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The Masonic Temple is pictured 1635 L Street on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A looming stone monolith nestled in the shadow of the state capitol, the exterior of the Masonic Temple at 1635 L St. is mysterious yet captivating, much like the enigmatic order housed within its walls.

The Freemasons are a globe-spanning fraternal organization that trace their origins back hundreds of years. According to former Grand Master Russ Reno, who conducts tours of the L Street temple and other Masonic locations across Nebraska, the Freemasons were well-renowned builders across the Old World before they were an incorporated organization and were perhaps best known for the rebuilding of Europe’s cathedrals in the 14th century.

According to Reno, erecting notable architecture across the world gave many masons the opportunity to travel frequently, affording them a considerable amount of freedom.

Generally, a mason belonged to a guild that would send its members across the world to wherever building was needed. Members of the Mason’s Guild became known as “Free Masons” after the type of soft, pliable stone the masons used for their elaborate carvings.

These sorts of carvings are readily visible at the entrance to the Temple. Above the set of three blue wooden doors, a stone relief depicts from left-to-right a young boy outlined by a floating guardian angel, a muscle-clad man astride a horse and an older man accompanied by a winged lion.

According to an informational text written by Reno, these three illustrations depict the three stages of human life — youth, manhood and age — as well as the three ranks of Freemasonry, from the Entered Apprentice Mason who attains knowledge, to the Craft Mason who applies his knowledge, to the Master Mason who reflects on a rewarding life.

These stages represent a core tenet of the Freemasonry, of striving to guide people to becoming the best they can be. Reno compared this idea to a rough, jagged stone block in the temple called an ashlar.

“That’s how we are when we become a mason,” Reno said. “By using the tools which represent how we should act in life, we strive to become like this,” referring to a near-identical block with its rough edges shaved away to show a neat, symmetrical ashlar. He said only the perfectly-squared block can be used to lay the foundation for a building.

The halls of the Temple’s first floor evoke a sense of integrated orderliness, marrying the monolithic, geometric Art Deco architectural style that characterized the era of the building’s construction in 1934 with earth-toned, sketch-like artworks by famous Lincoln painter Elizabeth Dolan that portray various biblical and historical events.

A large dining room spans the south side of the floor, with elaborate teal patterns snaking along the high beige ceiling. The room is often rented out for outside community events, most notably those of the Acacia fraternity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which has Masonic origins, according to Reno.

Aside from allowing other organizations to host events within their Temple, the Masons of Lincoln also have various community outreach programs. They have primarily focused on increasing education accessibility for students in K-12, including paying off lunch debt for students and paying for new books and educational equipment, according to Adam Thayer, the Temple’s IT director and secretary.

“Part of our purpose as Masons is to seek light and knowledge,” Reno said. “That was part of the spur for those donations, to help kids and parents be able to afford and get through the education part of the kids’ lives without too much strife so they can focus on learning.”

Beyond broader organizational charity programs, Thayer highlighted the work that individual Masons can do to impact their community, citing one member who raises money to serve Thanksgiving dinner to 100 families every holiday season.

“I think that’s where Masonry really makes the biggest community differences,” Thayer said. “You have one person who comes, gets inspired and gets other people to help out.”

The second floor houses the Temple’s official meeting room, another vast room with high ceilings, but with seats lining the walls to give way to a wide open floor punctuated by a single podium at its center.

Multi-colored lights shine down in hues of blue, yellow, white, green and red in a five-pointed formation surrounding the podium. According to the Masonic Lodge of Education, each color invokes one of various masonic virtues, respectively representing obedience to duty, religious principles, loyalty and endurance in both trial and persecution.

It’s through this adherence to virtues that the Masons seek their vision of self-perfection, also represented through the organization’s primary symbol of the square and compass, according to Reno.

“The square, for square lives. Live the right way,” he said. “The compass, we circumscribe our desires, draw the circle and say we’re going to live in this circle. We’re not going to step across the line.”

The third floor is a bit less grand, home to the Temple's library and secretary’s office, but not much else. It’s a modest room with little more than a large computer desk and walls lined with bookshelves designated for each of the chapters and sects that meet in the temple.

The rest of the floor is lined with open boxes and loose cables strewn about on the floor. Still under construction, the third floor of the Temple is a work-in-progress, which Masons like Reno and Thayer similarly see themselves to be.

“Adam and I are both building a temple within ourselves,” Reno said. “It can be comprised using the tools of Masonry. And you know what, I’ve discovered I’m still working real hard at that.”

But according to Reno, what’s important to the Masons isn’t the end goal of perfection itself, but rather the journey towards it and the example one sets for those around them along the way.

“I’m striving for perfection,” Reno said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but it’s the striving that counts.”

Editor's Note: This story was updated on Nov. 19 to change the word "compromised" to "comprised" in a quote.

culture@dailynebraskan.com