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Turning Point: Battle of Trenton 1776-1777

From our Senior Deacon, Corey Kunde:

An oft overlooked aspect of the Revolutionary War was the real possibility of failure when still in its infancy. During the fall of 1776, the British Army pushed out a fledgling Continental Army from all of New York City. This included defeats of Bro. Gen. George Washington at White Plains, Fort Lee and Fort Washington (see battle map below).

After these defeats, the Continental Army fled across New Jersey and crossed into Pennsylvania to escape. Not only did these defeats result in the capture of thousands of men and materiel-morale was running on fumes. Men were deserting. A strategic city and harbor-New York-had been completely lost and doubts were creeping in about Washington’s ability to lead his men. In fact, Gen. Washington himself had written to his cousin that “I think the game is pretty near up.” Generally, the condition of the Continental Army in early December 1776 could be summed up as haggard and desperate.

While conditions were bleak, intelligence reports indicated Trenton as being occupied by three regiments of Hessian soldiers, totaling 1,500 men. In contrast, Gen. Washington had a force of 2,400 soldiers. In an effort to boost the cratered morale of his troops, Gen. Washington planned an attack on this Hessian force during Christmas of 1776 (December 25-26). Originally, this plan called for a three-pronged attack, including a diversionary engagement of a British garrison at Bordentown, New Jersey. However, approximately half of the planned force was unable to make the crossing from Pennsylvania. Fortunately, inadequate defensive positioning by the Hessian garrison, helpful citizenry and sound tactics mitigated this loss of manpower (see battle map below).

A primary function of this successful battle was proving the Continental Army could actually match the fighting prowess of a European land army. Thus, the most important achievement of this relatively small engagement was a badly needed morale boost. The practicality of capturing Hessian materiel and supplies provided additional support to the army.

This proved to be a pivotal point in the battle for America’s freedom from tyranny.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice Caves

From Past Master West:

On September 26, 1970, the president signed Public Law 91-424 creating the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This national park currently includes twenty-one of the islands in the AI archipelago as well as twelve-mile strip of land along the Wisconsin shoreline. The area is a marvel of red cliffs set against the stark blue waters of Lake Superior. During the summer months, the park is a popular tourist destination, largely for Wisconsinites and Minnesotans seeking to escape the cities further south. This year, however, the number of visitors to the park over the winter months soared as a result of the combination of extreme cold winter weather allowing the formation of ice caves along the cliffs with news frenzy across both traditional and social media outlets.

On January 15, 2014, the National Park Service published an announcement that for the first time since 2009, weather conditions were sufficient to allow the formation of spectacular ice caves along the mainland cliffs of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. In just under two months, more than 120,000 visitors have flocked to the icy shores of Lake Superior to make the one mile hike from Meyers Beach to the caves. On March 11, 2014, the Wisconsin Radio Network reported this was higher than the number of visitors to the park for the entire year of 2013. By way of comparison, NPS’s recently released report for 2012 states that the park had 163,419 visitors for that year.

Having heard about the caves on the news and viewed the photos of friends and family who had visited them already, on March 6 my wife and I loaded the kids into our car and headed north. The popularity of the caves made finding lodging difficult in the northwoods, and the closest hotel we were able to locate was in Duluth – just over an hour’s drive from Meyers Beach. On the morning of March 7 we arrived at the entrance to the beach to find that the parking lot was full and cars were parked along the edges of the half-mile-long driveway and for at least another half-mile in each direction along the highway.

Finding a spot to park, we bundled the kids into their snow gear, grabbed their sleds (we anticipated that our four-year-old was not going to be up for the full 5-6 mile roundtrip hike), and started following the line of people streaming toward the lake. The path along the shore was well-worn, making foot travel relatively easy. What we found when we arrived at the edge of the cliff-line was nothing short of amazing. Waterfalls had frozen in place. Sheets of ice covered the openings of the sea caves, creating protected caverns behind their walls. In some places the cliff face was covered with patchwork patterns of colored ice.

