What is the Grotto M.O.V.P.E.R.?

The Grotto was founded in the summer of 1889 by LeRoy Fairchild who, along with other members of Hamilton Lodge #120 in Hamilton, New York, met to organize and hold informal meetings for fun and good fellowship. At their meeting on September 10, 1889, they decided to call the group the “Fairchild Deviltry Committee” and restrict membership to Master Masons in good standing.

The idea of the Order proved to be attractive, and many Masons joined. In response to requests, other groups were formed in other areas, and on June 13, 1890 the former “Fairchild Deviltry Committee” duly established and formed the Supreme Council, Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. Its purpose was to add in greater measure to the Masonic fraternal spirit the charm of radiant cheerfulness and to maintain within the fraternity an impetus of royal good fellowship.

It is a social organization for Master Masons, and as such, all Master Masons are welcome to join. It encourages renewed interest in the Blue Lodges, though it makes no claim to be a part of Symbolic Craft Masonry. Members are distinguished by a black fez with a red tassel and a Mokanna head in the middle.

For a few years the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm had no official emblem to wear. Word got around that the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets were permitted to wear an emblem that set them apart from others and a black Fez head covering was selected with a Mokanna Head in the center, giving the name of the Grotto. Naturally, this attracted attention. The minutes of a February 26, 1903 stated meeting of Azim Grotto, Bronx, New York states: “Prophet Charles E. Lansing, Past Potent Monarch, after some preliminary remarks, descriptive thereto, presented to those present, a drawing in color of a headgear appropriate for the Order. The same was received with favor and by motion, regularly made and seconded and carried, it was unanimously decided to adopt and wear them on serious and other appropriate occasions.” In the minutes of October 29, 1903, it is recorded: “The Potent Monarch reported that the Fez worn by our members was, at the Annual Session of the Supreme Council help at Hamilton, New York on October 20, adopted as the official headgear for all Prophets of the Realm.”

Member’s Fez

Chelminar Grotto is located in Yakima, WA. It was chartered in 1921 and remains active today. This piece was a donation to the collection from a friend who found it at a flea market. It is an early Grotto fez, probably dating from the 1920’s. The name is rendered in gold colored bullion thread and in an Old English font. The Mokanna is metallic with enamel features. Notably, the eyes on the Mokanna are depicted more fully, looking up. The tassel is the traditional red color, but slightly shorter than those in use today.

Zafar Grotto is located in Williamsport, PA, and remains one the largest Grottoes in the country, currently claimed more than 350 members. This Grotto is well known for its string band and social activities, which are headquartered at the Rafaz Club. This fez was donated to the collection by a resident of the Masonic Villages of Elizabethtown after he discovered it in a bin of free items that was put out for the taking. The medallion in the middle is in pretty rough shape, but otherwise the fez remains in tact. We date it to the 1980’s.

As shown above, members wear a black fez with a red tassel. This fez is shows a fine example of the modern day fezzes that are being produced. This fez if from Delco Grotto is located in Broomall , PA. It was created in 2011.

This example is provided only as a point of refernece. Zuleika Grotto, of Buffalo, NY, is one of the oldest and most active in the Supreme Council. This fez exibits something commonly seen among fezzes – the emblem being removed. The emblem was probably made of metal and attached via brads. Someone unwittingly thought this was the most valuable part of the fez and removed. Many times, we’ll be sent images of fezzes missing the emblems, as well meaning folks (looking to make a quick buck) have removed the emblem in hopes of making money on it. Long story short – leave your fez alone! It’s worth more as a complete package than with parts missing!

It seems that there can be countless variations for fezzes, especially amongst large national groups. Just as every person is an individual, there has always been a struggle to retain that individuality with headgear. This would explain why a person has a choice more than a half dozen different versions of the basic Grotto fez. These variations usually include embroidery, rhinestones, metallic pieces, bullion, and more. Therefore, while all the fezzes maintain the standard, each person tends to find a way to make his a bit different from the next guy. This also means more variations to track down for the fez collector!

This piece hails from Yusef Khan Grotto, located in Akron, Ohio. Yusef Khan is one of the largest Grottoes in the country, with more than 300 members on the books. This piece does an excellent job of showing a couple of variations in design. First, the central Mokanna figure is an embroidered patch. It was then surrounded by rhinestones to bring more attention to the design. Finally, it has a brim title which reads “Greeters” in rhinestones. Obviously the original owner was part of the Greeters Unit at Yusef Khan and took his Grotto duties pretty seriously.

