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June 2008

Filmed in Glorious Masoniscope?

Masoniscopestb_web Stumbling upon interesting items is one of the joys of working with any collection. The other day I was looking at Carl H. Claudy's The Masonic Service Association of the United States, published in 1939 [Call no.: 43.C615 1939]. While browsing through the book I came across the word "Masoniscope." What is this? I thought.

It turns out that the Masoniscope is one in a long line of methods used to illustrate the emblems of Freemasonry in the lodge room. Tracing boards, whether in the form of a painting on wood or an image projected on a wall, are essentially visual aids which use Masonic symbols to illustrate the principles taught in each Degree of Freemasonry. They are used by the lecturer to help a candidate associate an image with an idea.

The Masoniscope provides a glimpse into a wonderful moment where the history of technology and the history of Freemasonry overlap. As is the case with many technological changes, what once sounded cutting edge now sounds quaint. Claudy writes:

"Later in its history the Association developed the Masoniscope; a small projector using a short roll of standard motion picture film, on which are the emblems of the three degrees. This was intended to take the place of the much more cumbersome projection lantern and the expensive and breakable glass slides."

The Masoniscope was a filmstrip projector, used in this case for projecting Masonic emblems in the lodge room. Compared to the lantern slide projectors that they were replacing, filmstrip projectors were a new technology and offered advantages to the technology that they were taking the place of. You probably won't be surprised to learn that many Masonic lodges today use PowerPoint in the same way that the Masoniscope was used in 1926.

And just one last thing, which shows again how much times have changed in terms of technology. The April 1926 Short Talk Bulletin (still published by the MSA), called "Seeing," describes the Masoniscope in further detail, including a statement on how the Masoniscope was powered. I was struck by what a difference eighty years makes, since it states that the Masoniscope "uses any sort of electric current: alternating, direct, Delco, storage battery, even automobile battery current."

Yes, that's right, even automobile battery current.


John Nelson, His House

John_nelson_house Asher Benjamin's 1806 book American Builder's Companion: or, A New System of Architecture: Particularly Adapted to the Present Style of Building in the United States of America had a great impact on New England architecture. Our copy is of particular interest because it once belonged to John Nelson (1789-1859), a carpenter and housewright who built or worked on many of the 19th-century homes in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The book is a practical guide to architectural styles, and we can assume that this book was probably used by Nelson as he worked as a housewright and a carpenter.

In addition to the book, the National Heritage Museum also owns a number of tools that once belonged to John Nelson. You can see some of them on display in the current exhibition Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington an the American Revolution, currently on view in our galleries.

The John Nelson House, pictured above, is located in Lincoln, MA in Minute Man National Park. The photograph seen here is from the Historical Architectural Buildings Survey, taken in 1961. There are more photos available online, courtesy of the Library of Congress' Prints & Photographs Division.

Links to more material
-Lincoln Public Library have the Nelson Family Papers in their collection, including a number that relate to John Nelson. A finding aid for that collection is available online.

-A digitized version of American Builder's Companion from the University of Wisconsin.

And here's a more complete citation for our John Nelson copy of Asher Benjamin's book:
Benjamin, Asher. American Builder's Companion: or, A New System of Architecture: Particularly Adapted to the Present Style of Building in the United States of America. Boston: Etheridge & Bliss, 1806.
Call number: RARE NA 2610 .B4 1806


Shall We Dance?

A1992_180lodgedancecard_web The card seen here is from a social event that took place on Wednesday, November 27, 1889. On that date, the Eureka Lodge, No.4 of the Knights of Pythias of Lynn, Massachusetts held their annual concert and dance on Thanksgiving Eve.  In addition to this wonderful illustration, the card  contains information that gives us a sense of what the evening must have been like - from the types of dances that were danced to the various dishes served at dinner. The program for the evening included a concert by Reinewald’s Eighth Regiment Band and Orchestra, a full military band. 

The first part of the program (MA 015) was a set of dances including quadrilles, waltzes, contras, schottisches, followed by an intermission and supper.  According to the program, the menu consisted of roast turkey and cranberry sauce, chicken, mashed potatoes, various salads, cold meats, oysters, ice cream and cake, tea and coffee, and fruit.  Following dinner, there was more dancing, including more quadrilles, a Portland Fancy, a Danish, and a Redowa. Several of the dances are named for other fraternal groups of the time period such as “Red Men”, “I.O.O.F”, “K.G.E”.  These names refer to the Improved Order of Red Men, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Knights of the Golden Eagle.

Though the peak of participation in the Knights of Pythias was during the late-19th century, they still exist today, with headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts. They are still accepting new members if you are interested.


Prince Hall Memorial on Cambridge Common

Washington_bas_reliefNo, that's not a memorial to Prince Hall shown here, but we've learned that there will be a memorial to Prince Hall erected somewhere near the monument seen here. We recently learned that the City of Cambridge (Massachusetts) is planning to erect a statue of Prince Hall on historic Cambridge Common. Prince Hall is of interest here in the library for much the same reasons that George Washington and Paul Revere are - men who were both actively involved in the American Revolution and actively involved in Freemasonry.  (Prince Hall is buried in Copp's Hill Burying Ground, one of the stops on Boston's famous Freedom Trail.)

The effort to memorialize Prince Hall in Cambridge has been officially in the works for three years. (Read the proclamation that was issued in 2005 by the Cambridge City Council and that officially started the ball rolling to memorialize Prince Hall on Cambridge Common.)

According to the City of Cambridge website the project to memorialize Hall was formally launched this past April 2008: "An effort has begun to place a memorial to Prince Hall, the 18th Century Patriot and Civil Rights Advocate, on the historic Cambridge Common.  A committee formed by Mayor E. Denise Simmons has gained preliminary approval from the Cambridge Historic Commission to design and place the memorial on the Common’s rotunda – near the George Washington Memorial."

Cambridge Common is perhaps now best remembered as the place where George Washington took command of the Continental army on July 3, 1775 - something that was not especially remarkable at the time. I should add that this did not take place under the so-called Washington Elm, a tree that actually existed, but which went from being an ordinary elm tree to iconic symbol (see this postcard) only later when stories were invented, putting Washington directly under that tree as he took command of the Continental army. You can read a bit more about this legend at the Cambridge Historical Commission's FAQ page.

Mythology and inaccuracy have dogged historians interested in learning more about Prince Hall as well. Finding accurate biographical information about Prince Hall isn't easy. It is mostly complicated by the fact that William Grimshaw's 1903 book Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People in North America [Call no.: 90.G86 1969] contained a number of factual errors, but which was used as a definitive source, thus spreading the inaccuracies much further beyond this one book. The Phylaxis Society - "an international organization of Prince Hall Freemasons dedicated to studying the life of Prince Hall and researching the history of Prince Hall Freemasonry" - has done an excellent job trying to get at the factual truths of Prince Hall's life, while at the same time refuting the many errors found in Grimshaw's book. Their on-going search for the facts about Prince Hall's life is called the Grimshaw Offensive. Check it out - and learn more about the life of Prince Hall.

If you're interested in learning about Prince Hall or Prince Hall Freemasonry, we have some resources in our library that will get you off to a good start. A great place to start is this book:

Alton G. Roundtree and Paul M. Bessel. Out of the Shadows: The Emergence of Prince Hall Freemasonry in America : Over 225 years of Endurance. Camp Springs, Md. : KLR Publishing , 2006. [Has an excellent annotated bibliography as well.]
Call number: 90 .R68 2006

In addition, we also have a nearly complete run of The Phylaxis Society's magazine, The Phylaxis, which has been published since 1974, as well a number of annual proceedings from various Prince Hall Masonic bodies. That said, we're always interested in building on our collection of Prince Hall Freemasonry here - if you've got something that you'd like to donate, we'd love to consider your donation.

Today's picture, which was taken by yours truly on a recent trip to Cambridge Common, shows a detail of a monument that was erected in 1950 and which is located on the Common. The monument commemorates George Washington assuming command of the Continental forces on July 3, 1775. The detail shown here is from a bas-relief by Leonard Craske that's attached to a larger stone marker. You can see the so-called "Washington elm" depicted on the right-hand side of the scene above; and you can see here that the decision to include this mythological elm in the image above was controversial at the time that the memorial was being designed.


Irving Berlin's "I'll See You in C-U-B-A"

We put on two exhibitions a year in our reading room, with objects primarily coming from the Library & Archives collections. Starting tomorrow (June 21), our exhibition cases will feature examples of illustrated American sheet music. The selection of sheet music in the exhibition is drawn from a gift that the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives received in 2004. The donors’ mother, Frances Schmidt Pemberton, collected them as a young woman working at a vaudeville theater in Rochester, New York, from about 1918 until 1925. "There'll Be a Hot Time in the U.S.A.": Illustrated American Sheet Music, 1917-1924 features sheet music published from the year that the U.S. entered WWI until five years after the end of that war. It's a rich moment in U.S. history, and the popular music of the time reflects various social phenomenon in sometimes surprising and entertaining ways.

Ill_see_you_in_cuba_webOne piece of sheet music that'll be on display is Irving Berlin's 1920 song I'll See You in C-U-B-A, pictured here. While it might not be obvious from either the title or the cover illustration (I'll admit that it wasn't obvious to me), the song is one that responds directly to Prohibition. Prohibition, of course, was the result of the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (later repealed by the 21st Amendment). Prohibition had a wide-ranging effect on life in the United States - something that was not lost on Tin Pan Alley's songwriters, whose ability to respond to current events is well-known. I'll See You in C-U-B-A is one of a few Prohibition-inspired songs that can be seen in the exhibition.

Through the process of looking at so many great covers while selecting only around thirty for the exhibition, I really started to want to know what some of these songs sound like. Thanks to a great project undertaken by the Department of Special Collections at the University of California, Santa Barbara, this became incredibly easy to do. I figured that our visitors might have the same reaction when they came to see the sheet music on display in the reading room too - "wonderful covers, but I wonder what some of these songs sounded like?" Because of that, we'll be loaning out mp3 players, pre-loaded with period recordings of many of the songs in the exhibition. With one exception, these recordings are all courtesy of the wonderful Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has digitized and made available thousands of Edison cylinder recordings from the early 20th century. (Interested in the copyright side of this? See UCSB's FAQ about it.)

If you can't make it in to the exhibition, we've got two of the songs that will be featured in the exhibition available over on our website - just go to the bottom of this page. I've included one of those songs in this post - a recording of Fred Hillebrand performing I'll See You in C-U-B-A on a 1920 Edison Blue Amberol recording. Click here for more info on the recording - and click on the play button below to give a listen.

Pictured above is Irving Berlin's I'll See You in C-U-B-A [Call number: 04-111sh], published by Irving Berlin, Inc., 1920. It, along with all of the other sheet music in the show, is the gift of Estelle F. Gese, Gale S. Pemberton, and Anne D. Pemberton, in memory of Frances Schmidt Pemberton.


The Mark Book: A Way to Remember Masons

Ma001_003_mark_book_george_plumb_we The exhibition Remember Me at the National Heritage Museum contains many documents and books from the VGW Library and Archives.  One of these pieces is a Mark Book (MA 001.003), or registration records of King Hiram Royal Arch Chapter, Greenwich Village, Massachusetts dated 1815-1835.  Each mark or symbol is in the outline of a keystone which is the symbol associated with the Mark Master degree, the 4th degree in York Rite Freemasonry.

The circle in the center of each keystone is filled with a symbol, or Mark, chosen by a Mark Mason upon his initiation.  The designs, or symbols, were then drawn and the owner signed his name to it.  Chosen marks could never be changed.  The symbol did not have to be Masonic in nature.  Often the initiates chose an image associated with his profession or trade or family coat of arms.

The tradition of speculative Masons having unique marks goes back to the stone masons of the Middle Ages.  Each stone mason, or operative mason, had a mark that they put on each stone that they shaped.  This helped assuring quality and craftsmanship.  Many Gothic cathedrals are filled with stone masons' marks. The early 18th-century Masons in Great Britain and American modeled many of their traditions after these stone masons.

George Plumb, whose mark is seen here, chose symbols that were definitely Masonic in nature.  Inside the circle is a woman supporting an anchor, which for Masons symbolizes Hope.  Above the woman is the all-seeing eye which for Masons symbolizes watchfulness and the Supreme Being.  Below the keystone is the signature of the illustrator, M. S. Harding.


Bancroft's History of the United States

File0001In a recent article in the New Yorker, historian Jill Lepore provides some perspective on historical writing. She begins by asking "What makes a book a history?" and notes that "in the 18th-century novelists called their books 'histories'"....

In spite of some recent, notorious examples to the contrary, it seems most people today have a pretty clear idea of what constitutes a novel versus a history book.  But after reading about one of Lepore's more blatant examples of a 19th-century work reconsidered now, I went looking in the stacks for George Bancroft's History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent [RARE E 178 .B2276 1874-75].  We own several editions, but our library's copy (volume 1 spine shown at left) of the 10-volume, 12th edition is a particularly handsome set:  tan 1/2 calf, backs gilt, with red and green leather labels and marbled edges.  It's pleasure to pick up and leaf through.  The table of contents is lengthy and detailed.  The font is large and the pages uncrowded.  What could possibly have caused Charles McLean Andrews of Yale to describe Bancroft's work, a generation later, as "nothing less than a crime against historical truth"?

