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by Wor.Bro. MARK A. TABBERT 33
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE
First published Oct.2005 on “The Northern Light”, Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA
Last year the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts agreed to place on long-term loan it vast museum artifact collections. Arguable the most important Masonic collection in North America, it traces its beginnings to the first regular and duly constituted lodge in 1733.
Since then the Grand Lodge accumulated many important documents, aprons, jewels and other artifacts. In the late 1800s, the collections were supplements by the donations of Grand Master (and later Sovereign Grand Commander) Samuel Crocker Lawrence.
Through the twentieth century, the museum collection continued to grow. It expanded beyond Massachusetts and Blue Lodge Freemasonry to include artifacts from around the world and from the York and Scottish Rites, the Shrine and other Masonic affiliated bodies. Among the distinguished Masons of Massachusetts Freemasonry are past Sovereign Grand Commanders of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, such as Leon M. Abbott (1921-1932), Melvin M. Johnson (1933-1953) and Stanley F. Maxwell (1975-1985).
In the fall of 2004 the Grand Lodge collections were transferred to the National Heritage Museum as a long-term loan (See The Northern Light Oct. 2004). Over the past year staff has begun the slow of processes inventorying each and every item. To date more than 1,000 of the estimated 8,000 items are completed and re-housed in better storage containers.
During this inventorying phase the collection is not available for general use unless the Grand Lodge grants special permission.
Although the Museum Staff is systematically processing the collections, this article brings to light a few of the more important discoveries.
The bulk of the first 1,000 items inventoried are engraving, lithographs and Masonic membership certificates. They include some 350 portraits of both famous Americans and important American Freemasons. Among the first boxes of engravings was found an original engraving of the well known “A Freemason Form’d Out of the Material of his Lodge” dated 1754. Frequently reproduced over the last 250 years, it was engraved by Alexander Slade in London. A person could buy a copy without color or pay a little extra to have it painted.
One discovered apron provides a good sample of the 400 estimated aprons in the Grand Lodge Collection. Created in 1791 it was owned by John Row of Tyrian Lodge in Gloucester, MA. The pen and ink design on lambskin it bears the Latin motto: “Fear God and Love your Country.”
A second unique apron was owned by the famous midget, Charles S. Stratton (1838-1883), better known as Tom Thumb. The Grand Lodge Collection holds his miniature embroidered Royal Arch Chapter apron and collar dating from the 1860s.
Bro. Stratton was made a Mason in St. John’s Lodge no. 3, exalted in Jerusalem Royal Arch Chapter no. 13 and received all the York Rite and Scottish Rite degrees in Bridgeport, CT.
By 1810 and the adoption of the Thomas Smith Webb ritual lecture, Masonic aprons became more standardized. Accordingly in 1814 engraver Edward Horsman submitted a copper plate design to the Grand Lodge for approval. The Grand Lodge accepted his design and continues to hold the plate. From that plate dozens if not hundreds of aprons were produced.
Included among the vast assortment of Masonic badges ribbon and pins are several Past Master’s jewels. One particularly nice silver Past Master jewel was given by St. John’s Lodge, Boston, to James Dickson in 1812. It has an elegant design of compasses sun burst with quadrant arc with an inscription on the back.
Another rare artifact is a 1790 ceramic pitcher from the Independent Boston Fusiliers. The pitcher is one of one hundred specially ordered by Samuel Jenks and presented to each member of the Fusiliers. Jenks was a Revolutionary War veteran and a member of King Solomon’s Lodge in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Above central motif are various Masonic symbols. In 1794 the Fusiliers led the Masonic procession to lay the cornerstone of the new Massachusetts State House in Boston. Grand Master Paul Revere presided at the ceremony.
The York Rite developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s out of Blue Lodges with the support of Grand Lodges, it is not surprising then than the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts holds many valuable York Rite artifacts. Besides many Royal Arch, Royal and Select and Knights Templar aprons, membership certificates and souvenirs, the collection contains several import items to the development of the Rite. Included in the collections are several early 1800s silver Mark Master’s jewels and Royal Arch Chapter regalia. More important is an Irish Knights Templar membership certificate dated 1775 – perhaps one of the oldest known to exist. As most as rare is a 1830s Knights Templar beaver chapeau, worn by Sir Knight William Pierce, Jr. of Boston Commandery no. 2
The Grand Lodge Collection also holds many items related to the Morgan Affair and the subsequent Anti-Masonic period of the 1820s and 1830s. One such item is a perfectly preserved anti-Masonic Broadside from ca. 1830. The broadside announces the lecture of a well-known Anti-Mason, Avery Allen, at Boston’s Pantheon Hall. By demonstrating the Royal Arch degrees, Allen sought to make known what he believed were various irreligious and anti-American aspects of Freemasonry. He also thought that by revealing Freemasonry’s so-called “secret” rituals the fraternity would be less attractive to potential members.
Two discoveries with a large box of photographs are of particular importance. The first was a photo album of several dozen prominent Freemasons. Taken in the 1880s the album contains not only American Grand Masters and leaders of the York and Scottish Rites, but also many important British Masons as well as images of Temples in China and South America. The other discovery were four 1907 prints of President Theodore Roosevelt assisting the Grand Lodge in laying the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. One print even shows brother Roosevelt shaking hands with the operative stonemason after the ceremony.
Lastly, and perhaps most curious is a Masonic Square and Compass Dues card from 1956 with a mushroom cloud on it. Called “Eniwetok Atoll Square and Compass Club” it was owned by Bro. Frederick C. Brown who was stationed near Entiwok during thermonuclear bomb tests.
Although this is but a sampling of the collection, working with the full support of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, a complete the inventory is expected to be completed in the next years. Not doubt many more important and curious objects will be discovered. Ultimately it is hope this exciting collection will be enjoyed and studied by Masons, scholars and the general public through exhibition, research, publication and presentation on the Museum’s website.