William J. Florence
William J., or Billy, Florence was the professional name used by William Jermyn Conlin, a popular actor, and a Freemason whose name is romantically as well as practically associated with the founding of the Ancient and Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. This organization was doubtless erected upon a ritual and ceremonies established and brought into being by Brother Florence and his coworker, Dr. Walter M. Fleming, with their immediate Masonic friends. Little of the actual detail of the work at headquarters w as done by Florence himself, that being left to Doctor Fleming, due to Brother Florence's enforced long absences awhile touring the United States or foreign lands in following his profession. He, however, lent his popular name to the cause and enthusiastically contributed what assistance he could to the propagation of the Order.
Brother Florence was born July 26, 1831, at Albany, New Work. Adopted the stage as a profession and met with immediate success and continuous popularity until the time of his death, which occurred at the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia, November l9, 1891. His body was interred in Greenwood Cemetery ,Protestant, in Brooklyn, in a plot which Florence had purchased years before and which was the burial place of his mother, although his wife was a Roman Catholic who had the last rites performed over him by the priesthood of her choice in Saint Agnes Church. Brother Charles Thomas McClenachan, Thirty-third Degree, and closely associated with Brothers Florence and Fleming in the founding of the Mystic Shrine, conferred the Scottish Rite up to and including the Thirty-second Degree upon Brother Florence at the Metropolitan Hotel, New York Cites April 21, 1867. This was just prior to Florence s departure for Europe, on which trip he is said to haste been received into several organizations similar to the Shrine both in France and Algiers. These visits of his M ere highly colored by the imaginative Doctor Flemin, and used in the ritual which was finally perfected, replete with oriental atmosphere and "regal splendor," as he termed it. Frequent assertions! even by Masonic authorities, have been made that Brother Florence was not a Freemason. The facts are that he was initiated into the Masonic Order in Philadelphia (see also One Hundred } ears of Aurora Grata, 18081908, page 47). Brethar Charles A. Brockaway writes that he was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge, No. 155, Philadelphia; Initiated, Crafted, and Raised October 12, 1853. Zerubbabel Chapter, No. 162, 1854. Pittsburgh Commandery, No. 1, 1854. Brother Brockaway copies the following from the Minutes of Aurora Grata Lodge of Perfection, Brooklyn, New York, of which he was Thrice Potent Master:
At a special communication of Aurora Grata Lodge of Perfection held at their rooms, Halsey's building, on Tuesday evening, April 16, 67, Illustrious Brother C. T. McClenachan, Thirty-third Degree, proposed Brother lV. J. Florence, Age 40, Occupation Actor, Residence Metropolitan Hotel. Refers to Illustrious Brother McClenachan and Illustrious Charles brown M.D., which was on motion received and referred to lliustriols Brothers Willets, Smith and McClennchan for investigation, who immediately reported favorably and recommended his election. The T.P.G . M . then ordered a ballot and Brother Florence was declared duly elected. Brother Florence being about to depart for Europe and wishing to receive the Degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, permission was given Illustrious Brother McClenachan to confer the Degrees upon him as soon as convenient and wherever his judgment might dictate.
Noble Florence conferred the Degrees of the Shrine upon Sam Briggs, who was Potentate of Al Ivoran Temple from 1876 to 1901, and Imperial Potentate from 1886 to 1899, as well as on Brenton D. Babcock and three other Clevelanders at the Opera House and at the Rennard Hotel on October 91 and 00, ]876. When the Al Koran Temple of Cleveland was instituted, Florence was an honored visitor, he having suggested its name.
William Winter's Wallat of Time, a history of the American stage, contains a beautiful eulogy upon Florence, stating that he was "in art admirable; in life gentle; he was widely known, and he was known only to be loved.
By Honor hallowed and by Fame adorned
Here Florenee sleeps, and o'er his sacred rest
Each word is tender and each thought is blest.
Long, for his loss, shall pensive Memorv show,
Through Humor's mask, the visage of her woe
Dale breathe a darkness that no sun dispels,
And Night be full of whispers and farewells;
While patient Kindness shadow-like and dim
Droops in its loneliness, bereft of him
Feels its sad doom and sure decadence high
For how should Sindness live, when he could die!
The eager heart, that felt for every grief;
The bounteous hand, that loved to give relief
The honest smile, that blest where'er it lit
The dew of pathos and the sheen of wit:
The sweet, blue eyes, the voice of melting tone
That made all hearts as gentle as his own;
The aetor's charm, supreme in royal thrall
That ranged through every field and shone in all -
For these must Sorrow make perpetual moan
Bereaved, benighted, hopeless and alone
Ah, no! for Nature does not aet amiss
And Heaven were lonely but for souls like this.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry