Gilpin students join Masons for “sweet” history lesson
By Patty Unruh
We all know that George Washington was “the father of our country.” But how much do we really know about him? For instance, how old was he when he had his teeth pulled? What was his middle name? And what color was his white horse? (That last question is a “freebie.”)
Fifth-grade students explored facts and legends about our first president when they joined members of the Mason’s Central Lodge No. 6 on February 27. The students got a memorable history lesson about Washington while they indulged their craving for tasty cherry pie. Everyone was grateful for pleasant weather, since the event had been postponed from its originally scheduled time the week before due to a snowstorm.
We can all learn better after a good meal, so the lesson was helped along with a picnic-style supper of sloppy joes, carrot sticks, pickles, chips, and soda. Of course, it wouldn’t be Washington’s birthday without the cherry pie and cherry pie rolls with whipped cream. All in attendance pronounced the food “fantastic!” Cindy Snyder, wife of Mason George Snyder, prepared the meat for the sloppy joes, and another member’s wife, “Atida,” baked nine cherry pies. Members of Job’s Daughters, an affiliate of the Eastern Star ladies’ auxiliary, helped serve the guests.
About fourteen children and their families mingled with thirteen Masons from various lodges. Some of the members were from the Central Lodge; others came from the Nevadaville Lodge or lodges in the Denver metro area.
George Snyder, who has been a Mason for 46 years, hosted the program. He explained that the Masons had begun the program in the 1940’s, continuing till the early 1960’s. Snyder resurrected the tradition seven years ago for the purpose of giving the children a good time while they were being educated and also to spark public interest.
Snyder pointed out the large portrait of George Washington at the front of the Hall. Each lodge has a portrait of Washington, who was a Mason, but the Central Lodge’s is special. Painted on a linen tablecloth by Mason John J. Glendenning in 1865, it is the main attraction in the Lodge. The frame is gold gilt from the mines in Central City, so heavy that Snyder estimated it would take six men to lift it. Although the face was painted from one of the best likenesses of Washington in that day, he said, “Washington wouldn’t have liked the portrait because it made him look like a stern old man.” Apparently, Washington had a reputation as a ladies’ man and also enjoyed gambling, particularly horse racing and whist.
The evening’s speaker was Mike Katich, a jovial and outgoing member of the Nevadaville lodge. He had come all the way from the Denver Tech Center area to regale the children with tales and trivia about the first president. “This is what I live for,” he affirmed, jokingly adding, “Masons never let the truth get in the way of a good story!”
Katich had a very effective method for getting and keeping the children’s attention. As he told the stories, he would ask questions. Each time a student answered, he would give a gold-covered dollar coin to that child. He enlisted the help of Mike Wenhold, age ten, and his sister Kendra, age eight, to hand out the coins. Katich made sure that each child received a coin. Altogether, he gave away $35 worth of coins that evening.
Many stories about Washington are legends, tales that are generally regarded as historical but not authenticated. “There is a lot of truth in the stories,” Katich asserted, as he began to weave the familiar tale of young Washington and the cherry tree.
“When George was six years old,” Katich related, “he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet and chopped at everything he could find. Who thinks he’s getting in trouble?” Hands went up all over the room, and a coin was duly distributed to one young lady who looked the most eager.
George stripped a band off the English cherry tree of which his father was so proud. “Who knows what it’s called when you cut away a strip of bark like that?” “Vandalism,” one boy reasonably responded to a few chuckles, but the answer Katich was looking for was “girdling.”
George’s father angrily demanded to know who cut away the bark. “I cannot tell a lie,” young George cried, confessing his crime. “Have you ever told a lie?” Katich asked his rapt listeners. One girl said she had told a “white lie” and got a coin for her honesty. Katich then drove home the father’s touching words. “My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is worth more to me than many trees.”
Katich then gave the children a lesson in character. “What made Washington great? He was just a man, but he did the right things at the right time. He saw his duty and did it. You can grow up to be like George.” Katich talked about how this early American hero sacrificed and told the youngsters that they, too, could sacrifice to make their family better. “Think of them, not you.” He used the children’s parents and grandparents as examples. “They all make the community a better place, and you should be proud of them.” A loud round of applause showed that the kids indeed were proud of their elders.
The kids had researched trivia questions about Washington and were eager to share their information and earn coins. In case you’re still wondering, Washington had his teeth pulled at age 57 and had several sets of false teeth, mostly made from animal bone. Washington had no middle initial. And yes, his white horse was white.
He was born February 22, 1732 in Virginia colony. His height was 6’2” at a time when the average adult’s height was 5’4”. He married Martha, a widow with two children. He took his dog “Sweetlips” into battle with him. His favorite food was not sloppy joes, as Katich surmised, but pineapple and Brazil nuts. Washington served for two terms and was the first president to lead an army. When he wasn’t busy being president, he did surveying, salted cod, ran a paint company, and devised an underground heating system so he could grow vegetables all year around. He did own slaves, a common practice at the time. He died in 1799 from a cold.
The Central Lodge was a unique location for the children’s lesson. The Lodge, built in 1862, is not the oldest Masonic lodge, but it is the only one of its kind. It was added as a third floor to the Daily Miners Register building in Central City. The two-foot thick walls are graced by several murals and three-dimensional frescoes portraying the lectures of the degrees of Masonry, all hand painted by candlelight in the 1860’s. Candles were used until the 1870’s, when the Masons switched to oil lamps. Now, of course, they use electricity. The doors are pine with a painted oak grain. Most of the furnishings, including several ornately carved chairs, are completely original. The lodge is open in the summer for tours.