 13 Masons to join the Shrine order, here’s a 13-part field guide to Shrinedom, featuring information on everything from free Downtown events to the fez-wearers’ mysterious symbols and ways. When watching the 20,000-strong flock this weekend, keep it handy.

Downtown stuff

Shrine clowns, bagpipers, drum corps and other performing groups will brandish their talents Monday, July 7. There will be drum corps and foot patrols at the Minneapolis Convention Center, oriental bands at the Radisson Hotel Metrodome, 615 Washington Ave., and pipes and drums at 1 p.m. at DeLaSalle High School, 1 DeLaSalle Dr. Events are free.

The Shrine Marketplace at the convention center will offer exotic wares: Shrine pins, patches, fezzes, Masonic jewelry and more. It is open Sunday, July 6, noon-5 p.m.; Monday-Wednesday, July 7-9, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Thursday, July 10, 9 a.m.-noon.

For a complete schedule, check the local temple’s website,, click on "2003 Imperial Session."

Shriner structure

The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America (A.A.O.N.M.S.) is a fraternal organization of roughly 500,000 members who compose 191 Shrine temples throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Republic of Panama. Men from various backgrounds enjoy Shrine social occasions year-round -- parades, vacations, circuses, dances and sporting events.

The fraternity uses lofty terms in its organizational structure. Temples are governed by an elected board called the Divan and headed by the elected Potentate. The Imperial Grand Council governs the entire fraternity.

What’s up with the fez?

The group’s best-known symbol -- the red, thimble-looking hat with a long black tassel -- is derived from the city of Fez, Morocco, where it was first manufactured. Shriners don fezzes for all official functions as part of the fraternity’s Arabic theme.

Fezzes display the official Shrine emblem: a crescent known as "the jewel of the order" that bears the claws of a Royal Bengal Tiger on the sides, a sphinx head in the center and a star underneath. The motto "Robut et Furor" ("Strength and Fury") is written on the jewel, which hangs from a scimitar (a sword). The name of the local temple is often stitched above.

Why Minneapolis?

About five years ago, according to Shriner materials, Imperial Potentate Charles A. "Tad" Claypool picked Minneapolis as the convention site because of our "Midwestern values and hospitality." The Minneapolis Zuhrah Shriners, who meet at 2540 Park Ave. S., began preparing to host the session shortly after.

The Twin Cities also hosted the convention in 1908, 1917, 1934, 1957 and 1979. In 1908, the Romanesque-style Masonic Temple at 528 Hennepin Ave. S. was decorated for the convention. Today, it is the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Jerry Oliver, the deputy director general of the Imperial Council Session Committee, said he wishes the Masons still owned it.

Shriners: Super-Masons

New York physician Walter M. Fleming and actor Billy Florence, both Masons, created the Shrine fraternity in the late-19th century. According to Shrine legend, Florence chose the Araban theme after attending an Arab diplomat’s party in France. Party guests became members of a secret society after an ornate ceremony. Florence made note of the ceremony’s pageantry, and later worked with Fleming to create Shrine rituals, titles and costumes that followed suit. The founders thought giving the fraternity a bit of mystery would help draw new members.

In 1872, 13 Masons formed the first Shrine Temple, Mecca Shriners, in New York City. Only top-level Masons can become Shriners. (The order’s initials, A.A.O.N.M.S., can be rearranged into "A MASON.")

Famous Masons

Masons claim 13 signers of the Constitution and 14 U.S. presidents, beginning with George Washington (the last two are Harry S Truman and Gerald Ford). The Masons also claim politicians Davy Crockett and Winston Churchill, actors Clark Gable and John Wayne, pilot Charles Lindberg, former astronaut John Glenn, author Rudyard Kipling, surgeon Charles W. Mayo, composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and John Philip Sousa, and businessman J.C. Penny.

Shrine rituals

The internal workings of this private organization are exactly that -- private.

Shriners have been accused of being a cult, and many stories have circulated about Masons, accusing them of everything from murdering members who betray their oaths to orchestrating the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the late ’80s, Shriners were heavily scrutinized about the percentage of donations going towards their charitable work. Oliver feels the organization got a "bad rap"; however, the Shrine enacted a policy that, it said, prevents the public from being misled as to where fundraising dollars end up. Oliver said there’s "nothing funny" going on within the organization.

Oliver said the public is welcome to attend Shrine events at the Convention Center. If a man thinks he wants to join the group, Oliver insists he should speak with a Shriner.

"We’ll take care of him," he said.

God, but no women

Shriners must profess a belief in God -- the Jewish, Christian or Muslim God. They claim to affirm religious tolerance, patriotism, freedom, charity and integrity. The Shrine officially adopts Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. Shriners take an oath not to allow women into the group, in keeping with the group’s belief that same-sex groups are most productive.

A local health-care controversy

It’s not just fun and games. Regarded as the "heart and soul of the Shrine," Shriners Hospitals for Children is a charitable healthcare system consisting of 22 hospitals that offer orthopaedic, spinal cord and burn care to youth under 18. The hospitals operate in Canada, Mexico and the United States, including one in Minneapolis at 2025 E. River Pkwy.

The local hospital may close, depending on how Shriners vote at this convention. The hospital’s board of directors wants to emphasize research and teaching and reduce patient care. An alternative committee of Shriners and supporters want to keep the 80-year-old orthopaedic surgical center open.

Shriners hospitals charge patients and their parents nothing, and do not accept government funding or insurance dollars. More than 700,000 children have benefited, and the hospitals currently have about 188,000 active patients.

The 2003 budget for Shriners Hospitals internationally is $605 million. The money comes from gifts, bequests, an endowment fund, fund-raising events and an annual assessment paid by each Shriner.


Stonemasons and other craftsmen formed the world’s oldest fraternity, the Freemasonry, hundreds of years ago. Ancient tools serve as Masonic symbols to build men’s characters.


More than 3,000 Shriners will promenade from South 17th Street to South 9th Street along Hennepin Avenue for two three-hour parades Tuesday, July 8, 9:30 a.m., and Wednesday, July 9, 7:30 p.m. Expect clowns, funny little cars, marching bands, horses and men clad in Araban garb.

Shriner cash

When in town, the Shriners will be spending greenbacks that may have a direct link to Masonry. The two circles on the back of the dollar bill reflect the Great Seal of the United States, designed by Mason Benjamin Franklin, among others. The pyramid on the left features an all-seeing eye, an ancient deity symbol some say comes from Masonry.

The Shrine expects 20,000 Shriners and their families in the Twin Cities, bringing an estimated $21.5 million to the economy. Shriners have booked roughly 6,385 area hotel rooms, according to a council session official.

The call of the Shriner

The Shriners’ distinctive greeting "Es Selamu Aleikum!" means"Peace be with you!"