Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 7 – Arriving in Fort Scott

 Part 7: Arriving in Fort Scott

 On November 1, 2015, I drove into the parking lot of the Fort Scott Sleep Inn & Suites, my home for the next three weeks. After unloading all of my supplies and setting up the suite as my out-of-town office, I contacted the local Scottish Rite representative. He and his wife wished to welcome me to town, offering to take me out for dinner at a local restaurant. They picked my up at 6:00 and we headed to Sharky’s. By the end of my stay in Fort Scott, I would have sampled everything offered on the Sharky’s menu.

I learned that John’s wife was the current mayor of the town, and they both were intellectuals. The couple had heavily invested in Fort Scott over the years, not only at the Scottish Rite, but also in the downtown area where there were continued attempts at revitalization. They had recently purchased a local store front on main street and had high hopes for an upward swing in business, also being part-owners in the Sleep Inn & Suites.

I was invited to a variety of upcoming social events, but had to respectfully decline – noting that I would have my hands full with supervising the scenery removal.

They also wanted to share a recent situation that had occurred in the Scottish Rite Theatre concerning a local resident who had lived in the building for a while. I was being told as I might notice some things that appeared odd since my last visit – like a couch that had been placed in the balcony area. There were two reasons for sharing this story, the first was to suggest that the scenery might have been handled during the lodger’s stay. The second reason to share the story was my safety and the safety of my crew. Although I was assured that they were in possession of all building keys , I was to keep an eye out for uninvited visitors. If anyone was to enter the space not associated with the Scottish Rite, I was to contact John right away. This caused me some uneasiness about our upcoming working environment and what we were walking into as there might be more going on, such as a hostile undercurrent resulting from the sale of the scenery.

I was representing a business with millions of dollars at our disposal taking one of the last things of value from this small town. During our August visit, the CEO had made clear that Minnesota Masonic Charities’ had deep pockets to fund this endeavor; they could write a check of any amount to both purchase and restore the collection.

Fort Scott was an economically depressed community with a median income of $18,000-$24,000 per year, and the pride of the community was at stake. This had once been a booming town of industry and there were reminders everywhere of their thriving past. It could become a difficult project if we were not fully welcomed by the local citizens. It was also a small enough town to realize that everyone knew what was going on in the community and all of the new projects– especially our initial offer to purchase the entire scenery collection for $2,500.

The mayor asked if I would be amenable to a newspaper interview. We discussed how this entire endeavor must remain a positive and noble effort to preserve the material heritage of both Fort Scott and the fraternity. Not a large business swooping in to gut the town.

To be continued…






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