Rock Island’s Masonic Temple is a funny little example of the declining influence of fraternal organizations in the US. After it was sold by the Masons, at least one lodge was reduced to renting out meeting space in their former home, which had been renamed after a character from The Nightmare Before Christmas. As one power falls (ancient rites, old boys clubs, Big Compass), another grows to fill the void (fresh terror, Tim Burton, Big Escape Room).

1910s postcard / 2022 photo

No shade on Skellington Manor–an event venue used for wedding receptions, escape rooms, a haunted house, and murder mystery dinners seems like a clever use for an old masonic temple, drawing on their lingering air of mystery (...personally, every mason I’ve ever met has been a pompous old dork, but.).

1983, David Royce Murphy

The biggest modification to the building over the last 110 years appears to be the fire escape and the emergency exits that were punched into the south elevation of the building, as well as the sign hanging down the corner.The Skellington Manor sign appears to be a knowing continuation of the Masons' marquee.

Architect Olof Z. Cervin designed the Rock Island Masonic Temple, which opened in 1913. Active in the Quad Cities from the 1890s into the 1940s, Cervin left his mark on Rock Island. His firm designed the Fort Theater, the Safety Building, the Weishar Apartments, and a WW1-era emergency housing project. Part of the Quad Cities’ large Swedish community–Olof’s dad edited Hemlandet, the first Swedish-language newspaper in the US–Cervin also won a bunch of commissions at his alma mater, Augustana College.

It's not really visible in Cervin's work in Rock Island, but he was apparently a proponent of the National Romantic style, popular in Scandinavia at the turn of the century, resulting in some very unexpected churches in places like rural Nebraska.

Serving as the clubhouse for a handful of Rock Island masonic lodges, including Trio Lodge 57, Rock Island Lodge 658, Rock Island Chapter 18, and Rock Island Commmandery 18, the Masonic Temple had various lounges, reception rooms, and a kitchen. The Corinthian Room, on the third floor, was the big one–3,200 sq feet with stage and a stereopticon. Busy and bustling with Masonic activities in its first couple decades, expansion plans were made and then abandoned (probably for the best). By the 1980s, the building was being rented out for antique shows, dance classes, plays, and independent wrestling.

Like so much of Rock Island, the Masonic Temple could’ve very well ended up a parking lot after languishing under-used for years. Instead, Michael and Penni Steen, who’d built up a following with their Terror in the Woods haunted house across the river in Iowa, bought the building in 2009. The Steens converted the building into Skellington Manor, which hosts wedding receptions, murder mystery dinners, escape room games, and the Haunted Manor every October. The Steens received an award in 2012 from the Rock Island Preservation Society for their adaptive reuse of the Masonic Temple.

Production Files

Further reading:

This 2009 article about a failed attempt to remove the time capsule made me laugh