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October 2009

The Massachusetts Women's Corps

2007_038a-cT1 Uniform The uniform seen here was originally worn by Anne E. Gedges (1916-2007), a member of the Massachusetts Women’s Corps (MWC) during World War II.  As Gedges explained in a letter years later, the MWC offered local women a way to assist the war effort:

Women wanted to do something to help end the war so we volunteered to serve coffee + doughnuts on the Boston Common, collected money for the U.S.O. at the Boston Garden + other theaters, worked Sundays at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea…We marched in parades and felt we were better than the National Guard staying in step.”

The uniform includes a red patch on one shoulder that shows a gold-colored coffeepot, reflecting one of the group’s activities.  A lapel pin on the jacket includes the motto, Paratus Et Fidelis – Latin for “faithful and ready.”  The uniform was donated to the National Heritage Museum in 2007 by Gedges' niece.

Geddes Photo RESIZED The photograph at right shows Gedges with the rest of her local group.  She stands at the center of the second row of women, wearing her uniform.  The donor also gave a certificate documenting her honorable discharge from this service in 1946 to the Museum with the uniform and the photograph.  After the war, Gedges taught in the Waltham school system.  She lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, for much of her life.

Massachusetts Women’s Corps Uniform, ca. 1942, Leopold Morselo, Boston, Massachusetts. National Heritage Museum, gift of H. Thaddeus and Ellen Wolosinski, 2007.038a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Photograph of Anne Gedges and Massachusetts Women’s Corps Unit, ca. 1942, Boston, Massachusetts. National Heritage Museum, gift of H. Thaddeus and Ellen Wolosinski.

Tempus Fugit

Willard Tall Case Clock cropped Lexington’s own Nathaniel Mulliken (1722–1767) likely trained Benjamin Willard (1743–1803), the maker of this clock--but not for long.  Mulliken died in 1767, only a year or so after Willard is thought to have arrived in Lexington.  Willard lived in Lexington, perhaps off and on, to make clocks with Mulliken’s teenaged son, Nathaniel, until December 1771. 

Analysis of the numbers and locations marked on Benjamin Willard’s surviving clocks—this one is number 80—suggest that he made over 20 clocks per year before colonial tensions with Britain, a weakening market and scarce supplies, particularly metal, disrupted his work.  If you are interested in learning more, see the publication Clock Making in New England cited below.

This clock provided Willard's client with a device that measured hours, minutes, and seconds. But this clock did more than tell the time, it also conveyed a moral lesson. Willard decorated its dial with silver colored disk bearing the engraved image of an fierce bird, possibly an eagle, and the Latin motto "Tempus Fugit," loosely translated as “Time Flies.” Perhaps he and the clock’s owner wanted to remind everyone of the importance of using time well.Willard clock tempus fugit 

Willard’s clock is one of almost 100 exhibited in “For All Time:  Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum,” on view until February 21, 2010. 

Tall Case Clock, 1766–1771. Benjamin Willard (1743–1803), Lexington, Massachusetts. Gift of Robert T. Dann in memory of Dr. James R. and Constance D. Gallagher, 98.028a-g.


Philip Zea and Robert C. Cheney, Clock Making in New England, 1725-1825:  An Intrepretation of the Old Sturbridge Village Collection, Sturbridge, Massachusetts:  Old Sturbridge Village, 1992.

Symposium Keynote Speaker Jessica Harland-Jacobs to Bring New Perspective to the History of American Freemasonry and Fraternalism

On Friday, April 9, 2010, the National Heritage Museum will host an academic symposium, “New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism,” presenting the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past to the present day. As the repository of one of the largest collections of American Masonic and fraternal objects, books and manuscripts in the United States, the Museum is proud to foster innovative research on American fraternalism.


JH-J_2 Our keynote speaker will be Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida and author of Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927. Ms. Harland-Jacobs has chosen to speak on “Worlds of Brothers”, emphasizing how many fraternities, and Freemasonry especially, are conceived and operate as global institutions. While fraternalism has, by and large, been investigated from the perspective of the nation state, the talk will demonstrate how framing the history of modern-era Freemasonry on a world scale pays great dividends for our understanding of the phenomenon. In fact, as the speaker will explain, taking a global perspective can benefit contemporary American brotherhoods.


