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The Shriners: Who are those men in the funny hats?

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The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners.
The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners.

Who are those guys in the funny hats, driving those little cars in parades and at the Shrine Circus? 

The Shriners are a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth with nearly 200 temples in several countries and thousands of clubs around the world, said Gene McKelvey, administrator of India Shriners in Oklahoma City.

Their famous hats are the signature style of the Shriners. Photo provided by OKC India Shriners.
Their famous hats are the signature style of the Shriners. Photo provided by OKC India Shriners.
India Shriners of Oklahoma City was chartered in 1894 – not long after the parent organization was founded. The history of the Shriners goes back to the 1870s when a group of Masons gathered frequently for lunch at the Knickerbocker Cottage on Sixth Avenue in New York City. A particularly fun-loving group of men who gathered regularly for lunch. The group frequently talked about starting a new fraternity for Masons – one centered on fun and fellowship, more than ritual.

One of the founding members had been to France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. The group drafted the ritual, designed the emblem and costumes, formulated a salutation and declared that members would wear the red fez, the hat synonymous with the Shriners today, said McKelvey.

The first temple was chartered on September 26, 1872 in New York City and during the early part of the 20th century, membership grew steadily. The Shriners experienced one of its largest periods of growth following World War II as returning soldiers looked for ways to continue the camaraderie they had experienced among fellow soldiers.

Today, there are nearly 200 temples across North America, South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. You will find them involved in many areas of the community, said McKelvey.

You will see them in parades, with their little cars, Harley Davidson’s, foot patrols, flag units and clowns. Many, many clowns!

In addition to the parades, they hold an annual Shrine Circus, which is their primary fundraiser, McKelvey said.  This years 73rd Annual India Shrine Circus will be held April 7-10th at the Norick State Fair Arena.

The Shrine Circus, founded in 1906 for fun and entertainment, began to play a role as a significant fundraiser to support the operation of the chapters. For McKelvey and many other members, the circus held in Oklahoma City each year is among the highlights of the year.

“It’s affordable family entertainment. Where else can you see the circus for $15?” he asked. 

In addition to the fun and fellowship that Shriners enjoy, they also have a more serious side. That is Shriners Hospitals for Children. The Shriners have 22 Childrens Hospitals across the country, in Mexico and Canada. They treat Orthopedic problems, Burns, Cleft Lip and Palate, brittle bone issues, spinal cord injuries and a host of other problems for children 18 and under, McKelvey said. There is no charge for this treatment. The Oklahoma City chapter of the India Shriners transport their 800 locally sponsored kids to and from the Shriners Hospitals, said McKelvey.

 "The Shriners! Fun and fellowship with a purpose," he said.

Related Photos
The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners.

The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners.

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a075e601fe3e90faa71ae7134d350902.jpg" alt="Photo - The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners." title="The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners."><figcaption>The Shriners in action: Okie Dokie, one of the motorized units, at the Guthrie 89er Parade. Photo courtesy of the OKC India Shriners.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2978c7106ce6f230e28f00f1a8edbc83.jpg" alt="Photo - Their famous hats are the signature style of the Shriners. Photo provided by OKC India Shriners." title="Their famous hats are the signature style of the Shriners. Photo provided by OKC India Shriners."><figcaption>Their famous hats are the signature style of the Shriners. Photo provided by OKC India Shriners.</figcaption></figure>
Michaela Marx Wheatley

Michaela Marx Wheatley is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written for newspapers and magazines in both the U.S. and Germany. These days she is a copywriter at BigWing Interactive and the editor of BrandInsight, The Oklahoman’s and... Read more ›

India Shrine of OKC

Shriners International is a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth with nearly 200 chapters in several countries and thousands of clubs around the world. The fraternity is open to men of integrity from all walks of life. The Shriners also supports Shriners Hospitals for Children®, a health system of 22 locations, and are well-known for the annual Shrine Circus. The Oklahoma City temple was established in the 1990s and has since supported countless children in need by supporting the hospitals and by providing transportation from and to the hospitals, or helped put a smile on local kids’ faces at the circus. Read more ›

NewsOK BrandInsight provides a place for local organizations and companies to connect directly with the NewsOK audience by publishing articles of interest on the NewsOK digital platforms in a special section.
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