|Rivista di Massoneria - Revue de Franc-Maçonnerie - Revista de Masonerìa - Revista de Maçonaria|
|History Literature Music Art Architecture Documents Rituals Symbolism|
by Wor.Bro. MARK A. TABBERT 33
DISPLAYING MASONIC RELICS IN MASONIC HALLS.First published Oct.2002 on “The Northern Light”, Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA
1948, the distinguished Masonic author, playwright, and past Masonic Service
Association Executive Secretary, Carl Claudy, published his collection of
writings in a book: "Masonic Harvest." One the book's essays, "Relics,"
describes the many famous and treasured Masonic historical artifacts from around
the country, including numerous George Washington Masonic treasures, as well as
other colonial and early American Masonic furniture books and papers. In other
parts of the country he mentions Lewis' and Clark's Masonic aprons, Mark Twain's
petition for membership, and the first square and compasses used in the Utah
territory in 1859. To him these relics were important to "keep tradition
alive" and "wield a restraining influence against those too modern
minded brethren by whom "streamlining" and "modernization"
would be applied to the Ancient Craft."
Born in the horse and buggy days of 1879 and living to see the dawn of
the Space Age in 1957, Claudy's generation witnessed more technological, social,
and cultural changes than any other; before or since. It is no wonder then that
he worried about the survival of the Craft's "ancient established usages"
when governed by "modern
minded brethren." Now that we live in the 21st century we know
all too well the effects of "streamlining and modernization" and new
questions have arisen to the meaning and purpose of these long cherished Masonic
now, indeed, is the purpose of display cases filled with George Washington
related artifacts, old aprons and jewels from long dead famous Americans or
countless badges from Masonic conventions and ceremonies? Are they simply there
to show past Masonic activities and enhance the grandeur and beauty of lodges?
Or are they expected to impress non-Masons of the Craft's ancient heritage just
as some families' display genealogy charts? Do these Masonic artifacts have real
historic value? Do they teach, inspire or are they simply nice things to please
a proud Mason I share Bro. Claudy's reverence for these relics, but as a
historian I am obliged to answer these questions and the public's curiosity over
American Freemasonry. The answers I discovered resulted from nearly three years
work developing "To Build and Sustain: Freemasonry in American
Community" exhibition. As Claudy hoped his essay would inspire brothers to
seek out and preserve their relics, it is my hope that this article will inspire
brothers to preserve and present new displays of their lodges' important history.
before new displays are presented an inventory and assessment of artifacts,
photographs, and documents must be completed. Only by first knowing the
available materials and how to care for them, can new displays then be built. To
help this process the National Heritage Museum has just printed a new brochure
titled "Caring for Your Masonic Treasures." (See sidebar.) In addition,
the museum's staff is always available for direct consultation and is happy to
provide other preservation and display resources.
the several ways to reinterpret and present Masonic history displays, I believe,
the first and foremost concept is to remember Freemasonry is comprised of men.
While this seem obvious, all too often grand masters' aprons or past masters
jewels are displayed with no information on the men who earned them. Masonic
relics are simply evidence of men's participation in the Craft. No matter how
beautiful or impressive, they say nothing by themselves. They come alive,
however, when we can learn about when, why, and how men used them, for they
speak of lifelong friendships. Friendships that began at initiation, grew
through good times and bad, and ended with an evergreen sprig at the grave.
Whenever possible aprons and jewels should be displayed with
photographs, short biographic labels and non-Masonic personal items. By taking a
few minuets to write or find a photograph of a historic brother, or better yet a
photograph of him with his family or in "civilian" dress, you create
depth and an engaging story. Even displaying one past masters apron on tuxedoed
mannequin, will attract and engage visitors far better than walls covered with
anonymous framed aprons.