In addition to the keynote speaker, six scholars have been selected to present their research at the symposium. Look for an upcoming blog post that will describe the full program. Mark your calendars for a day of new discoveries and unexpected conclusions about how we interpret the history of American society and culture.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Harland-Jacobs.

Prayer-Rag-Flag Honoring the American Soldier On View Now Through November 30

Rag_FlagExtended Through January 10, 2010!

When artist Elizabeth Cole Sheehan first conceived the Prayer-Rag-Flag, she sought to acknowledge the American soldier and to express hope for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was inspired by Japanese prayer rags and Tibetan prayer flags. Both of these traditions involve tying fabric outdoors, allowing the prayers they hold to go out into the world on the wind. In honor of Veterans Day, and to commemorate the 5,189 soldiers whose names appear on the flag today, the Museum is displaying the Prayer-Rag-Flag in our lobby now through November 30.

To construct the flag, Sheehan tied strips of fabric torn from red, white and blue garments onto a grid of vinyl-coated wire. Friends and members of First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Canton, Massachusetts, assisted her. Each ribbon of fabric bears the name of an American soldier killed in the current wars. The names are taken from several sources, all of which have been confirmed by U.S. Central Command. As more fatalities are reported, the names will be added.

Sheehan completed the flag for Memorial Day 2009, when it graced the First Parish Green in Canton. Said Rag_Flag_CloseUp Sheehan, “This project helped all the collaborators who worked on it find common ground in opposing opinions regarding the current wars. It also imparts respect for the deceased soldiers’ effort and sacrifice, and offers comfort by acknowledging grief and presenting an opportunity to release regret. Most of all, it makes the absent soldier tangible, as a public visual aid demonstrating what the number lost looks like.” 

The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am-4:30 pm, and Sunday from noon-4:30 pm. Visit our web site for directions.

Anti-Masonry, Catholicism, Communism, and Anti-Semitism

Freemasonry_unmasked_web The title of the current exhibition in the Library and Archives reading room - Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives - is drawn from the book shown here (and on view in the exhibition): Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism. The cover of this book is an example of how Freemasonry has been blamed as the secret power behind just about everything.

Although published in 1956, the text of this book actually reproduces a lecture that a Catholic priest delivered in Scotland in October, 1884. At that time, the Vatican had just issued Humanum Genus: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Freemasonry, an official declaration of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Freemasonry. The Vatican's 1884 document claimed that Masons were “planning the destruction of the holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom.”

Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked was published by the Britons Publishing Society, a group that formed in 1923, and which was an off-shoot of the Britons, a group that formed in England in 1919 for the express purpose of disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. While the name Britons Publishing Society doesn't sound particularly threatening, one historian has called them "one of the most extreme of the post-1918 formations on the radical and far right" in England. A quick search of the British Library's online catalog reveals a number of both anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic titles published by the Britons Publishing Society. One title in particular stands out and is the likely key to the the group's interest in Freemasonry: according to one source, the Society published 85 different editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion over a forty-year period, including two separate editions during World War II.

Why would the Society's interest in The Protocols point to an interest in anti-Masonry? First published in Russia in 1905, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a notorious work of anti-Semitic propaganda. The book purported to document a secret conference at which the Elders of Zion, a fictitious Jewish group, discuss using Freemasonry to deceive humanity and attain worldwide domination. Both the text and the meeting are complete fabrications. Regardless, the book persists as a popular piece of propaganda even today.

You can learn more about the overlap between anti-Masonry and anti-Semitism here: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10007186

Here's a good intro to the history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry: http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/RomanCatholics.html

For more on history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a great online exhibition about this forgery: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10007058

If you are interested in any of the topics above, be sure to check out the two bibliographies we've prepared which will point you to helpful resources so that you can learn more about both Freemasonry and anti-Masonry.

