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November 2009

You Sank My Battleship!

2006_026_24DS1 Salvo The phrase above is familiar to anyone who played the game Battleship as a child.  But, did you know that the Battleship game dates back to the World War I era? 

Recently, the National Heritage Museum was given “Salvo: The Game of Wits,” an early precursor to the now-familiar Battleship game with its plastic boats and electronic sound effects.  While the exact origin of the game is uncertain, some sources suggest that Russian soldiers invented it shortly after World War I.  The Starex Novelty Company, Inc., of New York, first produced the version known as “Salvo” in 1931.  The Museum’s copy of the game is marked with the retail price of $1.

The game was played on paper – the game sheets have printed grids and are tucked into a folder; you can see the front cover here.  Two people would face off head-to-head by marking their ships on the gridded game sheet.  Then, the players would take turns calling out the number of one of the grid squares, which would be considered “hit” by that player’s salvo.  Whoever sank the opponent’s boats with the fewest number of salvos won the game. 

Salvo Game, 1931, Starex Novelty Company, Inc., New York, NY.  National Heritage Museum, gift of Mrs. John Willey, 2006.026.4.

Philip Zea of Historic Deerfield Speaks on Clockmaking in New England, Saturday, November 21 at 2 pm. Free

ZeaTrade and Time: Clockmaking in New England, 1725-1840Clocks_Tall_Case_Willard_small
Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, 2 pm


“For All Time: Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum” has  been very popular with visitors. Here's your chance to delve deeper into the history of clockmaking in New England with a special lecture by Philip Zea,  President of Historic Deerfield. Mr. Zea serves as a consultant to many museums on the topics of early furniture, clocks, and historical interpretation. His talk will  explore the historical context of clocks made between 1725-1840, and show how they are part of the social and economic fabric of New England life. Admission to the Museum, the exhibition, and the lecture are free.

Clock caption:
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

Can you help us solve this mystery?

2006_010a-eDP1 Mystery Jewels Recently, the National Heritage Museum acquired a set of fraternal jewels, which you can see here (click on the picture for a closer look).  The five jewels appear to be part of a set.  They are made out of the same metal and have identical pins at the top, with a crescent moon and a five-point star resting on clouds.  Each jewel has a different pendant hanging from the top piece: a harp, crossed gavels, scales, an open book and a lantern.  They were found in Connecticut, although it is not known if they were originally made or used there.

The jewels do not show any engraving or inscriptions to help us identify the group that initially used them so we are seeking more information.  Have you ever seen anything similar?  Do you know of a fraternal or Masonic group that uses these symbols?

In the May 2009 issue of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s The Northern Light, we published a picture of these jewels and asked the same questions.  Prior to this, we received suggestions that the jewels might be from the Daughters of the Nile or the White Shrine of Jerusalem, but comparisons to symbols and jewels from those groups are not conclusive. 

Northern Light readers wasted no time in contacting the Museum with suggestions.  One reader noted a comparison between the star and crescent on the jewels and at the Odd Fellows cemetery in Ennis, Texas.  While similar, the mystery jewels differ significantly from other Odd Fellows jewels in the National Heritage Museum collection.  For another reader, the symbols on the mystery jewels called to mind the moon and star seen on jewelry for members of the Dramatic Order of Knights of Khorassan, a group related to the Knights of Pythias.  But comparisons between our mystery jewels and the symbols for this group did not turn up a conclusive match.  Still another reader suggested that the jewels might be associated with the Moorish Science Temple of America.  We welcomed all of the suggestions and continue to search for the answer to this mystery.

If you have any ideas, please write a comment below and let us know.

Set of Jewels for Unidentified Fraternity, 1880-1930.  Museum purchase, collection of National Heritage Museum, 2006.010a-e.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Stricken with Palsy in the early 1800s!


What would a man do if he was stricken with "palsy" in Dorchester in 1808?  How would he support his family?  There was no medical insurance at this time and no life insurance.  What would you do if you were "unfortunate in business" so you had to claim bankruptcy in 1803?  What would you do if you were a grieving widow in 1809? You might write a letter to your local Masonic lodge.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives recently acquired a very large collection of materials that document the history of Union Lodge, Dorchester (meeting in Norwood, MA) from its founding in 1796 until 1950. The collection was a generous gift from Union Lodge itself. This collection is now cataloged (MA 054) with a 20 page finding aid that contains detailed information about the collection. The Union Lodge collection is open to the general public for research. Using these primary sources, we can learn a lot about the history of this lodge. Below are just a few examples of Masonic charity that are recorded in the documents of the Union Lodge collection.