In conjunction with this new approach, Masonic displays should also
contain a variety of artifacts. Rather than having cases organized by type or
style, they should be grouped by person or age. History exhibits are not
zoological and we should not display aprons, porcelain pitchers or jewels like
species and breeds! Because today's visitors find them repetitively boring, few
modern natural history museums have cases filled with every variety of duck,
butterfly or snake. Rather they show a variety of animals together in their
habitat--beaver, heron, trout, snake and snail all in a woodland stream setting.
Masonic displays should group objects according to their age, such as aprons,
photographs, jewels and gavels all used between say 1870 and 1900. In this way
visitors can see how the Craft evolved over time and created objects according
to the history of the lodge. Starting with a selection of crude frontier Masonic
artifacts from the 1870s and finishing with a few expensive 1990s artifacts
shows how a grand lodge or valley prospered with the territory and state.
If, however, a lodge has more artifacts related to people than eras, then
displays can be organized to create a Masonic "hall of fame." As Ralph
Waldo Emerson said "There is properly no history, only biography" and
through the biographies of brothers, lodge histories can be told. These
individuals’ cases may show relics from his range of Masonic activities: Blue
Lodge, York Rite, Scottish Rite Shrine, etc. But beyond objects, it should
contain biographical labels that mention both his personal and professional
achievements. Knowing a past master served in World War I, owned a barbershop,
and was married with children, as he organized a Demolay chapter, established a
lodge charity fund and wrote a Masonic book, does indeed teach and inspire
Another important point to remember is to keep exhibitions simple,
factual and focused on local stories. Displays that try to tell the whole
history of the Craft are doomed to fail. The endless differences in Masonic
rituals, jurisdictions, rites, auxiliaries, and charities perplex non-masons,
let alone 50-year brothers. If the material to display is primarily from your
Scottish Rite valley, then tell the story of your valley, and not any other--not
your local Blue Lodge, Eastern Star Chapter, or Shrine. At most, display a chart
of all the Masonic bodies so visitors might see the scope of the Masonic family.
Furthermore, stick to the facts and relics of local history. Do not
mention the Medieval Knight Templars unless you live in France and own a suit of
armor. If you live in Wisconsin, then let Virginia tell George Washington’s
story and New Mexico tell Kit Carson’s. Rather be a proud “Badger” and
tell the story of the Ringling Brothers in Baraboo, or Governor Tommy Thompson
When creating display labels and graphic information, remember to write a
story and not an editorial or an advertisement. It is unnecessary to address the
various controversial issues that have dogged the fraternity for centuries. If
visitors want answers to such issues then provide a rack of Masonic Service
Association brochures. They are easily obtainable and already written.
it is proper to be proud of the fraternity, circumscribe mentioning
Freemasonry’s wonderful social and charitable activities. A few well-placed
notices of exciting events or great charitable statistics over time, is enough
to impress. A quiet voice often resonates more than a shout. But remain proud of
the fraternity’s tenets, principles and mission. Intelligent prospective
candidates want to know Freemasonry’s purpose. If you are too embarrassed to
clearly state them, then let the actions of historical masons prove them.
Otherwise, men seeking admission will look elsewhere for morality, brotherly
love, and truth.
Lastly, use common terminology that everyone can understand.
While it is great fun to list every exalted Masonic title or incorporate phrases
from the ritual in display labels, they easily confuse non-masons. But if you
choose to use the title Worshipful Master, then do not be afraid to explain its
origin and meaning. When in doubt give you display labels to a bright
intelligent teenager. If he or she can understand them, then others will too.
While American and Freemasonry has changed since Carl Claudy published his essay his conclusion is remains true. "… every Masonic antiquity, wherever kept and displayed, wields also a … reverence for, the ancient laws and principles which makes Freemasonry what it is, and not something else." Today there are literally thousands of clubs, groups, and associations for men to join. While Freemasonry is the parent of most of them it remains distinct. No other organization can claim such universality, generous charity and, most important, rich history. For too long masons have tried to be like others, but through a proper application of a little wisdom, strength, and beauty, displays of our “relics” can encourage others to become like us-- brothers.