As Lepore documents, historians and historical writing change.  Worcester-born and Harvard educated George Bancroft  (1800-1899) is often described as an educator, historian and statesman.  Some have hailed him the 'Father of American History' yet today his classic work is largely unknown.  George Athan Billias, in a Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, (Vol. 111, Part 2, 2001) article "George Bancroft: Master Historian" discusses Bancroft's neglect but reveals not everyone shared Andrews' opinion.  "Daniel Boorstin wrote that to learn what the period 'adds up to,' one must turn to Bancroft."  And, Edmund Morgan (writing in Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789) "claimed that Bancroft knew 'the sources better than any one has since'."  Billias, a professor emeritus at Clark University, presents a balanced view of Bancroft and underscores the need for him to be judged in context.

But is there a place for Bancroft to be taught in middle, high or college history courses today?  Surely there are any number of ways for creative teachers to re-introduce the History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent to students.  Comparing the sections on Bancroft's hero George Washington, or his excrutiating detail on the start of the American Revolution to more recent publications could provide a start.  Reading Bancroft as an example of 19th century nationalism also offers lots of intriguing possibilities. Fortunately, many volumes of his History are available online so access is easy.  But if you can get hold of one of his beautifully bound earlier editions, and can provide students a chance to appreciate the workmanship of the volumes themselves, so much the better.

George Bancroft's Papers may be found at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University Library.


Women in the Grange: The Influence on Women's Suffrage

A1994_051_grange_scan The Order of Patrons of Husbandry, better known as The Grange, was the first fraternal organization in America to admit women as full members.  As early as 1885, a resolution was passed at the order's national convention which recognized equality of the two sexes.  The National Grange supported the advancement of legal status of women, including the right to vote and equal condition of citizenship in the United States.  This support of women's right to vote in the Grange and outside of the Grange influenced women's suffrage later in the twentieth century. It was not until 1920 that women earned the right to vote as codified in the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Most fraternal groups at this time, such as Freemasons and Odd Fellows, gave women a role in affiliated organizations such as Eastern Star and the Rebekahs, but these organizations were separate, auxiliary organizations from the main organization and often required a (male) member of the main organization to preside at the meeting.  A1997_103_blstgrange_scan

Items from our collection document women's involvement in the Grange. Postcards as early as 1910 (like the one above) show women and men together promoting the Grange - in this case, all sitting on a float created for a parade.  The other postcard seen here, showing members of the Blazing Star Grange, illustrates how women had the chance to lead a fraternal organization as officers.  Other evidence of the Grange's support of equality of men and women can be seen in a 1911 Roll Call book from Charlemont Grange, in which men and women members are listed with their occupations.  Some female members, with no male relatives who were members of the Grange, were admitted on their own merits.                      

Despite the fact that these are postcards, there isn't any text that clearly identifies where either of these Granges were located. However, we've been able to identify the lower photo as members of the still-thriving Blazing Star Grange located in Danbury, NH. Check out the Concord Monitor's wonderful slide show about the Blazing Star Grange and keep your eyes peeled at the 1-minute mark for the image of the postcard seen above.

We'd be happy to learn more about either of these two images. If you know more, just drop us a line!


Early Images of Flagg's Uncle Sam

In an earlier post, we mentioned the WWI-era artwork of James Montgomery Flagg. Today, we've got a bit more to say about the image that most people associate with Flagg.

While preparing for the Library & Archives upcoming exhibition on illustrated American sheet music, I came across a fairly early visual reference to James Montgomery Flagg's famous, iconic image of "Uncle Sam." The cover of "What Kind of American Are You? What Are You Doing Over Here?" published by the Broadway Music Corporation in 1917, shows a very similar image, clearly borrowed from Flagg's, with Uncle Sam's finger pointing (or is that wagging?) at the viewer.

The sheet music cover was published the same year that Flagg's image of Uncle Sam first appeared on U.S. Army recruitment posters - what James Montgomery Flagg himself called "the most famous poster in the world" - the "I Want You" U.S. Army recruitment poster.

As the Library of Congress notes, Flagg's illustration was first used the year before, on the cover of the July 6, 1916 issue of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly with the title "What Are you Doing for Preparedness?"  - a question asked as the United States prepared to enter World War I.

Flagg_uncle_sam_web_2We have issues of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly from around this period and so I decided to see if we have this issue where Flagg's Uncle Sam image makes its first appearance. It turns out that we do. In the end, what turned out to be most interesting wasn't the image on the cover of Leslie's Weekly however, but something I found when flipping through the issue from the following week (July 13, 1916), where I found the same image of Uncle Sam - reappearing just a week after his debut. This time his image was being used to sell books in an advertisement. A detail of the ad can be seen here.