In 1808, William Lepear wrote a desperate letter to Union Lodge saying that he had been "smitten with a stroke of the palsy which rendered his right arm and leg entirely useless, an in a great measure deprived him of speach [sic]" (see image below). He had been living off his family land since 1804.  By 1808 he had depleted his funds and turned to his Union Lodge brethren for charity.  According to a Union Lodge minute book, on November 1, 1808, William Lepear's request was voted on by the members.  It is clear that the members voted in favor of helping out Lepear, because they collected $10.50 for this Brother and his family.A2008_16_Lepear_Letter_to_Union_Lodge_scan

Masonic charity comes in many forms. In a July 1803 letter to Union Lodge, Victor Blair of Charlestown petitioned for charity relief funds because his business had gone bankrupt. Blair described the early part of his life as devoted to the "services of his country in the American army." On August 2, 1803, the Union Lodge met and reviewed Blair's letter and decided to take up a collection to help out this Masonic Brother, according to a minute book of Union Lodge.  The lodge collected $3.73 for Victor Blair.  Though this may seem like a small amount, in the  1800s it would be considered a good sum.

Joseph Howe wrote a letter to Union Lodge in 1812, asking for charity relief.  He had been captured by the British on November 11, 1812 , during the War of 1812, and had surrendered all of his "tools and fruits of his labor for many months."  He asked Union Lodge for fraternal relief and to save him "from the last fatal act of desperation!"  That is, he was asking for relief funds to get his trade going again so that he could support his family.  On January 12, 1813 Union Lodge collected $8.10 for Howe as recorded in the minutes of the Union Lodge.  The secretary of Union Lodge was asked to give the money to Brother Joseph Howe.

As well as charitable relief to many, the Union Lodge also consoled many grieving widows of fellow Masons.  The minutes of July 1, 1809 record that the lodge had a special meeting to discuss the death of Joseph Gardner, Senior Warden. They held a procession to the cemetery and gave him a Masonic burial.  As noted in the minutes, "a procession was formed under the care and direction of the R. W. Brother Henry M. Lisle and W. Brother Sam B. Lyon Marshall of the lodge marcht witih solem musick from Union Hall to the House of Mourning and from thence to the Place of enternment, where the masonick solemenities were performed [sic]".   A committee was formed to write Mrs. Ann Gardner a proper letter of condolence.  A copy of the sent letter was kept by the lodge and it was recorded in the July 25, 1809 minutes that this letter was sent and that Mrs. Gardner responded. The letter of July 1, 1809 from Union Lodge, is a beautiful one that is three pages long!

Union Lodge was chartered in 1796 and still exists today.  Their charter was signed by Paul Revere (Grand Master), William Scollay (Deputy Grand Master), and Isaiah Thomas (Senior Grand Warden) on June 16, 1796.  Only 13 lodges predate Union Lodge in Massachusetts.

Image Captions

Detail from Program of Union Lodge, 1906, Union Lodge, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2008/16.

Letter from William Lepear to Union Lodge, 1808, Union Lodge, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2008/16.


James Green Speaks On "The Experience of Work in the American Industrial Age," Saturday, November 14 at 2 pm. Free

How They Worked 1

James Green writes, "How do you read this photograph of men working as stevedores on the New Orleans waterfront many years ago, before longshore work was mechanized? What do you see in the men’s eyes, in their posture? Photos like this are the subject of my lecture on Nov. 14 at the National Heritage Museum. They yield no obvious answers, but they do offer us a window into the worlds of work Americans inhabited in years past—worlds that have, in a visual sense, vanished from our national landscape. Scenes like this have not, of course, disappeared from the world scene and are common in many places where the work of commerce and trade, buying and selling, and making a living is still hand work, “stoop labor.” Photos of lost worlds of work are, like artifacts from archeology digs, available for interpretation and more: for adding the visual component to telling what was once called “labor’s untold story.” Historians have now written whole new chapters of that story—tales of working lives such photo can bring to life. Combing knowledge that comes from print documents and recorded testimonies with these images can help us interpret the world of work as previous generations of Americans experienced it, and help us see that in some subtle ways that world has not changed as much as it might seem."

Author photo134 James Green, professor of history and labor studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, speaks on "The Experience of Work in the American Industrial Age: What Images Call Us to See and Imagine," Saturday, November 14 at 2 pm. He is also a labor activist and the well-known author of Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, The First Labor Movement and the Bombing That BibMills1 Divided Gilded Age America. The lecture complements The Way We Worked: Photographs from the National Archives” now on view at the Museum. The lecture is free courtesy of the Lowell Institute.


Exhibition Images:

“Banana inspection,” ca. 1910.

Unknown photographer.

Courtesy National Archives

"Bib Mill No. 1, Macon, Ga.," 1909. Lewis Hine.
Courtesy National Archives

New to the Collection: A Masonic Quilt

2008_002_1T1 Quilt Overall So often quilts saved from the 1800s are ones that were only used on special occasions – quilts that were made not as warm bedcoverings, but as family keepsakes or gifts, or that held special meaning for the maker.  This quilt, a recent acquisition by the National Heritage Museum, presents a more utilitarian example.

