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December 2009

Masonic Trench Art

GL2004_3033T 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of an agreement between the National Heritage Museum and the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, which brought the Grand Lodge collection to the Museum on extended loan.  Both organizations have seen many benefits over the past five years.  The Grand Lodge collection is professionally cared for, with each object inventoried and tracked.  In turn, the Museum is able to research, exhibit and publish the objects in the collection, along with new information about them.

I have been fortunate to work with the Grand Lodge collection for almost three and a half years.  Among the more than 12,000 objects, I have many favorites; the pendant pictured here is near the top of my list.  Made in one century and sold at auction in another, this small item attests to the universality of Freemasonry’s tenets and reminds us of the importance of tradition.

The pendant is similar in form and materials to many that were made as an early form of “trench art” by French prisoners in England during the Napoleonic Wars.  Between 1793 and 1814, there were over 120,000 French soldiers and sailors in British prisons.  Using what was handy, including bone, straw from their mattresses, paper, their own hair, and other materials, the prisoners fashioned these small pictures.  Many sold or traded their work for food, clothing or bedding to improve their living conditions at the prison.  French Freemasons in the prisons were allowed to form lodges.  Pendants like this one may have helped those Masons to remember their teachings and might have been used in the prison lodges to teach new members or to identify lodge officers.  These items were undoubtedly appealing souvenirs for English Masons, who purchased or traded for them with the prisoners.  

A century after it was initially made, this pendant was purchased at the 1901 auction of industrialist John Haigh’s (1832-1896) library by former Grand Master of Massachusetts Samuel Crocker Lawrence (1832-1911).  John Haigh was a native of England, but came to America in 1855.  Apprenticed as a calico printer, Haigh worked at the Pacific Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and later became part owner of the Middlesex Bleachery and Dye Works.  Initiated into a local lodge in Lawrence in 1859, Haigh was an active Freemason who frequently served as an officer.

Samuel Crocker Lawrence was initiated into Hiram Lodge in West Cambridge (now Arlington), Massachusetts, in 1854.  A Civil War general, Lawrence became president of the Eastern Railroad Company in 1875 and served as the first mayor of the city of Medford, Massachusetts, from 1892 to 1894.  An active Freemason, Lawrence bequeathed his extensive Masonic library to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts when he died in 1911.  Today, the Grand Lodge Library is named in his honor.


Jane A. Kimball.  Trench Art: An Illustrated History.  Davis, CA: Silverpenny Press, 2004.

Mark J.R. Dennis and Nicholas J. Saunders.  Craft and Conflict: Masonic Trench Art and Military Memoribilia.  London: Savannah Publications, 2003.

William Hammond.  Masonic Emblems and Jewels: Treasures at Freemasons’ Hall.  London: A. Lewis, 1920.

Masonic Pendant, 1793-1815, England, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.3033.  Photograph by David Bohl.

New to the Collection: The Ancient Order of Good Fellows

2008_032DP1 Recently, the National Heritage Museum acquired a mahogany box, which was found in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Topped with a brass handle, the box has gold painted letters on the front reading, “Buena Vista Lodge / No. 16, A.O. of G.F. / Instituted Feby. 19th, 1848.”  Identifying the group that originally used this box was the first task in adding this object to the collection.  The only clue was the initials on the box – “A.O.G.F.”  Through an internet search, we identified it as the Ancient Order of Good Fellows, but standard sources on American fraternal groups, like The Cyclopedia of Fraternities by Albert C. Stevens, offered no listing for the group.  Collecting objects from groups like this – which are not widely, or even moderately, known – is an important goal for the Museum.

The hunt was on to learn more about the Ancient Order of Good Fellows.  An 1884 history of Philadelphia included the short note that AOGF Lodge #1 was organized in 1840 in that city.  Another 1884 source, a history of Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, which borders on Philadelphia County, explained that “the Ancient Order of Good Fellows was transplanted from the city of Philadelphia May 17, 1869 when Buena Vista Lodge, No. 16, was organized.  This lodge has been extraordinarily successful, the membership now reaching one hundred and seventy.”  While this reference helps to establish that the lodge named on the box existed, it also adds confusion, suggesting that Buena Vista Lodge No. 16 was formed in 1869, not the 1848 date painted on the box itself.  Was Lodge No. 16 initially formed in Philadelphia in 1848 and then moved – or “transplanted” as the history book reads – to Montgomery County in 1869?  Or were AOGF lodges numbered within counties, rather than within the state?  This would mean that there was another Buena Vista Lodge No. 16 in Chester County where the box was found.  These questions remain unanswered until additional evidence is uncovered.

Regardless of where the lodge was located, the group seems to have been a mutual benefit society.  The Montgomery County history explains that Buena Vista Lodge “has paid out in benefits the sum of $10,316.66, as follows: Weekly Benefits, $9246.66; funeral benefits, $1070.”  Before insurance companies, societies like this one offered a safety net for their members.  Those who belonged paid fees on a regular basis and were entitled to benefits should a problem or crisis arise.  Regardless of its success in the Philadelphia area during the 1880s, the Ancient Order of Good Fellows seems to have been defunct by 1924.


