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Big Mason from Arkansas

The April issue of Smithsonian magazine contains an article about the Masonic temple in Washington. The temple has become a huge tourist attraction, largely because of sensational books and movies tying Masons to all sorts of skullduggery. An excerpt from the article:

“The dark green marble floors of the atrium lead to a grand staircase and a bust of Scottish rite leader Albert Pike, a former Confederate general who spent 32 years developing Masonic rituals. Pike remains a controversial figure, with detractors alleging that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a Satanist. In 1944 the Masons, by an act of Congress, gained permission to dig up Pike’s remains from a local cemetery and bury them in the temple.”

Left unsaid was that Pike was a large and colorful figure in Arkansas history. Born in Massachusetts, he came to Arkansas as a young man and became a teacher, lawyer, publisher, political activist (deep into Whiggery at one point), duelist, poet, philosopher and soldier (in the Mexican War and the Civil War, during which he commanded Indian troops at the Battle of Pea Ridge). And a Mason, of course. The present Masonic Temple in downtown Little Rock is named for Albert Pike.

Bye-bye benefits

Post-retirement health coverage is becoming a rarity in American business. How rare? Even some of the most successful businesses around are moving away from it.

Retirees from Stephens Inc., the Little Rock-based investment house, learned recently that the company will stop providing medical insurance coverage to them and their dependents as of June 1. In a letter to retirees, human resources director Ellen Gray said the change was required by new accounting rules. Companies are now required to report the financial status — whether asset or liability — of such benefits on their balance sheets. Active employees had been notified in January that post-retirement benefits would no longer be offered.

Gray reminded retirees that the loss of coverage makes them eligible for Medicare supplement programs and provided website addresses and a contact at Stephens Insurance to call for more information.

Frank Thomas, Stephens Inc. spokesman, said the company declined to comment on the new policy.

One price fits all

Here’s a tip. If you think you might visit Magic Springs and Crystal Falls, the amusement and water park at Hot Springs, more than once this year, buy the season pass. It costs $49.99, versus $44.99 for a single daily admission. The season pass gets you unlimited use, plus all the 16 concerts with familiar touring acts at the Timberwood Amphitheatre.

That $44.99 price isn’t so high as it sounds. This year’s come-on: unlimited soft drinks throughout the park (sorry, Coke fans, Pepsi is the elixir of choice); free tubes to ride in the water park and free sunscreen. What else is there, after all? Well, maybe some nachos. Some gift items. Some brewski at the concert. Still.

Season pass sales begin April 2. New this year is a water park expansion, the Crystal Lagoon, with three “speed slides,” four “tube slides,” two “tube bowls” and a new pool.

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