While in good condition, the style chosen and fabrics employed in the quilt suggest that it would have kept a family warm, while hiding the dirt that was sure to accumulate over time.  The shape of the quilt, known as the “T-shape” due to its cut-out corners, is a distinctive New England trait.  Although some quilts from the 1800s with cut-out corners were made in other regions of the United States, studies have documented far more examples of this shape in New England.

The brown floral print in the center section was probably sold as dress goods.  The side and bottom borders are made from an indigo fabric with an overall white dot and periodic leaf motif.  The quilt is serviceably backed with coarsely woven cream linen.  The quilting is done with brown and blue thread, depending on the area, so that the stitches would blend into the fabrics.  The blue borders show a chevron quilting pattern, while the brown section is quilted in squares with parallel lines.

2008_002_1T3 Handkerchief Detail An unusual feature of this quilt, the Masonic handkerchief applied to the center, dates to about 1817.  The blue and brown fabrics also appear to date from the late 1810s, suggesting that the quilt was made between 1815 and 1820.  Printed in red, the handkerchief depicts an arrangement of many Masonic symbols with verses at the top and bottom.  Unfortunately, the maker’s motivation for including the handkerchief on the quilt has been lost, as has her name.  While it seems fairly safe to imagine that the original owner was a Freemason, or related to a Freemason, the handkerchief is also an interesting choice based on prevailing quilt style of the period.  Medallion quilts – those with a central design, often pieced or appliquéd – were popular during the 1810s and 1820s.  The addition of the handkerchief in the center of the quilt may reflect the maker’s desire to replicate that fashion in a time-saving and cost-effective manner.  Although women could not become Freemasons themselves, those who were married or related to Freemasons often expressed familiarity with Masonic symbols in their quilts or other creative endeavors (see our previous post on the quilt by Jane Haight Webster).

T-Shaped Quilt with Masonic Handkerchief Medallion, ca. 1817, probably New England.  National Heritage Museum, Special Projects Fund, Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 2008.002.1.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Detail of Handkerchief.  Photograph by David Bohl.

The Boston Globe Interviews Dick Curtis About Masons and Their Secrets

Dick_Curtis Our very own Dick Curtis, a 33rd-degree Mason and former editor of The Northern Light magazine, was featured in The Boston Globe. He was interviewed about the accuracies and inaccuracies regarding Freemasonry in Dan Brown's book, The Lost Symbol.

From the article:
"Curtis and other Freemasons say that the 'secrets' Brown depicts in the novel are inaccurate, but they also say that it properly underscores the importance that Freemasons place in morality, ethics, and striving to become a better person. After all the uncertainties, Curtis said, 'I’m very pleased that he used Freemasonry as a subject for the book.'"

You can read the complete article here

Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff.

Elizabeth Cole Sheehan, Creator of the Prayer-Rag-Flag Honoring the American Soldier, at the Museum on Veterans Day, November 11

Rag_Flag_CloseUp Elizabeth Cole Sheehan, creator of the Prayer-Rag-Flag honoring the American soldier, will be at the Museum on Veterans Day, Wednesday, November 11, from 1-4 pm. She will discuss her inspiration for the project, its construction, and answer visitor questions. Through the Prayer-Rag-Flag, Sheehan seeks express hope for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to honor the fallen. 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, Museum is displaying the Prayer-Rag-Flag in its lobby throughout the month of November.

Photo by Larry Cotton.

Susan Eisenhower Speaks on Issues in Foreign Policy this Sunday, November 8 at 2 pm. Free.

Susan_Eisenhower_thumb Join us for Susan Eisenhower's lecture, “Challenges in American Foreign Policy from Eisenhower to Obama,” this Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 2 pm. Ms. Eisenhower will also be on hand following her talk to sign copies of her book, Mrs. Ike. The lecture is free.

Susan Eisenhower was a founding director and the first president of the Eisenhower Institute where she became known for her work in the former Soviet Union and in the energy field. She is currently the Eisenhower Institute’s Chairman of Leadership and Public Policy Programs. The  lecture is presented in collaboration with the Eisenhower Fellowship Program.

For directions to the Museum, please visit our web site.

Guess what this tray is made from...

2008_021_24T1 This tray's colorful design features a central Masonic square and compasses motif.  The colors are vibrant, but the texture seems unusual – not paint or ink.  Several of the tray’s motifs were made using butterfly wings.  The wings form the background and the small beach scenes at the corners.  The design is supplemented with black and gold elements that are reverse-painted on the glass that covers the bottom of the tray.

While at first glance this object might seem unusual, butterfly wing collectibles have been sold as travel souvenirs for decades.  Jewelry, trays and framed pictures were popular, not just with Masonic symbols, but also with scenic views and figures in traditional costumes.  Another butterfly wing picture in the National Heritage Museum collection is marked “Rio de Janeiro,” suggesting both its probable place of origin and its function as a travel keepsake.

Do you own a butterfly wing souvenir?  Do you know more about the history of these items?  Share your information with us in a comment!

Masonic Tray, 1930-1960.  National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.24.  Photograph by David Bohl.