Theo. W. Bean.  History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884.

Thompson Westcott and John Thomas Scharf.  History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884.  Philadelphia: L.H. Everts, 1884.

Ancient Order of Good Fellows Document Box, ca. 1848, probably Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum collection, Museum purchase, 2008.032.  Photograph by David Bohl.

National Heritage Museum Announces Program for April Symposium

Checkerboard for symposium National Heritage Museum Symposium

Friday, April 9, 2010
New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism
Lexington, Massachusetts

This symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day.  By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members.  The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture.

A keynote paper by Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida, and author of Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927, will open the day.   Titled “Worlds of Brothers,” Harland-Jacobs’ paper will survey and assess the scholarship on American fraternalism and Freemasonry.  Drawing on examples from the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s, she will demonstrate that applying world history methodologies pays great dividends for our understanding of fraternalism as a historical phenomenon.  Harland-Jacobs will conclude with some thoughts on how global perspectives can benefit contemporary American brotherhoods.

Six scholars from the United States, Canada, and Britain will fill the day’s program:
• Damien Amblard, doctoral student, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, “French Counter-Enlightenment Intellectuals and American Antimasonry: A Transatlantic Approach, 1789-1800”
• Hannah M. Lane, Assistant Professor, Mount Allison University, “Freemasonry and Identity/ies in 19th-Century New Brunswick and Eastern Maine”
• Nicholas Bell, Curator, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “An Ark of the New Republic”
• David Bjelajac, Professor of Art History, George Washington University, “Freemasonry, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and the Fraternal Ethos of American Art”
• Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch, Assistant Professor of History, University of Michigan – Flint, “Brothers of a Vow: Secret Fraternal Orders in Antebellum Virginia”
• Kristofer Allerfeldt, Exeter University, “Nationalism, Masons, Klansmen and Kansas in the 1920s”

The symposium is funded in part by the Supreme Council, 33°, N. M. J., U.S.A. Registration is $50 ($45 for museum members) and includes morning refreshments, lunch and a closing reception.  To register, complete the Registration Form (which can be downloaded at the National Heritage Museum website) and fax to 781-861-9846 or mail to Claudia Roche, National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421; registration deadline is MARCH 24, 2010.  For more information, contact Claudia Roche at croche[at]monh.org or 781-861-6559, x 4142. 

A block of hotel rooms has been reserved at Staybridge Suites, 11 Old Concord Road, Burlington, MA, at the discounted rate of $99/studio suite and $109/one-bedroom suite (taxes not included).  To make a reservation, please call 781-221-2233 and mention the National Heritage Museum Symposium.  DEADLINE for the discounted rate is MARCH 8, 2010.  Limited shuttlebus service will be available between the hotel and the Museum.

Masonic Checkerboard, ca. 1890, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.033.  Photograph by David Bohl.

The Initiated Eye: Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.

Initiated Eye with Compass Have you read the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, yet?  Maybe you put it on your holiday wish list?  If your answer to either question is yes, then you probably know the basic outline of the story – it takes place in Washington, D.C., and makes reference to a number of prominent D.C. sites, many of which have a connection to Freemasonry. 

The National Heritage Museum’s new exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.," explores this same topic, bringing a little bit of Washington to Lexington, Massachusetts.

"The Initiated Eye" presents 21 oil paintings by Peter Waddell based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens – many of whom were Freemasons – played in establishing the layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection.  The paintings and the objects explain and demystify Freemasonry for those who are unfamiliar, while also encouraging Masons and those who have read books like The Lost Symbol to look closer.

The painting shown here depicts a meeting between President George Washington (1732-1799) and surveyors Andrew Ellicott (1754-1820) and Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806).  Congress designated the location of the new capital on January 24, 1791.  Ellicott and Banneker surveyed the ten-mile-square tract of land and produced a base map of the area.  In the painting, a brazier warms the early spring day in the tent filled with surveying instruments and Masonic artifacts.  The terrestrial and celestial globes symbolize the universality of Freemasonry.92_021_1a-fS1 compass

Accompanying this painting in the exhibition is a surveyor’s compass made between 1849 and 1857 by Charles F. Helffricht (1816-1863) of Philadelphia.  All compasses measure horizontal angles with reference to magnetic north.  In addition, surveyor’s compasses have vertical sights to aim at distant objects.

"The Initiated Eye" opens December 19, 2009 and will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Left: A Vision Unfolds, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: Surveyor’s Compass, 1849-1857, Charles F. Helffricht (1816-1863), Philadelphia, PA, National Heritage Museum, gift of Charles E. Daniels, 92.021.1a-f.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Dancing DeMolays

A2009_gift_of_Paul_D_Fisher_scan A recent donation to the collection, this dance card came with a large gift of DeMolay material from Paul D. Fisher of Shillington, Pennsylvania.  It is a dance card used at a dance that was held by the Reading Chapter, Order of DeMolay in 1931.  It has a leather cover, with a pencil hanging down from it on red string to match the red dye of the leather.  Why the pencil, you might ask? 

