Times Past

Century of Masonic history will be celebrated at the King David Lodge

Special to The TribuneOctober 12, 2013 

Knights Templer celebrate the first Easter at the new King David Masonic Lodge on April 12, 1914.


San Luis Obispo’s granite monument, the Dorn Pyramid in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, has greeted visitors entering San Luis Obispo from the south since 1905.

District Attorney Fred Adolphus Dorn lost his wife and son during childbirth. He was a leader in King David’s Masonic Lodge. In honor of his wife and son, he erected a pyramid tomb, a fundamental symbol of Freemasons. The pyramid with the inscription “DISTVRB NOT THE SLEEP OF DEATH” became the source of many local legends, all of them wrong.

The Masons have a long history in San Luis Obispo going back to May 1861, less than a month after the start of the Civil War. Romualdo Pacheco, who in 1875 became the Governor of California, was initiated into the Lodge by Walter Murray, the founder of this paper.

Pacheco, Murray and his brother, Alexander Murray, were closely associated with Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King in preventing the southern half of California from seceding from the Union.

The Lodge was dissolved in the wake of the Great Drought of 1862-65 when the cattle-based economy of our region was wiped out. It was reformed as the King David Lodge in 1870 and served to attract a number of firmly pro-Union families from Ohio including J. H. Hollister, Horatio and Lew Warden, and Robert E. Jack.

The elaborate Masonic funeral of Walter Murray on Oct. 8, 1875 was a benchmark event in the history of San Luis Obispo. It was a rallying point for the recently revived Masonic Lodge.

The Tribune reported that there were 86 “Masons in the procession followed by 315 others, and 81 carriages, making one the most impressive funerals ever witnessed in San Luis Obispo.”

Later in the 1890s, Edwin P. Unangst, a graduate of the newly formed Hastings College of Law, arrived and married Walter Murray’s daughter, Anita. Unangst soon became the Superior Court judge for our county.

By the turn of the century, the Masons turned to building a three-story, reinforced concrete-on-wood frame neoclassical temple on Marsh Street near the intersection with Chorro. It joined the Presbyterian Church and the San Luis Sanitarium, later the French Hospital, in providing an impressive street front to Marsh Street. The building was dedicated in 1913.

On Sunday Oct. 20, at 2 p.m., the King David Masonic Lodge will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its grand temple. I’m not a Mason, but the Lodge has invited me to act in place of Thomas Starr King, the “Grand Orator of California Masons” at the time of his death in 1864. The public is invited to the celebration at 859 Marsh St.

All Souls Day, sometimes called the “Day of the Dead,” is always Nov. 2, but in secular cultures like our own, it gets lost in the Halloween celebrations. This year readers are alerted to three different ways of celebrating “All Souls Day.”

The first is at Mission San Antonio on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1 p.m.. The special celebration includes the Salinan Tribe blessing the tribal graveyard, John Warren of the New World Baroque Orchestra, and a Mass celebrated by Fr. Jim Nisbet, former pastor of Mission San Luis Obispo and a Native American who was active in promoting the recent cause of 17th century Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha as the first Native American saint.

In next weeks’ Times Past we will give you more details about the San Antonio event and a special “SLO Souls: Meet the Eternal Residents of San Luis Obispo” event planned for Saturday, Nov. 2 that will be put on by the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

You also are invited to my traditional Halloween Day tour of the historic Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo on Monday, Oct. 31. We will meet at the Bridge Street entrance at 4 p.m.

Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association

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