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Two in Tow & On the Go | ‘Manhunt,’ bonfire and more DeMolay memories (Part II)

Posted on February 10th, 2024 By:

I first visited Fox Island’s Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Park in 2021, when the kids and I were still the seeking out the Puget Sound’s elusive “real sand” beach after moving here from California.

At the time, I’d never heard of the word “DeMolay” before. But I figured it was the last name of a local park donor. I soon discovered, however, as I detailed in the first installment of this two-part column, that the DeMolay moniker is actually tied to some very interesting masonic rituals in the property’s past.

In this the second half of my little looksy into the history of the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit , we’ll learn some more about what happened out there — from the former members themselves.

DeMolay memories

After our first trip to the sandspit, I wrote a quick blog post about the beach and its awesome fluffy sand patch, clicked “publish” over on and went about my day being my kids’ official snack distributor and breaker-upper of sibling squabbles.

But then a surprising thing happened: the DeMolay guys began emailing me. They said so-and-so was Googling something about Fox Island when my blog post popped up. One family then emailed another who passed it along to someone else and lo-and-behold over the next several months I was talking to tried-and-true DeMolay people!  Naturally, I asked them more and more questions — and they (graciously) kept answering. (That’s a reporter’s dream, by the way). One member even invited me to their annual DeMolay cookout on the sandspit that summer! So cool!

(Yep, the group is still active locally, with examples here and here).

Courtesy photo of Smith’s gavel from when he was Master Councilor of the Tacoma DeMolay chapter in the 1990s.

Among my new former fraternal order email BFFs was Mr. Zak Smith of Fox Island. I briefly introduced him in my last column as being a Tacoma DeMolay member back in the 1990s. Smith, now in his late 30s or early 40s, joined the Tacoma chapter in 1996, when he was 12 or 13 years old. His dad, a plumber by trade, was also affiliated with the DeMolay and volunteered as its youth advisor. As I peppered him with questions, Smith tried to tell me that he’d tell me anything I wanted to know, but the DeMolay wasn’t  secret-society level exciting.

To which I replied — Heck yes it is!

The organization

…”DeMolay is a little different than most youth organizations,” Smith said. “One of the most important differences when it comes to understanding the sandspit and what we did there is that the boys were in charge, not the adults. The adults were called ‘advisors’ not ‘leaders.’ Boys would generally join in their early teens and learn from the older boys.”

That sentiment tracked with things I’d read about the larger DeMolay International institution of clubs worldwide. The founders’ intent was to give the boys mentors and role models until they could step into leadership position themselves for the next generation.

Smith went on to say: “DeMolay is organized with chapters as the smallest group. Usually, a city will have one chapter. The local area had chapters in Tacoma, Renton, Auburn, Parkland, Puyallup, and Black Diamond when I was in. That group was called the Adelphus Region.”

I looked that up and “adelphus” is related to the Greek word “adelphos,” meaning “brother.” That makes sense. But according to Google, the “adelphus” is also used in the animal kingdom as a taxonomic rank to group species that share common characteristics. Honestly, that one relates, too.

Courtesy photo of Smith’s Master Councilor’s pin, Chevalier cords, and merit bars (similar idea to Boy Scout badges).

The meetings

My next questions for Smith were how the DeMolay was internally structured, having just pored through layers upon layers of the various paths that Masons go through to level-up within their social structures. While DeMolay boys are not actual Masons, their advisors and sponsoring organizations are so I figured it had to tricke down somewhere.

Smith replied that he “was elected Master Councilor (chapter president) at 15. We held meetings twice per month in a formal (shirt-and-tie dress code) setting. The boys would develop a budget to fit charity work, obligatory days (a kind of “DeMolay holiday”), and fun events. Most other chapters would plan dances, game nights, going to sporting events, camping trips, etc. … Tacoma Chapter owned the spit so we would go there all the time, because it was free fun.”

Manhunt, bonfires

To that, I asked just what kind of fun they had.

He said …“a usual trip to the spit would look like the boys getting out there on a Friday afternoon and eating dinner, building a bonfire down on the sandy beach, and then playing “manhunt” (more on that below) until we were all exhausted and went to bed around 3 a.m.”

That last bit took me all of two microseconds to follow up with “Wait, wait, wait — what’s manhunt?!”

To which he replied: “Manhunt is basically team hide-and-seek, but we played it a little differently. We played after dark, in the woods, wearing U.S. Army surplus camouflage. Flashlights were not allowed, and you weren’t caught until you were tackled, football style. We all got pretty comfortable running around in those woods in the dark.”

And he said his club is not interesting! Spoiler alert: It’s ALL interesting. (Ps. Check out these chapter downloads that came up in a Google search. Yep, I’m pretty nosy.)

Reader and past DeMolay member Tyler Jenne also wrote to me. He remembers the sandspit’s rural setting as being especially exciting as a kid.

“Back when I was a part of DeMolay,” Jenne said, “we used to build insane bonfires that were huge and memorable. I think we even put an old couch on one.”

Smith loved the bonfires, too, adding that he remembers “the fires getting big enough that the people on the other side of the water would call the fire department on us every once in a while.”

Ha! I would have loved to see those giant crazy bonfires all those years ago. Excepy bonfires are strictly prohibited on the sandspit today, considering it’s not a nature preserve, according to rules posted at site.


Overall, I sure did get a kick out of the conversations and was really quite thankful that these guys reached out to me and openly shared about their experiences about what DeMolay life was like. And then to even invite me to the barbecue — how nice is that?! Sadly I couldn’t go at the time, but fingers crossed they still want me back this year 🙂

Plus, it’s nice to hear from the club because their footprint there is rapidly changing lately – what little was left on the sandspit after the DeMolay sold it in 2010 PenMet Parks was largely tied to the three longtime buildings on site. Two of which, were torn down in the last year or so.

