Mystics among us

A few months ago, Nicolette Bromberg (Visual Materials Curator @ UW Special Collections) brought in a collection of photographs from Richard M. Kovak of the Nile Shrine Center in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. The collection documents the membership and activities of Seattle Shriners (members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Nile Temple).

According to the history on the Nile Shrine website, the AAONMS (an offshoot of Freemasonry) was “originally established [in 1872] to provide fun and fellowship for its members.” The Nile Temple of Seattle was formed by splitting off from the Afifi Temple of Tacoma in 1908; the following photograph was probably taken around that time.

Nile Shrine officers, circa 1910
Officers of Seattle

In elaborate costumes, these Shriners certainly appear to be enjoying fun and fellowship!

A major portion of the collection consists of member portraits, many of them identified. In most portraits, the member wears a fez hat which is decorated with the title of that member’s role or office, such as “Recorder” and “Potentate.” There is also a series of panoramic group photographs which show how membership and customs changed over the first half of the twentieth century.

Later snapshots collected in photo albums show the Shriners’ social and community activities, such as their participation in the children’s hospitals they fund, visits to schools, and their appearances in local parades, often dressed in homemade costumes of “Disnay” characters like Pinocchio and Mickey Mouse.

The collection is unprocessed and unsorted, but a preliminary finding aid is available.

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