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The Shrine of North America is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. Along with that goes patriotism, serving the needs of others, and Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Today, the Shrine's membership is approximately 525,000 in 191 temples in North America. All of the Shriners, called "Nobles," are Freemasons and adhere to the principles of Freemasonry ­ brotherly love, relief and truth.

Most everybody ­ if not everybody ­ knows that Shriners support "The World's Greatest Philanthropy," Shriners Hospitals for Children, a system of hospitals that was established in 1922. Today, that system includes 18 orthopedic hospitals, three burn hospitals, and one hospital that provides orthopedic, burn and spinal cord injury care. Over nearly 80 years, Shriners have improved the quality of life substantially for more than a half a million children -- and all of the medical care has been provided free of charge.

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In 1993, the Shriners Soccer Program was established and now many Shrine temples also sponsor more than 25,000 youngsters on some 1,500 youth soccer teams throughout North America.

The Shrine was founded in 1872, when Calvin Coolidge, the nation's 30th president, was born and things were much different from what they are today. It really began two years earlier in New York City when some Masons got together for lunch regularly on the second floor of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a restaurant on Sixth Avenue. They often discussed forming a fraternity solely for Masons; but nothing was done until Dr. Walter M. Fleming, a prominent physician and surgeon, and Billy Florence, an actor, decided to do something about it.

Florence, a star on the New York stage, toured London, Europe, and Middle Eastern countries in 1870. While in France, he was invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. After the entertainment, which was an elaborately staged musical comedy, the guests became members of a "secret" society. That was just what Florence needed to get the ball rolling back home.

In New York, he showed his copious notes and drawings to Dr. Fleming who converted them into what would become the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.). While there is some question about the origin of the name, it is probably more than a coincidence that its initials, rearranged, spell out the words, "A MASON." With the help of the other Knickerbocker Cottage regulars, the ritual was drafted, the crescent emblem and ritual costumes were designed, a salutation, "Es selamu aleikum," which means "Peace be with you," was formulated, and it was declared that members would wear a red fez.

shrn_bldOn Sept. 26, 1872, the original 13 Masons of the lunch group organized the first Shrine Temple, Mecca Temple in New York City. In 1876, a governing body, the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for the United States of America, was formed and Dr. Fleming became the first Imperial Grand Potentate.

Shriners are men who enjoy life ­ parades, trips, circuses, dances, dinners, sporting events, and other social occasions ­ but they are serious and dedicated about their philanthropy.

For information on Shrine or the Shriners Hospitals for Children, visit the web site at http://www.shrinershq.org.

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