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August 2008

Mary Devlin Booth

Mdbooth_portrait One great advantage of working in a museum library is the likelihood of being surrounded by interesting artifacts or works of art. One of our favorites, a haunting painting of a young woman, watches over us in our staff work area.

Mary Devlin Booth, 1883, (shown at left) was painted by an important 19th-century artist, Eastman Johnson (1824-1906).  Johnson was born in Maine, worked in Boston as a lithographer early in his career, but eventually turned to illustrations, genre painting and later, portraits.  Many of his best known works, A Ride for Liberty and Negro Life at the South were painted around the time of the Civil War.

The subject of the portrait is the first wife of Edwin Booth, actor, and sister-in-law of the more infamous Booth brother, Abraham Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth.  Mary Devlin Booth (1840-1863) was an actress in her own right, and in The Letters and Notebooks of Mary Devlin Booth (PN 2287 .B5 A4 1987) she details her passion for her own career as well as her early relationship, courtship and marriage to Booth.  The letters and notebooks provide an interesting glimpse of theater life in the 1850’s and 60’s, with comments on Edwin Booth’s roles and reviews and thus make it all the more tragic that she died so young.  One can only imagine the value of this kind of commentary after her brother-in-law’s actions in 1865.

This oil portrait, painted from a photograph 20 years after her death, is one of several Booth family portraits done in the early 1880's by Johnson.  He painted Edwin's father from a miniature, a portrait of Edwina, Mary and Edwin's only child born in 1861, and Edwin.  Our records don't indicate whether the portrait of Mary was a paid commission or not, but it is signed 'E.J. Xmas 1883' so there is the possibility it was a present from the artist.  It is clear from several of the sources noted below, and Edwina Booth Grossman's Edwin Booth; Recollections by his Daughter, Edwina Booth Grossman, and Letters to Her and His Friends, (New York: Century, 1894) that the artist and actor were good friends.  And when Edwin Booth died, according to this article in the New York Times, Johnson was a pallbearer at the funeral.

Img_0409 Mary Devlin Booth died in Boston and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.  Edwin Booth, who died in 1893, is buried beside her and their daughter and her family share the plot. (A recent photograph I took of their tombstones is shown at left.)

Quite a bit of documentation exists for the entire Booth family.  McFarline Library at the University of Tulsa, the New York Public Library and the University of Rochester all hold materials in their special collections.  Many of Eastman Johnson's letters are available online at the Smithsonian.  We also hold titles about the Booth family and artist Eastman Johnson.  A few are listed below; additional titles may be found in our online catalog.

Carbone, Teresa A. Eastman Johnson: Painting America.  N.Y.: Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1999.  Call number:  ND 237 .J7 A4 1999

Kimmel, Stanley.  The Mad Booths of Maryland.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1940.  Call number:  PN 2287 .B49 K5 1940

Oggel, L. Terry, ed.  The Letters and Notebooks of Mary Devlin Booth.  N.Y.: Greenwood Press, 1987.  Call number:  PN 2287 .B5 A4 1987

Ruggles, Eleanor.  Prince of Players: Edwin Booth.  N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1953.  Call number:  PN 2287 .B5 R9 1953

Stainton, Leslie. "Players: Edwin Booth and the 19th Century American Stage" Common-Place, April 2008.

Winter, William.  Life and Art of Edwin Booth.  N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., 1894.  Call number:  PN 2287 .B5 W5 1894

Mary Devlin Booth portrait above is included courtesy of the National Heritage Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Manney, 79.78.2

Portrait photograph by David Bohl.


The Order of Tonti

Ritual_order_of_tonti_web_2 We recently acquired a ritual of an organization called the Order of Tonti. Like the Equitable Aid Union, which we wrote about recently, the Order of Tonti was a fraternal benefit society.

The Order of Tonti, incorporated on April 27, 1885, was a fraternal life insurance society that used a type of insurance system called tontine insurance. Tontine insurance was first introduced in the U.S. in 1868 by the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. It quickly became a very popular product and, by 1905, two-thirds of all life insurance policies were tontine. (Tontine insurance traces its roots back to France in 1689, when Cardinal Mazarin, upon a suggestion from a Parisian-based Neopolitan physician and banker named Lorenzo Tonti, devised an investment plan for Louis XIV that now carries Tonti's name.)

Tontine insurance worked like this: a number of individuals paid annual sums to a common fund and, after the agreed upon term was up (often 20 years, but sometimes as few as 5 years), the survivors divided the proceeds, including all of the interest that had been earned. No dividends were paid out during the life of the investement, so investors, if they were still alive at the end, received their payment in one lump sum. In tontine insurance, it paid (quite literally) to be alive by the end of the term. In other words, the fewer the survivors, the larger the payment. From a financial perspective, the best thing that can happen when you've invested in tontine insurance is that you are the only survivor, so that the common fund gets paid to you alone. Now that doesn't sound like a plan that will stir feelings of fraternalism, does it?

Critics of fraternal benefit societies that offered tontine insurance argued that it was not really life insurance, since life insurance was traditionally paid to survivors upon the insured person's death. In many ways, tontine insurance acted more like a retirement fund than it did life insurance. In fact, the Order of Tonti, in their ritual, refers to their benefit as a 'life benefit,' rather than a 'death benefit.' Critics also argued that fraternal groups that offered tontine insurance did not uphold fraternal ideals - instead of emphasizing the strength of community and of helping others, it emphasized individualism and selfish motives.

But what really killed tontine insurance was rampant institutional and personal corruption that was taking place among many insurance companies (not necessarily fraternal ones) at the time. In 1905, in New York State, the New York Legislature, led by a commission called the Armstrong Committee, investigated tontine insurance, an investigation that led to the banning of tontine insurance in New York starting in 1906. Other states quickly followed suit and soon tontine insurance was no longer available as an investment option.

As for the Order of Tonti, it only survived nine years. You can read a number of New York Times articles which report the demise of the organization - a demise that surprised many of its members and led to at least one rancorous meeting.

Ritual_order_of_tonti_2_web And now for a bit of the text from the ritual from the Order of Tonti, which discusses the seven year term of the insurance being offered. The President of the lodge addresses a new member:

My Brother, for I am now permitted thus to address you, in your research into the workings of our Order, you have doubtless noticed the extensive introduction of the number "seven" into its plans.

[The President then digresses into ancient and mythical occurrences of the number seven (which you can read from the image to the right) before getting down to brass tacks:]

And thus we might study for hours this symbolic number in its many historical and mythical relations; but we especially want to speak upon its application to the plan of the Order of Tonti, namely the payment of benefit in seven years.

This feature, though confined to few societies, is based upon precisely the same laws of finance as have governed co-operative mutual protective associations for centuries past.

Under the ordinary plan of life insurance we find the average expectancy of life computed at twenty-eight years. Experience has proven that upon an average payment of fifty cents at each assessment, a sum of one thousand dollars can be paid at death.

The conception of our Order is to give a life benefit at the expiration of seven years, and as seven years is the fourth part of the life expectancy, it follows that we must pay into the Treasury of Tonti four times as much, and thus it is made possible to accomplish in our Order, at the end of seven years, the same results met with in other fraternal societies, whose plan is consummated at the end of a man's life, be it twenty-eight years more or less, and that too at no greater cost."

Both images today come from the Order of Tonti ritual; the first shows the emblem of the order, as well as the first page of text of the ritual; the second shows another excerpt from the text of the ritual. Here is a complete citation for the book:

Ritual of the Order of Tonti: with Installation Ceremonies and Order of Business. N.p.: n.p., ca. 1885
Call number: RARE HS 2330 .T6 ca.1885

Masonic Banquets & Feasts

Saint_andrews_menu_web Part of what makes a library and archives collection interesting is being able to see beyond the obvious uses for the material in the collection. By thinking outside the box, you can sometimes see that there may be other uses for material that, on the surface, seems intended for one use. I'm thinking here of Masonic lodge histories and the banquet menus that are sometimes contained within them.

If one takes even a cursory glance at the history of Freemasonry, one will see  that the banquets and feasts that continue to be a part of Masonic tradition today have taken place since the earliest days of organized Freemasonry.

Masonic banquets and feasts are held for many different occasions. One of these occasions is an anniversary - often the anniversary of a lodge being chartered. In our collection we have a number of individual lodge histories, historical accounts usually published by the lodge itself based on its own records. These are very useful for researchers interested in the history of a particular lodge, its members, and its activities over the years. In addition to historical information about a lodge, many of these books also publish information about the various anniversary celebrations that took place, often coinciding with the publication of the lodge history itself. One of those activities was usually a large, formal banquet dinner.

Some of the books include the actual menu of what food was served at the banquet dinner.  These menus can not only give a more specific sense of what an event was like, but I think that they also serve to illustrate that one can bring various interests to a topic - and that different researchers can get various uses from one book. For instance, a researcher interested in food and culture might find a lodge history that includes a menu of the anniversary banquet of interest for very different reasons than a historian interested in the charter members of a Masonic lodge. Yet both will use this book. A researcher interested in food and culture - or perhaps even specifically Masonic banquets - might ask:

How are food shortages during wartime reflected in the menus?

How are now-commonplace technological advances (the ability to freeze foods, for example) reflected in these menus?

How do the menus reflect the availability or popularity of various ingredients or dishes?

Or perhaps, like me, one might just get enjoyment at looking at a menu from a banquet dinner held over a hundred years ago, and seeing both familiar and unfamiliar items on the menu.

And now, for your imaginary dining pleasure, I'm posting the menu for the banquet dinner held on June 10, 1901 for the Centennial of Mt. Lebanon Lodge in Boston, Massachusetts. It's from the book Centennial of Mt. Lebanon Lodge, A.F. and A.M. Boston Mass. 1801 - June 10 - 1901:

Lobster a la Newburg                                              Radishes
Stuffed Lamb Chops                                  Asparagus Points
Chicken Croquets and Peas
Apricot Fritters Glace
Potato Delmonico
Sardine Salad
Cold Tongue                                           Aspic Jelly
Salted Almonds
Assorted Cake
Frozen Pudding         Harlequin Ice Cream         Biscuit Glace
  Illuminated Fancy Ices
Crackers                                                Cheese

You can compare this menu to the one pictured at the top of this post, which is the menu from the banquet served for the 150th Anniversary of the St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter in Boston on October 1, 1919. If you're interested in this topic, we have more menus in our Archives collection, in addition to those that might be found in our book collection.  Those menus in our Archives collection are generally found with a group of Masonic Dance Cards (MA 015).  These elaborate menus occur frequently on "Ladies Night". Bon appetit!

Both books mentioned in this post (including their delectable menus) may be found in our collection:

Centennial of Mt. Lebanon Lodge, A.F. and A.M. Boston Mass. 1801 - June 10 - 1901. Boston: Printed for the Lodge, 1901.
Call number: 17.97631 .B747 1901

Exercises Commemorating the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Organization of St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter, Boston, Massachusetts, October the First, Nineteen Nineteen. Boston: Published by the Chapter, 1920.
Call number: 17.97631 .B747 S134 1920
Gift of Wallace M. Gage

Our Corner of the World

Nhm_google_earthAs you can see from this Google Earth image showing our Museum in Lexington, MA, we are surrounded by quite a bit of green and open space.  This is partly because our sponsoring organization, who purchased 22 acres of land in 1968, wanted room enough for a headquarters for the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) and a Museum and Library, and the fact that the Town of Lexington has had a longstanding commitment to conservation.  It was determined early on that the existing home and carriage house on the property could be used for administrative offices so the NMJ went about planning for a national museum on the campus. The Town worked with the architects to scale the design and roof lines in keeping with the existing residential neighborhood.  The result was an A.I.A. award-winning building -- and the retention of lots of trees and open space.

One of the wonderful aspects about our campus, and something not many places can claim, is that if you look at maps of our corner of the world for the past 230 years or so, you can see a lot of the original openness remains.

Lex_map_1775_3We are located at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Marrett Road.  In 1775, when General Gage's Regulars passed on what is now Massachusetts Avenue (the road to the far right on the Google map above), it was known as the County Road or, to old timers as the Great Road (to Cambridge or to Concord depending which way you were traveling).  Marrett Road was the Road to Bridge Farm.  In this close-up recreation of Lexington in 1775 produced for the April 19th Bicentennial in 1975, you can see no buildings stand on what is now our corner property.  There were several houses and farms in the general vicinity and one of the closest was the Munroe Tavern, which remains today about a half a mile from us up Massachusetts Avenue.

A hundred and one years later Lexington was more settled.  The portion of an 1876 map below shows buildings belonging to both 'Nunn' and 'Tower' on our current property.  According to Lexington historian Charles Hudson, "William Augustus Tower (1824-1904) was born in Petersham the eldest of 11 children.  In 1850 he moved to Boston and entered the flour and grain business in Haymarket Square, as a member of the firm of Rice, Tower & Co."  He first bought property in Lexington in 1855, and went on to become a successful merchant and banker.  Thomas Sileo, in Historic Guide to Open Space in Lexington provides more details: Tower purchased a house and land in Lexington from Jacob J. Nichols, on the hill, and in 1873 he had a Victorian mansion built.  By 1886 the Tower estate included a barn and stable, 2 cottages, a tea house with a flower garden and greenhouse, a windmill, 8 horses, 2 cows, and 8 carriages.  Initially the Tower’s family spent summers in Lexington and winters on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston but later he lived in Lexington year around.  By 1904 when he died, Tower owned 127 acres. In 1906, Tower’s son Richard, also a banker, erected a red brick house on the knoll off Marrett Road.  It is Richard Tower's renovated home that is now the Scottish Rite's NMJ headquarters. William Tower’s original Victorian House which was closer to Pelham Road, no longer exists.  Tower's daughter, Ellen, continued to live in Lexington and it was she who donated Tower Park (across Mass. Avenue from the Museum) to the Town in 1928 in honor of her father.  Though accounts of Tower and how active he was in Lexington differ in various histories about Lexington, notably he was Chief Marshall at the Lexington Centennial on April 19, 1875.

Lex_map_1775_2The Chas. Nunn (1828-1882) house (noted on map at left) is closer to where our Museum sits today.  Edwin B. Worthen, in Tracing the Past in Lexington, Massachusetts, pays special attention to East Lexington, where he grew up. In the chapter, 'The East Village as I remember it', he reminisces: "Opposite our house on the upper corner of the present Marrett Road lived the Nunns in the big house now owned by Ralph Smith.  Much earlier there had been a small house on the property which probably dated from the early 1800s.  Mr. Nunn  came to Lexington before the Civil War married Susan Pierce and built the present residence.... I do not remember Mr. Nunn as he died in 1882 but he had taken his part in town affairs."  Town records for 1860 indicate Nunn had a much smaller estate than the adjoining Tower's.  He owned 1 house, 1 barn, 1.5 acres of land and paid $47.80 for real estate tax that year.  The Nunn house no longer exists today as it was destroyed by fire on November 10, 1972.

The horses and windmill are gone, and admittedly the footprint of both the Museum and the headquarters of the Scottish Rite NMJ are larger than the original Nunn and Tower properties, and, of course, we've added a parking lot to accommodate visitors.  However, if you take another look at the Google Earth image above or come to visit us in person, it's definitely possible to imagine what this area looked like in the past.

Many useful resources exist that make any research about Lexington's past easy to find.  Our Library has extensive resources about Lexington, its early residents and Revolutionary War history.  Our Archives hold materials related to the development of the property (including blueprints and correspondence).  Please contact the Library & Archives for more information and assistance.

The sections of the 1775 and 1876 maps used above are both courtesy of Cary Memorial Library in Lexington and appear here with their permission.  Cary Library and the Lexington Historical Society have excellent local collections and helpful staff members.  Additional records are available through the Town Clerk's office at Lexington Town Hall and some old records are available through the state.  Full information for the titles used above from our own collection include:

Hudson, Charles.  History of the Town of Lexington.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1913.
Call number:  F74 .L67 H91 1913 v.1 and 2

Sileo, Thomas P.  Historical Guide to Open Space in Lexington.  Lexington : Thomas P. Sileo, 1995. 
Call number:  F 74 .L67 S5 1995

Worthen, Edwin B.  Tracing the Past in Lexington, Massachusetts.  New York: Vantage Press, 1998.
Call number:  F 74 .L67 W67 1998. 
This (and other Worthen books) contain many useful maps.  Cary Memorial Library holds the entire Worthen Map collection which shows the progression of Lexington beginning in 1636 in a series of maps drawn by Mr. Worthen in 1924.

John Banvard's "Loony Speculations About Masonic Oaths"

Origins_of_solomons_temple_lighteneI was recently reading Paul Collins' book Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World. John Banvard (1815-1891) was a 19th-century American artist who was famous during his lifetime for presenting to audiences his panoramic paintings which he accompanied with live music and narration. One of his most famous travelogues took audiences for a trip on the Mississippi River. The painting was said to have been three miles long, depicting 1,200 miles of life along the Mississippi River. While Banvard narrated with musical accompaniment, one of his panoramic paintings depicting a bank of the Mississippi River was slowly cranked from one spool to another, so that the scene moved across the stage and gave audiences the illusion of viewing a bank of the Mississippi rolling by as one traveled by boat up or down the river. (Banvard only showed one bank at a time, and, depending on what show you went to, you either went upriver or downriver, since the canvas was threaded on two spools and Banvard didn't rewind the canvas in between shows.)

I found this all quite fascinating in terms of the history of American popular entertainment, but what caught my eye in terms of our library was a mention that in 1880 Banvard published a book of poetry entitled The Origin of the Building of King Solomon's Temple [RARE 63.B219 1880], with a cover title of The Tradition of the Temple. Collins remarks that the book's "epilogue descends into a miscellany of details about English church building, Egyptian obelisks, and loony speculations about Masonic oaths, a subject of apparently inexhaustible interest to the author."

Shown here is our copy of Banvard's book, which I took a look at. For better or worse (and I'll admit to being a little disappointed), Banvard's interest in Masonic oaths seems neither of inexhaustible interest (it's all of one page), nor do his "loony speculations" strike me as particularly loony - especially not for the time period. What I found instead was a fairly typical point of view that seems heavily influenced by 19th-century American orientalism, something that was especially prevalent in the visual arts at the time and which would certainly overlap with Masonic rituals and symbolism which draw heavily from Biblical settings and bring to mind thoughts of an idealized, ancient Middle East. With Banvard, as with others at the time, this all dovetails especially well with a long-standing Masonic interest in Solomon's Temple, which features prominently in Masonic rituals.

The book itself contains some poetry that I'll let you judge for yourself, having already shown my cards with respect to my own opinion about 19th-century poetry. Here's an excerpt from Banvard's book:

And now pious men have the field in their care,
And good pilgrims from far go thither for prayer.
That perfume still ascends, and will ever ascend,
    Ascend o'er the world with its aroma sweet
Where two Masons commune, there pervades that perfume,
   And the sweetest of strains their fellowship greet;
Wherever two brothers in fellowship stand,
That field has an emblem in every land.

And here's a complete citation for the Banvard book:

Banvard, John. The Origin of the Building of Solomon's Temple: An Oriental Tradition. Boston: Published by Howard Gannett, 1880.
Call number: RARE 63.B219 1880

As for Paul Collins, the author of Banvard's Folly, he has his own (highly entertaining) blog, which you can check out here.

Daniel D. Tompkins: Governor, Vice President, and first Sovereign Grand Commander

Daniel_tompkins_portrait_web 195 years ago today, in 1813, Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825) became the first Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council for the newly established Northern Masonic Jurisdiction for the Scottish Rite in the United States, a position he held until his death in 1825. (Sovereign Grand Commander is the title of the chief executive of the Scottish Rite's central authority, the Supreme Council. In each country where the Scottish Rite exists there is one Supreme Council; the U.S. is unique in having two Supreme Councils.)

Tompkins was in certain ways a successful man and in other ways a rather complicated, tragic figure. Although he served in high political offices - both as Governor of New York, as well as Vice President of the United States for both of James Monroe's terms as President - he was hampered by a debilitating fight with alcoholism, which brought him both ill health and financial problems.

While addressing his many successes, the U.S. Senate's biography on Tompkins speaks directly of alcoholism's effect on Tompkins's potential, quoting a contemporary of Tompkins who said, "There was a time when no man in the state dared compete with him for any office in the gift of the people and his habits of intemperance alone prevented him from becoming President of the United States." While it may seem a bit odd to focus on this aspect of Tompkins biography, I think it's a worthwhile reminder  that Tompkins was human - a Governor, a Vice President, and the first leader of the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction - but a human nonetheless. And Tompkins is certainly not forgotten - he is the namesake of both New York City's Tompkins Square Park, as well as Tompkins County, NY. Tompkins grave is in New York City, at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, where there is also a statue of him.

In Scottish Rite Freemasonry today, Tompkins is, understandably, overshadowed by John James Joseph Gourgas, the Secretary General who served alongside him during the early years of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council, and who would himself serve as Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832-1851, guiding Scottish Rite Freemasonry through the difficult years brought on by the Morgan Affair. By most accounts, the first two Sovereign Grand Commanders (the 2nd Sovereign Grand Commander was Sampson Simson, who served from 1825-1832) did little to help the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction flourish, and that it was Gourgas who did much of the work during their tenures.

If you're interested in learning more about the history of the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, we can recommend the two histories listed below. The story of the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction is that of a journey that begins in France and ends in Lexington, MA, with stops in the West Indies; Charleston, SC; New York City; and Boston in between.  And here's some info on the current Sovereign Grand Commander.

We are the repository for the archives of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and hold many primary documents related to its long history, documents which were used for writing the two histories of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction listed below:

Baynard, Samuel H. History of the Supreme Council, 33° Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Northern Masonic jurisdiction of the United States of America and its Antecedents. Boston : Priv. print. for and pub. by the Supreme Council of Sovereign Grand Inspectors-General of the Thirty-Third and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America, 1938. 2 volumes
Call number: 17.9735 .B361 1938

Newbury, George Adelbert & Louis Lenway Williams. A History of the Supreme Council, 33° of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America. Lexington, MA : Supreme Council, A.A.S.R., N.M.J., 1987.
Call number: 17.9735 .N535 1987

The illustration of Tompkins seen above is from the frontispiece of the first volume of Public Papers of Daniel D. Tompkins, Governor of New York, 1807-1817. New York; Albany: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford Co., 1898.
Call number: E 302.6 .T8 N4 1898-1902, v.1