Also, be sure to check out Chip Berlet's guest blog post from last week. Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.

Pictured above:
Dillon, Monsignor George E., D.D. Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism, Through Discovery of Lost Lectures. London: Britons Publishing Society, 1956.
Call number: 19.41 .D579 1956

Improved Order of Red Men

89_71T1 To fully understand and appreciate Freemasonry in America, the National Heritage Museum collects objects and documents associated with all types of fraternal organizations.  This chart visually presents symbols and goals of the Improved Order of Red Men.  Founded in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1834, and modeled on the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Freemasonry, the group took idealized notions of Native American life as their inspiration.  Red Men met in “tribes” at “wigwams” and practiced rituals based on romanticized views of American Indian legends.  Ironically, the group was initially open only to white men.  Members likely set this exclusion in place as a reaction to rising immigration to the United States.

The Red Men also wore “Native American” regalia, with fringed leather pants and shirts and feather headdresses.  Their costumes suggest a connection to late-1800s historical pageants, which celebrated centennials and bicentennials of white settlement in the New World. 

Decorative prints like this one were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Used in the home and by the fraternity, this print reminded the member of the lessons he had learned and signified his membership to others who might see it in his home.

Our Totem, 1888, Frank W. Parkhurst, G.H. Buek and Co., lithographer, Boston, Massachusetts.  National Heritage Museum, gift of Kenneth Leeco, 89.71.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Conspiracy Theories, Scapegoating, & Demonization are Toxic to Democracy, by Chip Berlet

Chip Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with "Freemasonry Unmasked! Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives", on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.


The man accused of killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., warned of a conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons to control the world and keep White Christians subjugated while at the same time elevating Blacks to under-served positions of power.


How could such a bizarre and bigoted claim make any sense?


The alleged shooter, James W. von Brunn, wrote a book that was like a catalog of historic conspiracy theories, including references to the infamous antisemitic hoax document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His website included links to White Supremacist and Holocaust denial sites. According to von Brunn, between 1881 and 1914 a series of political assassinations were “traceable to Bolshevism, Freemasonry … and other ILLUMINATI sponsored terror groups.” Czar Alexander II of Russia, King Humbert of Italy, U.S. President McKinley, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and others were killed in order to provoke World War I.



BerletBlog_collage-2 copy The library at
Political Research Associates, where I work, has shelves full of books making the same false conspiracy claims in elaborate detail. These conspiracist tracts and volumes trace back to the late 1700s. Now many of these false claims are posted on the Internet and available worldwide. The exhibit "Freemasonry Unmasked!", now at the National Heritage Museum traces how these conspiracist allegations often include the demonization of Freemasonry.


The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd, but nonetheless influential, conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets. The political right blames sinister plots on a vast conspiracy supposedly run by liberal secular humanists and Democrats, portrayed as running a covert network of subversives. Scratch the surface of these stories and commonly scapegoated groups emerge: Jewish bankers, Freemasons, civil rights activists, labor union leaders, community organizers.


On the political left, conspiracy theories portray conservatives, neoconservatives, and Republicans as staging the terror attacks on 9/11 as part of an elaborate scheme to justify war in the Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home.


These are not legitimate criticisms of public policy or the institutions of power in our society; they are populist anger and anxiety exploited by demagogues to undermine the democratic process. Democracy requires informed consent. When conspiracy theories enter public debates, they are toxic to democracy.


Conspiracy theorists use the same four “tools of fear." These are: 1) dualism (the division of the world into a good "Us" vs. a bad "Them"); 2) scapegoating; 3) demonization; and 4) apocalyptic aggression. The basic dynamics remain the same, no matter the ideological leanings of the demonizers or the identity of their targets.


Meanwhile, our ability to resolve disputes through civic debate and compromise is hobbled. It is the combination of demagogic demonization and widespread scapegoating that is so dangerous. Some angry people already believe conspiracy theories in which scapegoated groups are targeted as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action is mandatory and you have the conditions for a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States. Historically, the violent attacks target marginalized groups, especially people of color, immigrants, and Jewish institutions. In the last decade, the list has expanded to include Muslims, Arabs, and people in the gay community.