The publishers of Leslie's Weekly were selling a 4-volume set called The Great Republic: An Illustrated History of the American People, by The Master Historians - all for the low price of $1.97.

Beside the image of Flagg's Uncle Sam, the ad - playing on the upcoming presidential election of 1916 - reads, in part:

"Know The Facts About Your Own Country. You are soon going to exercise your most important right as a citizen of this great republic by helping to decided who is to be your next president. To make a wise choice of candidates it is important that you should know American facts bearing on the vital questions of the hour."

The ad goes on to echo the previous week's appearance of Flagg's Uncle Sam by tying Flagg's image and the question of "preparadness" by stating: “Trade conditions have made it possible for us to secure on favorable terms a few sets of these intensely interesting volumes, and as our own contribution toward real PREPAREDNESS at this opportune time we will offer these sets, while they last, to quick buyers at a wonderful bargain.”

Of course, this image of Uncle Sam has been repurposed over and over again since Flagg first created it. However, it was striking to stumble upon the second time that the image ever appeared and see that his image was being used to hawk history books - all in the name of "preparedness," and just a week after his debut.


'An Old Bible'

Oldbible_4What immediately gets your attention when opening the VGW Library & Archives copy of The Genealogies Recorded in the Sacred Scriptures According to Every Family and Tribe... by John Speed [Rare BS 569 .A4 1625], is the number of well known, early New England family names recorded on the endpapers and family information recorded within. This rare 1625 edition was donated to our library by the Wadsworth Family in 1982 but the documentation indicates connections to earlier Wadsworth, and also Glenson, Salmon, Stansill, Stoddard, Tappan, Pierce, and Cowles families. 

The earliest notes indicate John Glenson and Christopher and Thomas Wadsworth landed in Boston on September 16, 1632 on the ‘Lion’.  Wadsworth and Glenson family births are recorded for 1629 and 1633.  Thomas Stansill family birth records for 1722 and 1724 are included.  It is noted that Lewis Tappan Stoddard, born in 1807 in Northampton, MA presented the Bible to his uncle, John Pierce (1773-1849) of Brookline, MA, on April 11, 1833, and that his son, John Tappan Pierce, of Genesco, IL, sold it to S.W. Cowles in July, 1882.  An S.W. Cowles Bookplate lists his address at 891 Main St. Hartford, Conn. and handwritten are the dates 1882-1887.  It  is believed that the Bible passed again into the Wadsworth family from Cowles. An article entitled ‘An Old Bible’ which appeared in the Nov. 1, 1883 Hartford Courant, details much of the Bible’s provenance, and is affixed to the endpaper.

John_pierce_bookplateJohn Pierce’s bookplate appears as well.  Pierce was minister of the First Parish Church in Brookline, Massachusetts from 1797 to 1849 and looms large in much of Brookline’s early history.  According to the History of the Town of Brookline by John Gould Curtis, Pierce played an integral part in many of the civic and educational activities of the Town, and delivered some important speeches.  He was called upon to speak at Brookline’s memorial service for George Washington on February 22, 1800 and delivered a discourse at the 1805 Centennial for the Town.  Intensely interested in all things having to do with Brookline’s progress, it was once noted by another minister, "As I understand it, Dr. Pierce is Brookline, and Brookline is Dr. Pierce." 

Pierce married Lucy Tappan of Northampton, MA in 1802.  Her brothers, Arthur (1786-1865) and Lewis Tappan (1788-1873) were noted philanthropists and abolitionists and for a time Lewis lived in Brookline.  In fact, John Pierce officiated at the marriage of Lewis Tappan and Susan Aspinwall in the parlor of the Aspinwall home in Brookline in 1813. 

The Bible itself is of interest on several counts.  It contains engraved genealogical charts of prominent families from scripture, interesting old engravings and a map of ancient Palestine and Egypt.  According to Alister McGraph's In the Beginninng: the Story of the King James Bible and how it changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture [BS 186 .M33 2001], mapmaker and entrepreneur John Speed negotiated a special arrangement with King James I in 1610 to include these additional pages thus providing extra income for himself and the crown for each bible sold. 

Additional resources:

Dr. John Pierce's papers are held at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  See Lewis Tappan's papers at the Library of Congress; additional Tappan family material may be found at Oberlin College.  More on Lewis Tappan's anti-slavery activities may be found here and in:

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram.  Lewis Tappan and the evangelical war against slavery.  Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969.