I always thought the hats were funny. Now, I’m not so sure. The miniature cars go well with the toppers. You have to be special to look silly.

My Grandfather was a Shriner. He appeared to enjoy it; but as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention. When my mother and I went to his funeral in 1982, the honor of his participation showed through. The podium featured the logos of the Freemasons and Shriners, and eulogies from both groups. Wow, Henry was a Freemason. They are the world’s largest fraternity. To me that’s kind of a big deal.

Henry Sussman (Heinrich Süssmann) wasn’t a rich guy or a man with connections. His family left Germany in 1900 to settle in Pennsauken, NJ, and on October 10, 1903, Henry was born; the only one of his siblings conceived in the USA. He grew up to become a loom mechanic and shift supervisor for Belding Hemingway, who in the 30s and 40s was manufacturing silk thread. His father and he went to Lynchburg, VA to open a plant for the company, and at some point, Henry moved to Bedford, VA to help open another facility. Eventually the company made a decision to switch from producing thread to the manufacture of fiberglass fibers. Occupational disease became an issue with the employees, who developed illnesses from the product, causing the demise of the Bedford location. But Henry eked out a decent living for the time; back when “blue collar” meant you made enough to live. He raised my mom as a single parent and things turned out grand. Knowing he was a Freemason piques my interest.

Throughout history, there have been quite a few Freemasons who were famous and influential. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and Colonel Sanders were Freemasons. I’m not sure Freemasonry had anything to do with the taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the secrecy of the Society probably contributed to the Colonel keeping his Original Recipe® of 11 secret herbs and spices under wraps. To this day, we still don’t know how the bird is dressed. Phrases like “Level with him,” “Be square,” and “The Third Degree” all originated with Freemasons. They are very important in our history, whether or not we are aware.

Red Skelton, John Wayne, Danny Thomas and Harry Truman were Shriners. I can picture Red Skelton wearing the funny hat, but not John Wayne. Being a Freemason doesn’t necessarily lead to Shrinerism, but to join the club, you must first be a Freemason and make it all the way to Master Mason. Check out this list of famous Shriners, and you might be impressed.

Shriners always look like they’re having fun. I bet they are. Helping kids is a heart-warming thing. Then there are the meetings, parades, conventions and all sorts of activities that keep the mind abuzz. And don’t forget . . . the little cars. You never hear of them causing any problems in the hotels or towns where they are holding conventions (news of Shriners throwing televisions out of hotel windows is minimal). They seem to be well behaved, upstanding citizens.

Because of my renewed interest in my grandfather, I recently inquired about joining the Shriners, not understanding the necessary steps. At my age, I will be dead before qualifying. They were kind in not laughing at my naivete and directed me to the Freemasons. Then I found out you don’t just join. You have to be recommended. Since, the only person I know who was a Freemason/Shriner died in 1982, it seems a difficult task. My interest will probably dwindle soon, but if there is a Freemason out there who is interested in recruiting a new member with a connected ancestor, give me a call. Better yet, send an email to Bake My Fish.

Henry Sussman was a pretty good guy. Whenever he came to visit my family, particularly on Thanksgiving and Christmas, he always brought me liverwurst (I was the only one in my family who liked it) and Land O’ Lakes butter (Mom preferred margarine). And, my mother always cooked a pot of Spareribs and Sauerkraut, How To Make Melt In Your Mouth Country Style Pork and Sauerkrautwhich was his favorite. He loved me, and I loved him. Now that I know Henry even better, I love him more.

“Rest im Frieden, Heinrich Süssmann. Du warst ein guter Mann.” When we meet again, I’ll bring the Spareribs and Sauerkraut. Just make sure you leave my name at the gate, because Saint Peter may not let me in without a referral.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

12 thoughts on “My Grandpa, the Shriner

  1. Hey Bake,

    Becoming a Shriner is not that difficult.

    My husband has been one for over 30 years, longer than we have been married, and if you are interested I would be happy to have him or his father give you a call.

    A lot of guys today do a quick class in the Masons and go right into the Shrine.

    It is fun and the parades and conventions are cool. I’ve been to a lot of places and have seen a lot with the Temple.


  2. What I remember is the 6 pack of German beer he toted with him when he came to visit us. Sauerkraut, German beer, and a funny old guy is what I recall as a kid.

    The visits were always fun.

    Cool story. I didn’t know.



  3. My parents are German. Pork and sauerkraut is OK, but knockwurst and kraut is better.

    Keep writing.

    You are very good.


  4. I really liked this one!

    My dad was an Odd Fellow and we always joked with him about being the “Grand Pooba” like in the Flintstones – only we called him the Grand Dukey Dukey!

    This one reminded me of that!

    His funeral was something!

    My Dad – The Odd Fellow!

    They still send my mother a check for $100 a month – Widow’s Pension!


  5. My mother used to make spareribs and sauerkraut, too. Sometimes it was just thick pork chops and the kraut, and even at times, wieners and kraut. And her mother, my grandmother, used to make this huge pot of stuffed cabbage rolls.

    Hard to find food like that anymore.


  6. After checking our records your grandfather became a member on October 29, 1960 and let his membership lapse in December 1976. He was a member of Liberty Blue Lodge # 95 in Bedford, VA and the Lynchburg Consistory in Lynchburg, VA.


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