We can stop this. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That's not a police problem, that's our problem as people responsible for defending and expanding democracy and building a free and just society.

New to the Collection: An Ancient Maul

2008_015T1 Recently, National Heritage Museum staff began to review the extended loan objects that had accumulated under their roof.  Many of these loans dated back to the early years of the Museum, before its own collection could support exhibitions and research projects.  After three decades, the time seemed right to assess each loan for its relevance to the Museum’s mission and core priorities.  In many cases, the objects on loan were determined to be one of a kind, offering fascinating possibilities for research, exhibits, and public programming.  So, Museum staff began to ask their owners whether they might consider turning these loans into gifts for the permanent collection.  One of the first generous lenders to accept this proposal was Occidental Lodge in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. 

Back in 1977, shortly after the Museum opened, Occidental Lodge placed a maul on loan to the Museum.  As you can see in the picture, a maul is a heavy wooden-headed hammer, often used to drive wedges.  This maul has an applied metal band that helps to tell the story of its significance, inscribed “Ancient Egyptian Maul Presented to Occidental Lodge by R.W. Brigadier General C.S. Wilson CB, CMG, DSO, District Grand Master of Egypt and Sudan.”  In Freemasonry, the setting maul is a symbol of untimely death.

Occidental Lodge was formed in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in June 1870 when the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts granted the petition of twenty-three Masons from that town.  These men set the purpose of the lodge, “to promote and diffuse the genuine principles of Freemasonry; for the convenience of our respective dwelling, and other good reasons.”  The lodge grew steadily during the late 1800s and early 1900s, initiating members, pursuing charitable activities and meeting regularly. 

During these years, Occidental Lodge received a number of gifts, which they preserved as treasures.  In addition to their officers' jewels, a set of Receiving Tools and several ceremonial gavels, in July 1928 the Lodge received the maul.  The previous fall, at an October 5, 1927 Special Communication, the Lodge was visited by its presiding District Deputy, along with Brigadier General Charles S. Wilson, then-District Grand Master of Egypt and Sudan for the Grand Lodge of England.  Unfortunately, lodge records do not reveal the occasion for Wilson’s visit to western Massachusetts, or what prompted him to make this gift.  Instead, the gift of the maul is recorded as “a token of his esteem.”  Wilson was the fifth District Grand Master after the District Grand Lodge of Egypt and Sudan formed in 1899.  He succeeded his predecessor in 1926, after that man was assassinated on a Cairo street.  Wilson served as District Grand Master until his death at sea in 1933.

According to Wilson, this setting maul was found in the funeral temple of Pharoah Djoser (also known as Zoser), whose reign extended from about 2630 B.C. to 2610 B.C.  The funeral temple is part of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, Egypt.  Built under the direction of Pharoah Djoser during his reign, by the architect Imhotep, the pyramid was the largest building of its time, standing 204 feet high with six stepped layers.  The structure was intended to hold the Pharoah’s mummified body after his death.  The Museum is pleased to add the maul to its collection – it becomes the oldest item in the collection.

Maul, 1300-2000 B.C., Egypt. National Heritage Museum, gift of Occidental Lodge A.F. & A.M. in memory of those who served our country from Occidental Lodge, 2008.015.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Leo Taxil and Baphomet

TAXIL POSTER_cropped_web

Many people find the image on this poster a little creepy. It's supposed to be.  

It's even more startling when you see it in person - it's about 4' x 3' - and it's the first thing you see when you walk into the reading room for the Library and Archives new exhibition, Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.

The arresting goat-headed image on this poster is Baphomet, an invention by Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) for his 1856 book, Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. Anti-Catholic writer Léo Taxil later incorporated Lévi’s Baphomet figure into an elaborate hoax which falsely linked Freemasonry with devil-worship. Taxil, whose real name was Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, sought to publicly embarrass the Catholic Church, which was traditionally opposed to Freemasonry, by winning their sympathy through his anti-Masonic hoax and then revealing it all to be an outlandish lie. Although shown here wearing a Masonic apron, Baphomet has no association with Freemasonry.

