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The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, also commonly known as Shriners and abbreviated A.A.O.N.M.S., established in 1870, is an appendant body to Freemasonry. In 2010, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, as well as Shriners North America, changed its name to Shriners International, now covering nearly 200 temples (chapters) across North America, South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. The organization is best known for the Shriners Hospitals for Children it administers, and the red fezzes that members wear. The organization is headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Shriners International describes itself as a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. There are approximately 340,000 members from 195 temples (chapters) in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Mexico, the Republic of Panama, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Europe and Australia.
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In 1870, there were several thousand Masons in Manhattan, many of whom lunched at the Knickerbocker Cottage at a special table on the second floor. There, the idea of a new fraternity for Masons stressing fun and fellowship was discussed. Walter M. Fleming, M.D., and William J. Florence took the idea seriously enough to act upon it.
Florence, a world-renowned actor, while on tour in Marseille, was invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The entertainment was something in the nature of an elaborately staged musical comedy. At its conclusion, the guests became members of a secret society. Florence took copious notes and drawings at his initial viewing and on two other occasions, once in Algiers and once in Cairo. When he returned to New York in 1870, he showed his material to Fleming.
Fleming took the ideas supplied by Florence and converted them into what would become the "Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.)". Fleming created the ritual, emblem and costumes. Florence and Fleming were initiated August 13, 1870, and initiated 11 other men on June 16, 1871.
The group adopted a Middle Eastern theme and soon established Temples (though the term Temple has now generally been replaced by Shrine Auditorium or Shrine Center). The first Temple established was Mecca Temple (now known as Mecca Shriners), established at the New York City Masonic Hall on September 26, 1872. Fleming was the first Potentate.
In 1875, there were only 43 Shriners in the organization. In an effort to spur membership, at the June 6, 1876 meeting of Mecca Temple, the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America was created. Fleming was elected the first Imperial Potentate. After some other reworking, by 1878 there were 425 members in 13 temples in eight states, and by 1888, there were 7,210 members in 48 temples in the United States and Canada. By the Imperial Session held in Washington, D.C. in 1900, there were 55,000 members and 82 Temples. By 1938 there were about 340,000 members in the United States. That year Life published photographs of its rites for the first time. It described the Shriners as "among secret lodges the No. 1 in prestige, wealth and show", and stated that "[i]n the typical city, especially in the Middle West, the Shriners will include most of the prominent citizens."
Shriners often participate in local parades, sometimes as rather elaborate units: miniature vehicles in themes (all sports cars; all miniature 18-wheeler trucks; all fire engines, and so on), an "Oriental Band" dressed in cartoonish versions of Middle Eastern dress; pipe bands, drummers, motorcycle units, Drum and Bugle Corps, and even traditional brass bands.
Despite its theme, the Shrine is not connected to Arab culture or Islam. It is a men's fraternity rather than a religion or religious group. Its only religious requirement is indirect: all Shriners must be Masons, and petitioners to Freemasonry must profess a belief in a Supreme Being. To further minimize confusion with religion, the use of the words "temple" and "mosque" to describe Shriners' buildings has been replaced by "Shrine Center", although individual local chapters are still called temples.
Shriners count among their ranks presidents, senators, local business leaders, professional golfers, country music stars, astronauts and racecar drivers.
While there are plenty of activities for Shriners and their wives, there are two organizations tied to the Shrine that are for women only: The Ladies' Oriental Shrine and Daughters of the Nile. They both support the Shriners Hospitals and promote sociability, and membership in either organization is open to any woman 18 years of age and older who is related to a Shriner or Master Mason by birth, marriage, or adoption. The Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America was founded in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1903, and Daughters of the Nile was founded in 1913 in Seattle, Washington. That latter organization has locals called "Temples". There were ten of these in 1922. Among the famous members of the Daughters of the Nile was First Lady Florence Harding, wife of Warren G. Harding.
Some of the earliest Shrine Centers often chose a Moorish Revival style for their Temples. Architecturally notable Shriners Temples include the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, New York City Center, now used as a concert hall, Newark Symphony Hall, the Landmark Theater (formerly The Mosque) in Richmond, Virginia, the Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Helena Civic Center (Montana) (formerly the Algeria Shrine Temple), and the Fox Theatre (Atlanta, Georgia) which was jointly built between the Atlanta Shriners and William Fox.
The Shrine's charitable arm is the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of twenty-two hospitals in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In June 1920, the Imperial Council Session voted to establish a "Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children." The goal of this hospital was to treat orthopedic injuries, diseases, and birth defects in children. After lots of research and debate, the committee chosen to determine the site of the hospital decided there should be not just one hospital but a network of hospitals spread across North America. The first hospital was opened in 1922 in Shreveport, LA and by the end of the decade thirteen more hospitals were in operation. They now deal with orthopedic care, burn treatment, cleft lip and palate care and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. The rules for all of the Shriners Hospitals are simple and to the point: Any child can be admitted to the hospital if, in the opinion of the surgeons, the child can be treated and is under the age of 18. Until June 2012, all treatment offered at Shriner's Hospitals for Children was offered without any financial obligation to patients and their families. At that time, because the size of their endowment had decreased due to losses in the stock market, the Shriners started billing patient's insurance companies, but still offered free care to those that didn't have insurance. There is no requirement for religion, race, or relationship to a Shriner. Patients must be under the age of eighteen and treatable.
In 2008, Shriners Hospitals had a total budget of $826 million and in 2007 they approved 39,454 new patient applications, attended to the needs of 125,125 patients.
Most Shrine Temples support several parade units. These units are responsible for promoting a positive Shriner image to the public by participating in local parades. The parade units often include miniature cars powered by lawn mower engines.
An example of a Shrine parade unit is the Heart Shrine Clubs’ Original Fire Patrol of Effingham, Illinois. This unit operates miniature fire engines in honor of a hospital fire that took place in the 1940s in Effingham. They participate in most parades in a 100 mile radius of Effingham. Shriners in Dallas, Texas participate annually in the Twilight Parade at the Texas State Fair. Shriners in St. Louis have several parade motor units, including miniature cars styled after 1932 Ford coupes and 1970s-era Jeep CJ models, and a unit of miniature Indianapolis-styled race cars. Some of these are outfitted with high-performance, alcohol-fueled engines. The drivers' skills are demonstrated during parades with high-speed spinouts.
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The Shriners are committed to community service and have been instrumental in countless public projects throughout their domain.
The Shriners originally hosted a golf tournament in concert with singer/actor Justin Timberlake, titled the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a PGA Golf Tour golf tournament held in Las Vegas, NV. The relationship between Timberlake and the Shriners ended in 2012, due to the lack of previously agreed participation on Timberlake's part. In July 2012, The PGA TOUR and Shriners Hospitals for Children announced a five-year title sponsorship extension, carrying the commitment to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open through 2017, now titled The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and is still held in Las Vegas, NV.
Once a year, the fraternity meets for the Imperial Council Session in a major North American city. It is not uncommon for these conventions to have 20,000 participants or more, which generates significant revenue for the local economy.
Many Shrine Centers also hold a yearly Shrine Circus as a fundraiser.
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