At first I was somewhat confused as to what this impressive structure was. “Mecca Temple”, sphinx’s, lotus blossoms – not something you see a lot of in Westchester, NY.
Eventually I figured it out. It was the “A.A.O.N” that gave it away. It stands for “Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” otherwise known as the ‘Shriners‘
Apparently it was common Masonic groups to give themselves fictitious histories. The following describes such a history, once (but not longer) used by the Shriners:
The Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine was founded in the city of Mecca, Arabia A.D. 656, by Mohammedan Kalif, Alee, son-in-law of Mohammed. It was originally organized as an inquisition for the purpose of suppressing lawlessness, violence and the disregard for human rights, at that time running high in Arabia.
The order spread rapidly and its temples were soon established in all the great centers of population in the east, numbering among its members many of the eminent men of learning and social and political prominence, while the influence for good exhaled by the order was far reaching. Moslem in origin, the order even to the present day has been characterized in its ceremonies by the beautiful imagery of the oriental customs, while its spirit of religious toleration has departed from the old Mohammedan principle of subverting all other beliefs to that of Mohammedanism.
The authority to establish the order in America was conferred on Dr. Walter M. Fleming, by Rizk Allah Hassoon Effendee in New York in 1872, since which time the order has grown to nearly 100 temples and a membership far above 60,000.
The story is related of a member of Mecca temple, of New York, who, a number of years ago, was consul from this country to Tunis. There it chanced that he became acquainted with an Arab pasha, who on occasion saw the fez and its decorations of scimitar, crescent and star in the consul’s apartment. He recognized them at once, and it developed that there is now among the Arabs the same order, with symbols preserved from the original organization of Mecca, though Arab and American are far apart in other things. So struck was the pasha with the incident that he soon presented to the consul a large quantity of scimitars, robes and other paraphernalia saying that each had “seen service,” and that they were genuine Arab weapons and accoutrements. This gift was promptly forwarded to Mecca temple, and now the visitor to the armory of the New York Shriners may see an outfit, some parts of which are centuries old.”
-Source: The TrestleBoard, a California based Masonic periodical. May 1904
Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry provides additional information:
Walter Millard Fleming established the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in the United States. In 1867 Brother William J. Florence made a trip to the Old World and is reported to have secured there useful information for the introduction and establishment of the Shrine.
When he returned to the United States with all the data obtainable he communicated the particulars to Doctor Fleming, and thereby after further consultation with Brother Charles T. McClenachan and other able Masonic ritualists, they prepared the way to establish the Shrine in the United States. On June 16, 1871, Doctor Fleming, assisted by Brother Florence, conferred the Degrees upon four Knights Templar and seven members of Aurora Grata Consistory, Thirty-second Degree, and September 96, 1872, the organization was effected and officers elected.
Doctor Fleming was born on June 13, 1838, in Portland, Maine, and died at Mount Vernon, New York, September 9, 1913, being buried in Kensico Cemetery. He was a prominent medical man; joined the Masonic Fraternity February 13, 1869; was raised in Rochester Lodge No. 660 of Rochester, New York. He removed his office and residence to New York City and associated himself with Aurora Grata Lodge of Perfection in 1870; received the Degrees of the Consistory up to and including the Thirty-second Degree on May 31, 1871, and was given, on September 19, 1872, his Thirty-third Degree. December 3, 1872, he affiliated with New York Lodge, No. 330, of New York City, he having demitted from his Rochester Lodge. He was exalted in Lafayette Chapter, No. 207, Royal Arch Masons; became a member of Adelphic Council, No. 7, Royal and Select Masters; was knighted in Columbia Commandery No. 1, Knights Templar of New York City, March 19, 1872, and was unanimously elected Eminent Commander at the succeeding Conclave, April 15, 1872, which office he retained four successive years. He founded and served as Illustrious Potentate the Mecca Temple, originally named Gotham, which was the first Temple established by the Shrine.
Mecca Temple received its Charter on September 26, 1872, and Brother Fleming held his original office from the time of its inception until December, 1887. Re was elected Grand Imperial Potentate at the first Session of the Imperial Grand Council of the Order, June 6, 1876, and retained this office until June 14, 1886. The name Grand was after a time dropped from the.
The medallion on the right column reads: “Erected by the members of Mecca Temple A.A.O.N mystic shrine. To the memory of Augustus Winniett Peters 33. Born June 10, 1844, died December 29, 1898. Potentate of Mecca Temple December 1887 – December 1898. First President of the Borough of Manhattan.
The initial letters: Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine form an anagram of “A Mason”.