A gift to the musuem from a Grotto Prophet in New York, this piece shows some distinct features of older Grotto fezzes. Coming from Long-i (now Gotham) Grotto, in New York City, this fez probably dates from the 1920’s or 30’s. The tassel is very short and shows some wear around the knot. The emblem is embroidered with strings placed over the face to give the appearance of a veil, in reference to the name of the organization. No sweatband is present and the fez is fairly short, helping us place its age to the early 20th Century.

Yedz Black Grotto MOVPER Fez

A recurring theme in the Grotto section, this fez was given to the museum as a gift. Yedz Grotto is no longer existent, but it formerly met in Balitmore, MD. This fez is typical of a later Grotto piece, with a basic design and Mokanna in the middle. The only noteworthy difference is the font in which the name is rendered, as it is silghtly more serifed than in other versions.

There isn’t much special about this fez, except that the unit from which it originates. Al-Sirat Grotto, of Cleveland, OH, was famous for its marching unit, called “The Big Six.” This unit was unique in that only men who were above 6 feet tall, and over a certain weight, were allowed to join. They marched in enormous shako hats, carrying heft fire axes. We can imagine that they made quite the spectacle doing down the street!

Currently, the costumes and supplies for the Big Six are owned by Ubar Grotto, of Central Pennsylvania. Occasionally they get used for ceremonial or other purposes.

While this fez may not seem like anything special, that is far from the case. While looking like a basic Grotto fez, this hat gains its special meaning from the name of the Grotto it sports – Mokanna. If you were to try to look up Mokanna Grotto in the current list of Grottoes as provided by the Supreme Council, you’d find it missing. This isn’t altogether an uncommon occurrence, as several local bodies have closed over the years. But, if you check out the Supreme Council Code Book, you come across something very interesting. On page 60 of the Code Book you’ll find section 18.2 entitled “Mokanna Grotto.” It reads:

The “Mother Grotto” located in Hamilton, New York, has given custody of its Charter to the Supreme Council. This Charter has monumental historical and sentimental value to all Grottoes and will be placed in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. The elected officers of the Supreme Council will be the defacto officers of Mokanna Grotto. Mokanna Grotto shall be opened and closed with the opening and closing of each annual Supreme Council session. Current members of Mokanna Grotto shall remain members for life and are excused from any future dues payments and will annually be issued a dues card, which dues card will have the same force and limitations provided for in Section 18.10. (Hist. Ref. Proceedings 2006)

Simply put, Mokanna Grotto was the name that the first Grotto chose. It closed its doors in 2006, surrendering its charter to the Supreme Council, which it uses to symbolically open and close Mokanna Grotto once a year. This fez was owned by a member of Mokanna Grotto before this change took place. We date it to approximately the 1960’s, based upon the bullion and enameling.

Ubar Grotto is one of the newest constituent bodies operating under the Grotto Supreme Council. Early in its formation, the members wanted to try something different, so they commissioned a different kind of Grotto fez to be produced by Fez-o-rama. The product of this experiment was a low profile fez, made of black velvet, with the traditional Grotto design. As shown, the fez is remarkably similar to the regular Grotto fezzes, but the slight variations that were produced (notably the size) caused the Supreme Council to rule that the fez did not meet the conformity standards that they wanted to enforce. So, the group went back to the drawing board, with Fez-o-rama yet again at the helm. After increaseding the height of the fez, the model was approved for use. Later, the Supreme Council changed its rules so that only Ubar Grotto could use this style of fez.

Past Monarch’s Fez

Just like the Shrine, the early members of the Grotto were fascinated by encrusting their fezzes with as many rhinestones as possible. This fez denotes a step in the hierarchy of the organization. It would have been worn by a Past Monarch, meaning somone who had served as president of the local group. It can be traced to Aut-Mori Grotto, located in Youngstown, Ohio. This is an especially nice piece thanks to the bullion used to work the design and the large number of rhinestones set into the central figure (even his cheeks have rhinestones to make them look red!) Another important feature is that the figure in the middle is actually part of a gilt plate. Newer Past Monarch fezzes usually have an embroidered figure in the middle instead. Our best estimates place this fez in the early 20th Century – probably the 20’s or the 30’s.