This poster was printed by Edward Ancourt & Co., a Parisian firm that today is well-known for having printed many of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's posters. The poster is an advertisement for an anti-Masonic book written by Leo Taxil, entitled The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled. The French text at the top of poster translates to "At all the bookstores and newspaper shops." The text below the image indicates that the book was sold in parts ("livraison") - a common way of publishing books in the late nineteenth century. As a lure to get book-buyers to purchase the book, the publisher indicates that the first part is free ("La 1.ere livraison est gratuite..."). The French word for "free" - GRATUITE - is hard to miss.


Baphomet has proven an irresistable image to anti-Masons ever since Taxil first falsely associated the figure with Freemasonry. As recently as the early 1990s, Jack T. Chick used the image on one of his "Chick Tracts," called The Curse of Baphomet, pictured here. In this booklet, Chick uses a quote that has been falsely attributed to well-known Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891) that “Lucifer is God.” Léo Taxil made the quote up in the 1890s.  Taxil's fabricated Pike quote has been repeated many times in print, and a quick web search reveals that this fabricated quote has made the leap from books to websites. 

If you're interested in learning more about anti-Masonry, be sure to check out the annotated bibliography available at our website. One book that appears on that bibliography, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry?: The Methods of Anti-Masonsis available in its entirety online. The authors, S. Brent Morris and Arturo de Hoyos, do an excellent job exploring the source of many anti-Masonic claims, including both the fabricated Albert Pike quote and Baphomet.

Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie Dévoilés par Léo Taxil [The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled by Léo Taxil], ca. 1886, Printed by Edw. Ancourt & Co., Paris, France, Chromolithograph on paper.
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2000/80/1, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.

The Curse of Baphomet, 1991, Published by Chick Publications, Ontario, California
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, Vertical Files.

Legal Tender or Civil War Souvenir?

Civil War Token Head Side One of the most interesting parts of working with objects in the collection is that you think an item might be one thing, but then it turns out to be something completely different.  For example, this coin appears to be an 1863 Indian head penny, but when we turn it over, we see it is a Civil War-era token.

In response to the hoarding of United States silver and gold coins between 1862 and 1864, merchants hired private minting companies to make these tokens, which were used by Americans as a form of currency.  To prevent the stockpiling of these tokens, most were made out of non-precious metals, such as bronze, tin and copper, which were common and held little monetary value.  From 1862 to 1864, more than 10,000 varieties of Civil War tokens were created and the total number of coins made numbered into the millions.

This token, which the National Heritage Museum recently acquired, includes the name of the merchant that had it made: J. Wightman at 188 Washington Street in Newark, New Jersey.  Other tokens made around the same time have patriotic insignia, like the American flag, or slogans, such as “Union For Ever.”

Although the American public widely accepted these tokens as currency, they were only used for a short time.  Merchants could refuse the tokens.  In 1864, after legal tangles around the acceptance of these coins, Congress passed the Coinage Act.  Most notably, this Act introduced the phrase “In God We Trust” onto coins.  It also changed the metal composition of the one cent and two cent coins, giving them the same weight and feel as the familiar Civil War tokens.  As a result of these changes, people hoarded the newer currency less than the old gold and silver coins and accepted it more than the Civil War tokens.  Civil War Token Tail Side

J. Wightman Civil War Store Token (front and back), 1863, Newark, New Jersey. National Heritage Museum, gift of Ursula Endress, 2006.012.278.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Q. David Bowers, The History of the U.S. Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire: Bowers & Merena Galleries, Inc., 1984.

Q. David Bowers, United States Copper Coins: An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire: Bowers and Merena Galleries, 1984.

George Fuld and Melvin Fuld, U.S. Civil War Store Cards, Lola, Wisconsin: Civil War Token Society, 1972.