Today, one remains. To be fair, the former DeMolay structures were old and falling apart. Because they’d fallen into such massive disrepair, they were a safety hazard to the public. I’m a big architectural history junkie so I blogged about all three buildings while they were still standing. I even stuck my phone up in the windows to get a glimpse inside. Here’s a quick look at the folks who reached out to me after the building posts ran:

The ‘Caretaker House’

The former DeMolay Sandspit Caretaker House was torn down in 2022.

The DeMolay Caretaker House was a fun building to wonder about because it overlooked the majority of the sandspit’s shallow cove area (at low tide) where all the kids play. Clara, Wyatt and I called it the haunted house. Another gal on Facebook coined the ‘Sasquatch House’ and a whole slew of other folks called it a bat-infested dump.

Unfortunately, the house was cool and all, but it needed so many repairs over the years that it was  eventually abandoned onsite. By the time we saw it in 2021, the roof had partially caved in, the windows were boarded up and people told us a whole cauldron of bats lived in the kitchen. Eeek.

But, still, with its peeling green paint, slatted siding and moss-topped roof was still charming in a curious, fairytale sort of way. And, it was also once someone’s home — one with a very pretty view — and I wondered who had lived there.

Luckily, I soon found out.

Because just last month, in January 2024, a reader named Stormy Thompson wrote to me saying the house originally belonged to herring fisherman who donated the structure to the DeMolay. I’d never heard that — and I hope it’s true because it’s really cool. Her comment also included a detail that her “mom and dad were caretakers  — we lived there two different times — mid 70s then ’78-86 (I graduated college 1984 and moved). Sadly we didn’t take a lot of photos of the house.”

(I asked literally everyone if they had pictures of their time at the DeMolay. Only Smith did.)

Before Thompson got in touch, another reader who marked his name down as “Eddie” commented on my post in 2022 saying he was a former DeMolay kid — and his family had also lived in the caretaker house once.

“I grew up as a DeMolay spending much time at the Sandspit. I actually lived in the caretaker house for several years. My parents were the caretakers on the property in the early 90s just after my dad had retired from the shipyard. I was in college and commuted in to Tacoma daily for school. My mom loved to walk the beach every day,” he wrote. Aww.

And then, even before that, in 2021, reader Dan Thomas commented saying that he, too, “lived in (that) lower house as the caretaker for the camp in the early 2000s. Also helped with all the buildings.”

The caretakers

Smith told me he’s good friends with Thomas and they were part of the Tacoma DeMolay at the same time, with Thomas being an adult when Smith was a kid. He shed more light on just what the caretakers did at the sandspit.

“When the property was owned by DeMolay, there was a caretaker that lived there (rent free!!) to take care of the property,” Smith said. “The caretaker … would come up with a list of projects that needed to be done while we were there. Usually things like heavy yard work, major repairs, major clean-ups, etc. During daylight hours we would play ultimate frisbee up on the sports field when the work was done, but the main event at the spit was the bonfires and the manhunt.”

Cappy’s Kitchen in the background

Cappy’s Kitchen

The third building on site was a smaller cream-colored porch-like one-room house smack dab in the middle of the spit. It was also torn down recently. It was built about 20 years ago as a snack shack of sorts to prepare and serve food for the DeMolay campouts. Smith told me that one-time advisor Cappy MacIntyre was a carpenter, and the structure was named “Cappy’s Kitchen” in his honor.

I really liked Cappy’s Kitchen. I found in mysterious and charming and also featured it prominentaly in 2021. But alas, keeping it there wasn’t meant to be.

Smith’s old ritual book: “where all the secrets are.” 🙂

In conclusion

So there you have it — That’s just some of the history of the Tacoma DeMolay’s time on the Fox Island sandspit, and what all went on there. Thank you for reading my two-part column about the history of one of my favorite local places to take the kids. I have a few more DeMolay details up my sleeve, but for now I’ll leave you with fun facts about secrets and ceremonies via one last insider story from Smith:

“After my term as Master Councilor, I was elected as Region Representative. … There were several things that I had to do as the leader of the Region, but one thing was the Region camping trip was always held at the sand spit. It was called Gull Dummy. Not sure where the name came from. The chapters would all come out to the spit that one weekend and we would have tournaments in ultimate frisbee, volleyball, and manhunt. We would also hold open-air initiation ceremonies for new members there during Gull Dummy. The first ceremony is basically taking an oath of secrecy* and loyalty to the organization and to each other. The second ceremony is a play that the existing members act out for the new members. It is the story of the the last trials of Jacques DeMolay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. It’s a story of loyalty to ones fraternal brothers. Normally the ceremonies are done at our usual meeting place at the chapter level, but once a year we would do them at the spit, in the fresh air, with the best actors for the parts from the entire region.”

See ya out there!

*I told Smith that I hope I didn’t make him breaking his oath, and he replied not to worry — he didn’t actually divulge any secrets and also because he’s not a member anymore. Whew! I’m glad. But I’m also curious what the REAL secrets are now!!

Mom and two kids standing with water and boats in the background.


Tonya Strickland is a Gig Harbor mom-of-two, longtime journalist, and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. Her blog, Two in Tow & On the Go, was recently named among the 10 Seattle-Area Instagram Accounts to Follow by ParentMap magazine. Tonya and her husband Bowen moved to Gig Harbor from California with their two kids, Clara (9) and Wyatt (7) in 2021. Find them on Facebook for all the kid-friendly places in and around town.