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Eastern Star still shines after 115 years

Mary Ellen Littke holds one of the elaborate gowns worn at special meetings for The Order of the Eastern Star. The symbol used to by the group is the star of Bethlehem.  - Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times
Mary Ellen Littke holds one of the elaborate gowns worn at special meetings for The Order of the Eastern Star. The symbol used to by the group is the star of Bethlehem.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times

Some of the earliest grave sites at Coupeville’s Sunnyside Cemetery are marked by unusual insignias; either a star or two interlocked V-shapes, enclosing the letter G.

These symbols represent a group that shares moral and metaphysical ideals, which include in most cases, a constitutional declaration of belief in a supreme being.

The Fraternal Organization of Masonry began on Whidbey Island in the early pioneer era. For the Masons’ wives, a chapter called “The Order of the Eastern Star” was created.

It’s lasted a long time. Next Sunday, the Order will turn 115 years old.

The women will hold an open house Aug. 17 to show precious memorabilia, photos from bygone eras and clothing worn by Matrons, Conductresses and Star Points in the late 1800s.

In recent years, movies have sought to Hollywood-ize Freemasonry with blockbusters such as Da Vinci Code and National Treasure (linking Freemasons to the founding of the U.S.A.)

The age, rituals and popularity of the group has often led to fictionalization and “surreal allegorical overtones” in pop culture, but Saturday’s event will present actual, local histories.

“It’s kind of like a birthday party that’s open to everyone,” George Konopik, Worthy Patron, said. “And we’ll answer people’s questions.”

When the original Masonic Lodge was built in 1869, Washington was still a territory. Key officers included men and women pioneers such as J.W. Wanamaker, Joseph Powers and James and Mary Zylstra.

The Tula Chapter in Coupeville represents the 10th oldest of 101 chapters in the state. Worldwide, membership in the order reaches over one million.

The group is run mostly by women but men are free to join. In meetings they wear elaborate gowns, which are often donated to younger members, or the International Order of Rainbow for Girls.

Membership is exclusive to family members, but Rainbow for Girls allows women to enter the order by age 18, unaffiliated. Until which time, they can’t attend the regular meetings. A booth for these young women will be set up at the event.

Today, both the Masons and Order of the Eastern Star are known for their outreach to the community, contributing money to hospitals, cancer research and scholarship funds.

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