TACOMA, Wash. — For more than a hundred years the men who entered this four-story Tacoma building and climbed the well-worn flight of stairs were entering a secret society: The Knights of Pythias.
“They're all members of a fraternal organization. Well,” said Historian Michael Sullivan “They are knights you know.”
Here, shields hang in hallways, red cloaks hang in a vestibule, and a password is needed to gain entry into a room called Castle Hall.
“If it was incorrect chances are one of the knights or enforcement people out here would escort you out of the building,” said Sullivan.
What could possibly be such a big deal?
It's not just a room. It's a sanctuary frozen in time for more than a hundred years.
“I never walk in this room where I don't marvel at the degree of preservation,” said Sullivan.
It was built during Tacoma's heyday. Designed by the same architect responsible for Stadium High School, and the craftsmen involved would have been members of the lodge.
“The Pythians tended to be guys who worked in the mills, carpenters, shipwrights,” said Sulllivan.
That a room so grand might be tucked away in a building like this was kind of the idea.
“For the most part it was a secret place and people walked by it every day and nobody had any idea it was here,” said Sullivan.
The Holy Bible has a place of honor and so does Abraham Lincoln. The Knights of Pythias was founded during the Civil War by government workers hoping to heal the nation through the kind of "brotherly love" illustrated by the Greek legend of Damon and Pythias.
“It sort of comes across pretty intensely in that one where literally his head is on the block,” said Sullivan.
There are rituals involved, plenty of symbolism, and no shortage of colorful costumes, but Michael says deep down this order is a lot like others.
“They were called insurance societies because members would pay dues and the pool money then would be used like an insurance fund to be able to support families and kids and so on,” said Sullivan.
It may all sound like something from days long gone by, but the Knights of Pythias are still active. Michael --it turns out - is a knight and so is university professor Joel Larson.
“I can tell you that we do wear things when we come into this space but what --or the significance of those outfits I'm not at liberty to disclose,” said Larson.
The Knights of Pythias, still a secret society after all these years.
The Pythian Temple, 924 Broadway, Tacoma, WA 98402