We walked a mile or so along the shore and took hundreds of photos. The kids found small holes in the ice wall and explored caverns set into the shoreline for which the entrances were too small for adults to access. Even our seven-year-old son, who had complained all morning that he thought the caves would be boring, popped his head out of a hole in the ice and with a huge smile on his face screamed to anyone in earshot that “this is awesome!” I have to agree with him. The overuse of the word awesome has lead to its diminution, if not outright bastardization, but in this instance the awe-striking natural beauty of the lakeshore made it perhaps the most appropriate word to describe our trip.

George Washington's Eggnog

At our last Brother Night, the Brethren sampled eggnog made by our Almoner, Merrell Tomlin. It was delicious. Without further ado, this is how you make it:

In this day and age we are not used to mixing up our favorite cocktails a week in advance. But with homemade eggnog you will have to make it at least five days in advance to give it time to cure. This not only maximizes taste and texture but ensures that the alcohol cures the raw eggs.

2 cups Brandy             10 large Eggs
1 cup Rye Whiskey         ¾ cup Sugar
1 cup Dark Rum            1 quart Whole Milk
½ cup Cream Sherry        1 quart Heavy Cream

Mix liquors first in a separate container. Separate yolks from whites into 2 large bowls. Whisk yolks briskly adding the sugar in until the mixture turns a light yellow. Add liquor mixture slowly to yolk mixture, continuing to whisk until well incorporated (the mixture will turn brown). Continue whisking while slowly adding the milk and cream to the mixture. Set aside.

Beat the whites of the eggs until stiff and fold into the alcohol mixture. Cover the mixture in an airtight container (like a gallon Mason Jar).

Allow eggnog to cure undisturbed for several days (4~7) in the coldest part of the refrigerator, or outside in your garage (under 40 degrees) The mixture will separate as it cures. This is OK. Mix by whisking before serving cold.

A Master’s Ramblings

My grandfather was a Freemason for most of his adult life. He was very active in Racine Lodge, in the city where he lived his entire life. He and my grandmother were in Eastern Star. My father remembers many Masonic events growing up, mostly dinners and picnics. He was encouraged by my grandfather to join DeMolay, but he found that, at least in Racine at that time, he didn’t fit in with that group. He joined the Boy Scouts instead.

Growing up, I had very little awareness of my grandfather’s involvement in Freemasonry. I lived in Worthington, Ohio, and the Grand Lodge building was right next to the church I went to. There was another Lodge building next to the allergist’s office where I got shots once a week for years. This is what you call a secret society hiding in plain sight. My parents knew these buildings were there and what they were, but they were not involved in Masonry, so explaining it to me was likely not a priority. Or maybe they did explain it to me, but I wasn’t paying attention.

I didn’t become a Mason until after my grandfather had died. I’m not sure how I became interested in the Fraternity, but when I was 22 or so, I was on a long airplane flight, probably to San Diego, and I sat next to a Brother who was studying for a Scottish Rite play. Of course, I didn’t know that at first, but I noticed his Masonic ring and asked about it. He didn’t need much prompting to start and then continue to talk about Masonry for the next three hours. I expressed my interest in Masonry to him, and he contacted the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, or so I presume, and within a week, I was contacted by Commonwealth Lodge.

If you ask me why I became a Mason, or maybe more importantly why I’m still a Mason, I don’t have a great answer. I’ve seen plenty of candidates that made it through the first degree and stopped. I’ve seen others that were officers in their Lodges who stopped being Masons, including my brother. At Grand Lodge and District meetings, we are told that this is a problem and we need to reach out to these Brothers and bring them back into the fold.

While I respect that view, sometimes we are better off if that Entered Apprentice who doesn’t have the time or continued interest in meeting with the members of a Lodge doesn’t show up for the next degree. Likewise, it’s sad that Brothers who have made great contributions to their Lodges stop participating, but life gets in the way of many things. Better a brother to remove himself from Lodge than cause discord among the Brethren. If people have other priorities in their lives, who am I to say Masonry should be more important to them than it is?