Avalon Grotto is no longer open, but it formerly met in South Bend, IN.

This Past Monarch’s fez displays another variation in design on an early piece. The emblem is now made of plastic and bullion, but with a very inhuman face. The plastic is semi-brittle, due to age. The name of the Grotto that the owner was a member of is on the bottom, along with a patch saying “Imps.” This probably means the owner was a part of a unit within the Grotto, called the Imps.

There is much wear to the brim, with green patina being found on the bullion. The fez was probably made in the 50’s or 60’s.

This fez hails from Singara Grotto, located in Sandusky, Ohio. As of 2011 they had about 130 members and were still quite active in that community. This fez obviously belonged to the Monarch who presided in 1976 and was well worn, as the gold trim near the brim has tarnished from wear. Otherwise, the fez is in great shape and glistens just as it would have the day it was presented!

The fez is a standard Ubar Grotto fez with the addition of a purple tassel and title bar, denoting a Monarch / Past Monarch rank. The title bar was affixed using pins on the fez and sewn in eye hooks on the fabric of the title. The title bars are passed down from officer to office. While this fez remains in the collection, the title bar is still in use by the Grotto today.

Upon completion of his term as Monarch, the Curator of the museum was presented with this high quality, Past Monarch’s fez. It was created in 2012 by D. Turin Company, based in Florida. You can see that it trends more towards the traditional Grotto style fezzes. It is well encrusted with rhinestones and is set off with bead work. This piece is like a work of art!

Daughters of Mokanna

The Daughters of Mokanna is the ladies auxiliary to the Grotto. The order was founded in 1919. Unlike many other Masonic subdivisions, the membership of the Daughters seems to be falling rapidly: there were only 4,822 members in 1994, a drop of over 1,000 since 1988, and there were about 8,000 in the late 1960s. Today there are less than a dozen local bodies in operation. The nomenclature within the Daughters needs comment: The local groups are called “Caldrons,” the national organization is the “Supreme Caldron,” and the chief national officer is the “Supreme Mighty Chosen One.” Their good works are directed at victims of cerebral palsy and at dentistry for the handicapped.

The basic Daughters fez is blue with a red tassel, with the name of the local group and its location embroidered in red thread. This fez comes from Yusef Khan Caldron No. 24 located in Tallmadge (formerly Akron), Ohio. Of special note was the label that was enclosed with this fez when it was purchased. The label contained the name and address of the presumed owner of the fez, one Mrs. Alfred Willgues, of Akron, Ohio.

This fez belongs to a past president of a local Caldron, known as “Mighty Chosen One.” A woman having served in that office would be entitled to wear this fez for the rest of “career” in the Daughters. This fez came with some great historical finds as well. It included a copy of the ritual of the order, as well as a list of all the subordinate Caldrons operating under the national Supreme body in 1980. The ritual book was labeled “Dorothy M. Alexander.” After a quick trip into the list of Caldrons, it was easy to find that Ms. Alexander served as Mighty Chosen One of Zuleika Caldron No. 62, located in Springbrook (Buffalo), NY, in 1978. It appears that Ms. Alexander was from Cheektowaga, NY. This is a great historical piece!

Here we have two more Daughters of Mokanna fezzes. These two hail from Omala Caldron located in San Antonia, TX. While the Caldrons appear to by dying off, Omala is still going strong and from the looks of it, has a great relationship with its host Grotto. Omala Grotto didn’t get started until the late 70’s, so this is even more unusual. Both of these pieces belonged to the same woman, who was obviously a Past Mighty Chosen One.

The Supreme Caldron (national ruling body) of the Daughters of Mokanna were very kind in donating the next four pieces to the museum in an effort to preserve their history and tell their story. We are very thankful for the kind offering and are pleased to have established a positive relationship with the organization. A letter was included with the fezzes expalining their use in an official capacity. We’ve included the language for each fez, in italics.

“When a lady chooses to become a member of the Daughters of Mokanna, at her initiation she receives a blue fez with a red tassel. This usually includeds the name of the Caldron she has joined. Some of them may have the emblem in the center but lately we have not used the emblem.”

This fez comes from the former Nazir Caldron, located in Canton, Ohio. It dates from the second half of the 20th Century.

