Laurie Gaboardi pointed at the crumbling steps of the building at 84 Greenwood Avenue, and said, "I used to play over there. We would run around the steps, underneath and all around them."
The steps belong to the Masonic Temple and throughout the day Monday, a car would pull over and residents would get out of their car and look forlornly, some to snap a few last photos before the building is torn down on Wednesday.
One of those residents was Robert Simpson, an elderly man who walked with a cane, who had joined the Eureka Temple in Bethel in the 1970s.
The door was open, and Simpson climbed the stairs to the hall and looked round one last time. He was happy to pick up a few old pamphlets and notes, a couple of dusty, old, bowler hats, and a book of traditions from 1881. Standing in the unlit room of the hall, he tried to photograph the patterned floor, almost invisible in the darkness. “It feels really sad to be here,” he said, seemingly oblivious to the floor that shook with each blow of the demolition below. “ I attended most of the meetings.”
Picking up and examining an old gold seal with the well known markings of the Masons, Simpson said, “There are a lot of old memories here. My father was a Mason in Newtown, and my mother was Eastern Star.” Holding up the seal, he said, “I'll put this in plastic and protect it.”
At 10 a.m. Monday, in the basement of the building, workers wore dust masks and hacked away at the walls of what was once a sacred building to many. That sacredness seemed to suffer an end with a shooting that occurred there in the early hours of November 27, 2004. Inside the building, in an old, now unlocked, file cabinet drawer, a Certificate of Recognition dated 2005 was still glossy in its protective covering. 2005 was the last year Simpson remembered the building used for the ceremonies of their Lodge.
A last tour of the building showed that many records of significance had been left behind by the usually secretive organization. John Pasquence was overseeing the demolition, which only took place in the basement on Monday. He, too, expressed sadness to see the building torn down. “The younger generation has no connection to any of these kinds of places, even like the War Memorial. It’s history, it dies off. People really only pay attention to their own era.”
Danbury Mason Kevin White doesn’t think it’s a bad as all that. At 55, White is a fifth generation Mason. He is still wintering in Florida but he was in Bethel for some of the packing up of the materials that were taken by the Danbury Lodge for safe keeping. He agrees that it is sad that the building is coming down, but his outlook is bright for the Masons in the area. “We have a lot of young guys coming in. I am 55, and I am one of the oldest. We have doctors, lawyers, soldiers, there are a lot of lodges. We are doing well in Danbury,” he promised.
Reflecting on the history of the Bethel Lodge, White said, “One of the things that is kind of interesting, the Masons founded in Danbury during the American Revolution. They asked the Grand Lodge in Massachusetts if they could set up here, and they formed the Union Lodge on Main Street. You couldn’t get near the building it was so popular, and in the 1850s, it was five miles into downtown Danbury. That was too far for some people to make it, and they splintered off into Bethel." With a smile in his voice, White said, "Well, now they’ve come back to Danbury, and with cars it isn’t a problem."
White said that almost anyone can join the organization. “We have Jews, Muslims, Witches, everyone. As long as you believe in a supreme being, you can join.”
Describing his feelings about seeing the Bethel building torn down, White said, “It was a trying time, a sad time for that lodge, but we have to move forward. A lot of those guys came and joined in Danbury, but then they will choose where they want to go.”
An anonymous source with the email address of Lost Soul sent several emails to Patch, begging the question, “How did this happen? How was all the parking sold off?”
The Lost Soul lamented, “All in all, the whole situation is beyond sad. Have this as your fraternal home all your days and watch it torn down in the waning moments of your life,” his letter becoming more poignant with each sentence.
His last email read, “Thus, it is a wake, in all senses of the word. And as such, let us wake this building to heaven, so that its spirit may arrive in safety at least an hour before the devil knows another light has fallen.”