Here is my answer: I joined Freemasonry because I was at a point in my life where I was looking for something more interesting to do than going home every night and watching TV for 6 hours. I continue to be a Freemason because talking to Brothers in Benjamin Franklin Lodge (through a haze of cigar smoke) about Masonic esoterica and the trials and triumphs of this life -- continues to be compelling. There is no Lodge, only men on the Level that are driven to continue to associate through ritual and fellowship -- friends whom I found to be Brothers.

Sincerely and Fraternally,
Erik Nielsen
Worshipful Master
Benjamin Franklin Lodge #83

Benjamin Franklin Lodge #83 Donates Toys for Hospital Children, Funds for Homeless Center

The Brethren of Benjamin Franklin Lodge #83, Madison, recently donated toys and funds for children who are at the Children’s Hospital in Madison. The Brethren purchased the toys on their own, or provided funds for general toy uses, and gathered them at a recent stated communication. The project was organized by the Lodge Almoner, Brother Merrell Tomlin. Brother Tomlin and WM Erik Nielsen are shown in the photo admiring some of the toys.

BFL#83 Member Daniel Slavik Becomes Grand Master of Masons in Wisconsin!

Brother Daniel Slavik, a founding member of Benjamin Franklin Lodge #83, became the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Wisconsin at the 169th Annual Communication in Madison on June 7-8, 2013. Grand Master Slavik has worked long and hard in the quarries of life and Freemasonry, traveling thousands of miles and spending countless hours as a Grand Lodge Officer to carry forward the goals and activities of the Craft. Among his various duties and activities he has frequently served as Installing Master at Officer Installations for BFL#83 and other Lodges. He has been instrumental in arranging meetings and visitations between Prince Hall Freemasons and BFL#83 and other Lodges.

Benjamin Franklin Lodge No. 83 Presents Live Webcast of Sikhism Program at Brothers and Guests Evening

The Brethren of Benjamin Franklin Lodge No. 83, Madison, and guests enjoyed a timely and important program at their November Brothers and Guests evening titled Sikhism: Universal Religion. The program was presented by area Sikh leaders Dr. Satwant Dhillon, an Obstetrician, and Mr. Randee Talwar, a professional hotelier. They were very appreciative of the opportunity to make this outreach in view of the recent tragedy at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Their program was arranged for the Lodge by Brother Shravan Sukumar, who was Initiated, Passed and Raised in Trinity Lodge No. 17, Tritchy, India in the Emulation Rite of Freemasonry. Brother Sukumar is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Biochemistry and he is a frequent attendee at Benjamin Franklin Lodge No 83, which works in the Emulation Rite.

Father and Son Master Masons Present Benjamin Franklin Program by PM Paul Gordon

Brother Glen Witt and his son, Brother Adam Witt, who are both Master Masons, presented a very well received program at a recent Brothers and Guests night meeting at BFL#83. The topic of the presentation was “Electrical Experiments of Benjamin Franklin”. Brother Glen has long been interested in electrical experiments, and demonstrated some of Franklin’s innovations with some of his electrical equipment. He and Brother Adam also have a small library of books about Benjamin Franklin. Brother Adam gave a power point presentation about Franklin’s general background and his specific interest in electricity. Franklin was largely self–educated and received only Honorary degrees.

BFL#83 Attends Combined Table Lodge for 2012 by PM Paul Gordon

Four members of Benjamin Franklin Lodge #83 attended the Ninth Annual Combined Table Lodge on March 29th. The Joint Hosts were the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Inc., Free & Accepted Masons of Wisconsin, and Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Free & Accepted Masons of Wisconsin. The Table Lodge was held at the Prince Hall Masonic Center in Milwaukee. This has become one of the premier yearly events in Wisconsin Masonry and there was a sold out full house in attendance. Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Brother Minor King, Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden of Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

Bro. Baux Raised to Master Mason

Benjamin Franklin Lodge No. 83 is happy to announce that Brother David Baux was raised to the degree of Master Mason on April 11, 2012. Pictured from left to right are WM Mitch Custer (PM) from Doric Lodge #356, Bro. David Baux, and WM Travis James West.