“If a daughter chooses to go through the elected lin in a subordinate Caldron, she becomes Mighty Chosen One. During her year as MCO she wears the burgundy fez with a gold tassel. This isusually the property of the Caldron and gets down from MCO to MCO.”

This fez is a rare piece indeed, as a significantly smaller number of Mighty Chosen One fezzes were created, as they were passed down. The emblem and name are embroidered on the fez, with the sunburst around the emblem being yellow (as opposed to the purple of a Past Mighty Chosen One.) The tassel is held in place by a yellow string, placed a bit father back on the fez than is usually seen. Tri-Po-Bed Calrdon was located in Poughkeepsie, New York. This fez was probably made between 1960 and 1990.

“After her term as MCO she then becomes a Past Mighty Chosen One or PMCO. At this time she receives a white fez with a purple tassel. Should she be asked to serve as a Supreme Officer, she will trade her purple tassel for a gold one. At the end of that year, she goes back to the purple tassel.”

Also coming from Nazir Caldron, this Past Mighty Chosen One’s fez reflects the designs seen in previous entries. It was probably created in the 1970’s or 1980’s.

“Should a daughter be elected to go through the Supreme Caldron line, she will wear the white fez (PMCO) with a gold tassel until she is installed as Supreme Mighty Chosen One or SMCO. At this time she receives a purple fez with a black tassel. It will include the emblem of the Daughters of Mokanna and the year she served as SMCO. This fez is hers to keep and wear forever.”

The picture presented here is an old Supreme Mighty Chosen One / Past Supreme Might Chosen One fez. The letter states:

“They used to be gold with a black tassel. But, several years ago they switched to the purple because they couldn’t get any of the gold felt.”

At the time the donation was made, no purple fezzes were available, so a gold one was kindly sent. The color change in the fezzes took place sometime between the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

This piece is very rare, being the only one we’ve seen; we’ve never seen one at auction. The fez is gold, bordering on orange, with a black tassel, and the logo of the Daughters of Mokanna. Based on construction, it probably dates from the 1950’s to 1970’s.

Grotto Ladies Auxiliary

This fez started as a mystery to the museum. We first thought it might relate to Chinar Grotto in Houston, Texas, but were unable to make the connection. There are no symbols  on the item to establish the relationship beyond the name. However, we were recently contacted by Sandra Fleming of Houston, Texas. She is in possession of a similar fez that belonged to her mother. Her father was a member of Chinar Grotto and her mother was involved in the ladies auxiliary. A similar fez was then found in the collection of Erepa Grotto in Erie, PA. Their fez was of similar style and construction and was used for their ladies auxiliary – the “Grotto-ettes.” It is therefore presumed that Chinar had a similar group for the ladies of members.

It is the smallest fez in the entire collection, measuring only 3 inches from top to bottom. It is made of white wool and bears the name Chinar in rhinestones backed by blue outlines. It has a yellow tassel with a jeweled holder. The construction of this fez is the most interesting part, as it was obviously made as a full size fez, but has been folded down into itself and then stitched into place to make it very short.

Purchased at auction, this fez is similar in construction to the one above. It is a regular sized fez that has been sewn down to a smaller size. The tassel is red and the standard length. As it is so much alike the other Grotto Ladies Auxiliary fez, and from the lettering on the piece, we believe that it comes from the Abadan Grotto Ladies Auxiliary, which would have been located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Sadly, this Grotto no longer exists.

While this fez does not specifically state that it comes from a Grotto Ladies Auxiliary, we believe that it may be due to the size and construction method. Kallipolis Grotto was stationed in Washington, D.C., and was a prominent local chapter of the Grotto for years. The fez is black, with yellow embroiled lettering. Like the other pieces, the fez is pressed down into the middle and sewn, creating a lower profile look. The tassel is yellow. There is a sweatband inside the piece, but it is detaching. This hat probably date from the 1960’s or 1970’s.

You can’t help but love the short style Grotto ladies auxiliary fezzes. This one, from the Grotto-ettes of Miami, Florida, continues the same short size tradition of the others. It is of black material, that has been folded down and sewn into place. The fez states that it belonged to a Past President and has a purple tassel. We are guessing that the normal members of the Grotto-ettes wore fezzes of this style with red tassels, just like Prophets of the Grotto. Then, when someone served as president, they were upgraded to a purple tassel in imitation of the men’s group.  This fez probably dates from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.