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:
Stuffed Lamb Chops Asparagus Points
Chicken Croquets and Peas
Apricot Fritters Glace
Cold Tongue Aspic Jelly
Frozen Pudding Harlequin Ice Cream Biscuit Glace
Illuminated Fancy Ices
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