Exposed: The Original “Dogs Playing Poker” Were Freemasons

No one. There is no one you can trust. The adorable dogs you once thought were "man's best friend" have all along been knights in the secretive lodge of the Masonic Elect.

How can this be true?

Well: The first nine paintings to ever depict various breeds of domesticated canines fraternizing around the card table in ribald and raucous games of chance were painted by a self-taught former druggist named Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in the mid-1900s. Coolidge had originally devised the images for a cigar company's marketing giveaway, but pretty soon afterward he inked a deal with Minnesota-based advertising publisher Brown & Bigelow to mass produce the paintings on calendars promoting consumer goods for men. The 16 pieces in Coolidge's now famous cycle depicted the crew in various states of human bro down—fixing a car by the side of the road, watching a baseball game, drinking, camping, so forth.

But, only once did Coolidge's work reveal the dogs' True Nature: in his haunting tableau "Riding the Goat" (above) which depicts an otherwise good doggie's masonic initiation.

We may never fully grasp the import of Cassius Coolidge's arcane masterwork, but we can surely learn from the efforts of those who have tried. William D. Moore is an associate professor of American Material Culture at Boston University and the author of Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes (University of Tennessee Press, 2006). Writing for Winterthur Portfolio—the thrice-yearly journal of the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library—Moore explains:

In Coolidge's image entitled "Riding the Goat," a variety of dogs have gathered within a fraternal lodge room to initiate what appears to be a St. Bernard by having him ride a goat while blindfolded. Three officers, denoted as such by their ceremonial collars and their location in monumental chairs behind a desk, look on while a spaniel holds a rope, which in Masonic argot is called a "cabletow," secured around the candidate's neck. Behind the main figures, the lodge secretary, another St. Bernard, is recording the fact that the candidate has joined the organization. Some of the canines sport circular hats, which are employed by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry to denote elevated institutional status. Many of the dogs are smoking, consuming tobacco both through pipes and as cigars.

So, at the very least, we can say that this is one of the most baller cigar advertisements of all time, from unquestionably the single most iconic series of cigar advertisements in our nation's history.

Moore continues:

The humor in this composition is derived, as it is in many of Coolidge's work, from the canine actors pursuing human activities. The dogs provide the punch line in this visual anecdote. The goat is simply a commonplace of the lodge room, comparable to the ceremonial paraphernalia or the monumental chairs. Significantly, the goat is fully under the control of the lodge members. Although the St. Bernard is blindfolded, he retains his composure.

Very curious indeed. The St. Bernard—or, pace Professor Moore, what appears to be a St. Bernard—does look remarkably calm atop that wooly, sabbatic goat. Lots of dogs will freak out even just if you try to pick them up. What do this dog, and his occult friends, know that we don't?

Why can't we hear a dog whistle? What sort of person would greenlight a PG family comedy in which Charles Grodin is tortured by (what, at least, appears to be) a St. Bernard?

We've been teaching dogs how to do tricks for so long; isn't it inevitable that the dogs would someday learn to play tricks on us?

[image via Brown & Bigelow, "Riding the Goat," (lithograph) ca. 1900., by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge]