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August 2009

Boston Turns on the Lights for the Knights Templar in 1895

GL2004_2057 GLMA bldg KTScan At the end of August 1895, the city of Boston greeted 20,000 Masonic Knights Templar from around the country.  These men, and their wives, gathered in the city for their Triennial Conclave (see our previous post on this event).

While the parade on August 27 must have been quite a sight, it was not only the Knights Templar members that dressed for the event.  As part of the celebration, the Grand Commandery of Massachusetts and Rhode Island decorated the exterior of the Boston Masonic building with a spectacular display of bunting and electric lights. 

This photograph shows just how conspicuous the building was, with the large central Templar cross, Masonic keystone and square and compasses symbols.  Across the top of the building, the words “fraternity,” “fidelity,” and “charity” are spelled out in lights.  At night, when the lights were turned on, the building glowed for all to see.

Sadly, less than two weeks after the Conclave celebrations concluded, the Boston Masonic building caught fire and had to be torn down.  This was the second devastating fire on this site in thirty years.  In 1864, the previous building at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, which housed the Winthrop House Hotel as well as the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, caught fire.  Both times, no one was trapped in the building, but the Grand Lodge did lose treasured objects, regalia and papers. 

The Grand Lodge rebuilt their Masonic building at the same location – now 186 Tremont Street – and dedicated the new building in December 1899.  Today, that building is home to the Grand Lodge administrative offices, the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library, five lodge rooms and a theater. Twenty Masonic groups regularly meet in the building.

To learn more about the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and the 1895 Triennial Conclave, visit the National Heritage Museum to see our exhibition, "The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts: Celebrating 275 Years of Brotherhood."  The exhibition runs through October 25, 2009.

Boston Masonic Building, August 1895, Massachusetts, courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2057.  

A National Treasure

95_021T1 One of the National Heritage Museum’s treasures – and a perennial favorite with our visitors – is the large 15-star American flag that proudly hangs in our Farr Conference Center. 

Donated in 1995 by John E. Craver, the flag had been passed down in his family for generations.  Makers sewed this flag, which measures approximately 11 feet by 12 ¾ feet, to fly over a military fort (or garrison) or on a vessel, marking them as U.S. property.  Unfortunately, we do not know who made it or where it originally flew.

The flag is made of wool bunting, a lightweight, mildew-resistant, coarsely woven fabric.  The blue section, called a canton, is colored with indigo.  This dye, common during the late 1700s and early 1800s, provided a deep, permanent color that rarely faded.  The red stripes are dyed with an unknown colorant and the white stars are made out of linen.

In 1996 and 1997, conservators worked 500 hours to stabilize the flag and prepare it for display.  After it was gently cleaned and stabilized, a supportive backing was attached.  A slightly angled back board further supports the flag in its specially constructed case, and low lighting helps to preserve it for generations to come.

The 15-star flag was the official U.S. design from 1794, when President George Washington (1732-1799) signed the Second Flag Act, until 1818, when legislators adopted the 20-star flag, adding one star for each state that joined the union since 1794.  The 1794 Second Flag Act mandated 15 stars and 15 stripes – one for each state then in the union – but did not specify design details, such as the arrangement of the stars.  You may notice that the Museum’s flag has only 14 stripes.  One was removed before we received it, probably due to deterioration, or possibly by a souvenir seeker.

The National Heritage Museum’s 15-star flag is one of only a handful still in existence known to have been made between 1794 and 1818.  The most famous 15-star flag is the Star-Spangled Banner, which flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  The survival of that flag during the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) to write the words to what is now the American national anthem.  The Star-Spangled Banner was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1912.  That flag recently underwent a $7 million conservation project to better preserve it in the decades to come.

The National Heritage Museum holds over fifty flags in its collection.  Most are American flags of varying sizes with anywhere from 13 to 50 stars.  In addition, the Museum’s collection includes Masonic and fraternal flags, as well as a few state flags.

15-star American flag, 1794-1818.  Gift of John E. Craver, 95.021.  Photograph by David Bohl.

YMCA Women in France during World War I


All of us are familiar with the YMCA and the YWCA today. Many of us belong to the local YMCA for recreational opportunities. However, the YMCA had a long tradition of service during wartime.  Did you know that the YMCA sponsored women to work in "canteens" in France during World War I?

This was both a bold step for the YMCA and a bold step for women during 1917-1918.  In July 1917 the United States branch of the YMCA opened its service to females for the first time.  Some Americans thought that women would not hold up to the physical and mental strain of war work, but many women stepped up to the challenge, going to France.  The woman in the poster above represents one of those women.

The designated role of the YMCA during WWI, as ordered by General John J. Pershing (1860-1948), was to provide amusement and moral welfare to the soldiers.  YMCA service took place in "huts" or "canteens" on or near the war front. These "canteens" took the form of a tent, hole in the ground, or a small building.  These buildings were turned into clubs, theaters, gyms, post office, or perahps a general store for the soldiers.  The women often served coffee, doughnuts, and gave out books to the soldiers to read similar to the woman portrayed in the poster.  John R. Mott (1865-1955), as general secretary of the National War Work Council, led the YMCA movement in running the military canteens in the United States and in France.  The Ys hired 25,926 Y workers -- 5,145 of them women -- to run the canteens.

This poster not only tells the story of the YMCA women during WWl, but also advertises the United War Work Campaign which took place during November of 1918.  In this campaign, or fund drive, the American people were asked to contribute over $170 million for the war effort. This was an unprecedented amount of money to try to raise!

There were seven organizations included in the campaign to serve soldiers and sailors in and near war camps--the Young Men's Christian Association, the Young Women's Christian Association, the National Catholic War Council, the Jewish Welfare Board, the War Camp Community Service, the American Library Association, and the Salvation Army. Women across the United States formed "telephone brigades" to inform people about this fund drive and its importance to winning the war.

For further reading:

Gavin, Lettie. American Women in World War I:  They Also Served.  Niwot, Colo.:  University of Colorado Press, 1997.  D639. W7 G38 1997


Caption for image:

One of the Thousand YMCA Girls in France, 1918. Poster illustrated by Neysa Moran Mcmein. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, Gift of the Galford Family, A2003/030/4. Photograph by David Bohl.




New to the Collection: Ladle by Myer Myers

2006_014T2 Paul Revere’s (1734-1818) work as a silversmith is celebrated, yet he was not the only accomplished craftsman in 18th-century America.  A silver ladle made by New York silversmith Myer Myers (1723-1795), now in the National Heritage Museum collection, demonstrates equal skill. 

The ladle, engraved with initials “TBS” on the handle,  dates to the 1765-1790 period.  Ladles like this were used to serve both hot and cold liquids; while this piece was probably owned and used in a private household, it is possible that Myers made similar pieces for Masonic lodges where members shared punch.

Jewish silversmith Myer Myers served his apprenticeship in New York City and opened his own shop around 1750.  The city experienced prosperity during the pre-Revolutionary decades and had no shortage of well-to-do patrons who could afford fine silver.  Myers was extremely productive and found unique ways to build his business.  He was the first New York silversmith to use a surname mark, which provided name recognition when his silver was used by its purchasers.  He was also the first New York silversmith to form a partnership with another silversmith, an innovative business strategy at the time.  During the Revolution, Myers actively supported the American patriots, but did not fight in the War himself.  He moved his family to Norwalk, Connecticut to keep them out of harm’s way and continued his silversmithing business there to support himself, his wife and his thirteen children.

Myers became a Mason in New York in the 1760s, and was a member of King David’s Lodge.  Through his sister’s marriage, Myers was brother-in-law to Moses Michael Hays, who served as Grand Master of the Massachusetts (Independent) Grand Lodge from 1788 to 1792. 


David L. Barquist, Myer Myers: Jewish Silversmith in Colonial New York.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Ladle, 1765-1790, Myer Myers (1723-1795), New York City, National Heritage Museum, gift of Ira and Samuel Seskin in memory of Joel A. and Celia S. Seskin, 2006.014.  Photograph by David Bohl.

New Show Opens August 15! “For All Time: Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum”

Clocks_FatherTime_smallFrom waking to the rooster’s crow to catching the 8 am train, how Americans judge and value time has changed over the centuries. “For All Time: Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum” is a new exhibition, opening August 15, 2009, that explores the story of timekeeping through spectacular objects drawn from the Museum’s own collection.

The Museum is pleased to present a focused look at this part of our holdings, which has long been popular with visitors. The 95 clocks and 22 watches in the exhibition—including some clocks that chime and tick—range in dates from the 1500s to the early 1900s. Every clock in the exhibition is a complicated machine with its own story to tell about who used, made or marketed it and, most interestingly, how it fit into Americans’ relationship with time. Twenty-two watches are also presented. The exhibition is on view through February 21, 2010. Visit our web site for more information. 

Photo Caption:
Father Time Shelf Clock, ca. 1890. E.N. Welch Manufacturing Company (1864-1903),
Bristol, Connecticut. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael

A Masonic Print: The Iron Worker and King Solomon

95_028_1T1 Masonic prints can often be confusing to the uninitiated.  Sometimes, it can even be hard to tell whether a print is Masonic or not.  Upon first glance, the print pictured here (from the National Heritage Museum collection) may not appear to relate to Freemasonry, but if you dig deeper, it does have a connection.  Titled The Iron Worker and King Solomon, it depicts the celebration of the completion of King Solomon’s Temple, a Biblical structure that figures prominently in Masonic ritual and symbolism.

As illustrated by the print (and explained in printed text below the image), Jewish legend tells that King Solomon invited all of the people who worked on the Temple to the celebration, but when the throne was unveiled, a blacksmith was sitting in the place of honor.  Threatened by the crowd, the smith said, “Thou hast, O King, invited all craftsmen but me.  Yet how could these builders raise the Temple without the tools I fashioned.”  “True,” agreed Solomon, “The seat is his right.  All honor to the Iron Worker.”  In addition to connecting with Masonic symbolism, the print reflects its Gilded Age date of publication, when steel was a pre-eminent American industry.

Bradley and Bro. of Philadelphia published this steel engraving in 1889.  The artist, John Sartain (1808-1897), emigrated to Philadelphia from London in 1830.  Sartain enjoyed a prolific career as an engraver.  He also published magazines.  In 1876, he headed the art department for the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia.

The Iron Worker and King Solomon, 1889, John Sartain (1808-1897), artist, Bradley and Bro., publisher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum, gift of Clement M. Silvestro, 95.028.1.   Photograph by David Bohl.

The Hobo Adventures of Ralph Evans, 1933

In  2004, Errol Lincoln Uys donated a huge collection (26 cubic feet) of personal accounts, letters, surveys, oral histories, and manuscripts concerning teenage hoboes during the Great Depression of the 1930's. The collection is referred to as the Uys Family Collection of Teenage Hobo Material (USM 062).  This material was originally collected for a film entitled Riding the Rails which was part of the PBS series American Experience.

Errol L. Uys also donated a group of photographs of hoboes which are reproductions from the collections of the Library of Congress and the National Archives.  All the material in the Uys Family Collection of Teenage Hobo Materials is available for use (see example of photographs on the left).  For an online exhibition of photographs and personal accounts of teenage hoboes see our web site.

My favorite portion of this donation - by far - is the oral histories!  You can hear the voices of the people who rode the rails and listen to their stories first hand.  These audiotapes of personal accounts have been reformatted to compact disc for preservation and access reasons.  They are available for research and are an untapped resource in the Library and Archives. 

One very interesting oral history comes from Ralph Evans (b. 1918) whose home was in Sioux City, Iowa at the time.  At 15 years old, Evans decided to go to the Chicago World's Fair, purely for adventure. This was in contrast to other teenage hobos at the time, many of whom left home out of financial distress and desperation.  Evans remembers that his trip was in 1933 specifically because that was the year of the fair.  Evans began by hitchhiking out of Sioux City and then decided to ride freight trains to get to his destination. First, he rode on top of the train, but discovered he was cold and too close to the engine.  Then he rode inside the train and had a bed roll to sleep on.

He traveled to Dubuque, Iowa and saw the Mississippi River for the first time.  By mistake, however, he ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, rather than Chicago!  He was awestruck by the skyscrapers and the beautiful Polish girls.  In Minneapolis he had many adventures and then eventually headed home to Sioux City, never making it to Chicago!                                                                                              A2004_26_1_hitch_hikers_scan

For further reading:

Uys, Errol Lincoln.  Riding the Rails:  Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression, New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Whitey, Guitar.  Ridin' Free:  Short stories of Steam and Diesel Hoboing, Silver City, New Mexico:  Zephur Rhoades Press, 2002.              

Image captions:

Boy riding freight. West Texas. Dorothea Lange, photographer.  Courtesy of Library of Congress.

College boys trying to "thumb" a ride home over the weekend, near Natchitoches, Louisiana. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer. Courtesy of Library of Congress.