A novice of the Fellow Craft Club - an elite within the lodge - would sit while an older member fired a handgun loaded with blanks at him from 20 ft away, while another beat a rubbish bin like a drum. On Monday night something went horribly wrong.
Albert Eid, 76, had a .22 with blanks in his left pocket; in his right was a .32 with live ammunition. In a distracted moment, he reached for his right pocket and shot dead William James, 47.
Mr Eid was was released on $2,500 (£1,400) bail after appearing in court this week wearing a blue Masonic jacket to plead not guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Police accept that the shooting was accidental, but other masons rushed to disassociate themselves from the ritual. "It's mindboggling," the New York State Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons told the New York Times. "I've never heard of anything like this."
Mr Eid had been a lodge member more than 30 years. "He's always there," said Michael Paquette, who joined five years ago. For his initiation, Mr Paquette was given two loaded mousetraps and told one worked and one did not. Another member touched the first, and it did not snap. Mr Paquette was told to touch the second. He did, and found it was broken too. "It was just for you to realise you were in good hands, and didn't have anything to fear," he said.