National Heritage Museum: Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections
National Heritage Museum
33 Marrett Road (At the intersection of Route 2A and Massachusetts Avenue)
Lexington, MA 02421
Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives
Opens October 3, 2009
On view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives
Tuesday-Friday: 10 AM - 4:30 PM
1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month: 10 AM - 4:30 PM
Founded and supported by the 32º Scottish Rite Freemasons in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States, the National Heritage Museum and its Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives boast a rich collection of archives, books and objects related to Freemasonry and other fraternal groups. Along with the day-to-day records of Freemasonry, the Library and Archives collects anti-Masonic material. In spite of its colorful and even outlandish message, this material has an important story to tell. This fascinating story is explored in "Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives".
Suspicion of Freemasonry is nearly as old as the fraternity itself. Since the early 1700s, groups have accused Freemasons of everything from plotting world revolution in their lodge rooms to worshiping Satan in their initiation ceremonies. Equating Masonic secrecy with darkness, sin, immorality, intemperance, treason, and the devil, anti-Masons have maligned the fraternity with both misconceptions and deliberate misstatements. For hundreds of years, Freemasons have promoted fellowship, charity and education among its members. Despite this positive mission, they have also needed to battle these mistaken beliefs about the organization.
By looking at anti-Masonry in a historical context, we can see that objections to Freemasonry have often accompanied changes in society, such as religious revivals in America to totalitarian regimes in Europe. In addition to helping us understand the history of Freemasonry in America, the anti-Masonic movements and ideas shed light on the social, political and religious history of the United States.
Over time, anti-Masonic propaganda has taken many forms. Exposés of Masonic ritual have been printed since the early 1700s. In the 1820s and 1830s, following the kidnapping and presumed murder of a former Mason who threatened to publish an exposure of Masonic ritual, Americans began producing anti-Masonic newspapers, almanacs, broadsides and other pieces. During this same period, a political party that promoted anti-Masonic candidates formed.
Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, many religious groups and individuals—both mainstream and fringe—opposed Freemasonry as being anti-Christian or downright evil. Nazi Germany sought to suppress Freemasonry during World War II. Most recently, groups or individuals who oppose Freemasonry have often simply reprinted or recycled the ideas found in anti-Masonic material produced 100 years earlier.
Displayed in the exhibition are many examples of anti-Masonic literature from the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives collection. Most contain misinformation at best or outlandish claims about Freemasonry at worst. We invite you to explore the resources in the library and archives to learn more about Freemasonry and its history to form your own opinion.
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