Formal dances of the late 19th and early 20th centuries required that women write in a dance card the name of each man that she was going to dance, next to the name of the particular dance listed in the program. Looking inside the program we can see that this dance card belonged to a woman who had reserved a dance with "Luke" and another, a waltz, with "Dad Cassel."  "Dad Cassel" was no doubt Carl L. Cassel, who was on the Advisory Council for the Reading Chapter, Order of DeMolay.  He was called a "Dad Advisor" and must have been a Master Mason supervising the DeMolays in their organization and at their dance. 

The emblem for DeMolay is embossed in gold in the lower right hand corner of the cover of the dance card.  The knight imagery in the emblem alludes to Jacques DeMolay (ca. 1244-1314), the last Grand Master of the historical Knights Templar, who is the namesake of the Order of DeMolay, today known as DeMolay International.

The is 1931 dance card was made at the C. F. Heller Bindery in Reading, Pennsylvania.  This bindery also made World War II wallets which held food ration identification information.

Image Caption

Dance Card, Reading Chapter, Order of DeMolay, Pennsylvania, 1931. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, National Heritage Museum.  Gift of Paul D. Fisher, A2009/77/1.  



"The Way We Worked" to be Featured on WGBH Electronic Mural, Saturday, December 12, 2009

WGBH_mural We are pleased to announce that the Museum's current exhibition, “The Way We Worked,” will be featured on the WGBH electronic mural on the Massachusetts Turnpike on Saturday, December 12, 2009. Embedded in the exterior wall of WGBH's studios, this new Boston landmark is designed to brighten the ride for commuters with an image a day that provokes thought, inspires curiosity, and reflects the content and values of public media. Here is the the notice on the mural web site, which links viewers back to the Museum. Please take a look! And if you live in the area and are driving by, drop us a line here and tell us how it looked!

Model Train Show! December 12 and 13, 2009

Trains_09 The holiday season and model trains go together hand-in-hand, and our annual Model Train Weekend is one of our most popular events of the year! Discover the magic of trains at the Museum on Saturday, December 12 and Sunday, December 13, 2009. This family-friendly event is a perfect outing for adults and children of all ages. The HUB Division of the National Model Railroad Association presents miles of track with trains running on multiple main lines as they chug up mountain climbs, past coal mines, through small villages and into tunnels. Some engines pull 50 cars past hundreds of charming venues including icy lakes with skaters, snow-covered farms, and urban skyscrapers. The ever-popular Thomas the Tank Engine is here again this year!

“Model Train Weekend” hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 12, and noon till 4 p.m on Sunday, December 13. Admission is $5 for an individual or $7 per family . The Courtyard Cafe will be open for lunch. Visit our website for more information, or call 781-861-6559.


The Lexington Tea Bonfire

Most fans of colonial history know about one of the era’s now-famous historical protests, the Boston Tea Party, when, on December 16, 1773, about 150 men disguised as Native Americans dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor.  You can see tea thought to have been dumped from these chests in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution.” Here at the museum, we also like to talk about this event’s earlier and lesser-known cousin, the Lexington Tea Bonfire.


Like the Bostonians who protested the 1773 Tea Act, Lexington residents took issue with the  act that gave the East India Company a lock on the tea market in the colonies by exempting that company from paying a duty on the tea they exported to the colonies.  These colonists disagreed with Parliament’s privileging the East India Company (and thus impeding local businesses’ ability to turn a profit selling tea) and objected to Parliament taxing subjects without their input.
Green and white teapot 91_025-12a-bT1 In early December 1773, Lexington voters gathered to discuss "the tea sent out of the East India Company to be sold in America subject to a duty imposed by Act of Parliament."  As often happened at a meeting of Lexington freeholders, the group appointed a committee to put together a report on the topic for the town to consider and discuss.  On December 13, voters passed a hotly worded resolve against the Tea Act, describing it as a “... Measure to distress, Enslave and destroy Us.”  To this resolve, they added a statement declaring, “That if any Head of a Family in this Town or any Person shall from this time forward and until the Duty be taken off purchase any Tea or use or Consume any Tea in their Families such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this Town and to the Country and shall by this Town be treated with neglect and Contempt.”


Further expressing their outrage and resolve, as a Boston newspaper recounted, Lexingtonians “… brought together every ounce [of tea] contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  Published in the Massachusetts Spy on December 16, 1773, this account confirms that Lexington residents were ahead of the curve when it came to protesting the Tea Act.


Teapot, ca. 1765. England. National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.025.12a-b.  Photograph by David Bohl.

References: The Marketplace of Revolution:  How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T. H. Breen (Oxford University Press: New York) 2004, pp. 294-331.

See also the NHM curriculum and NHM’s Learning Blog.  

What do we collect?

89_76T1 Tracing Board Established in 1975 by Scottish Rite Freemasons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States, the National Heritage Museum tells America’s story. For over thirty years, the museum has collected, by gift and by purchase, objects that help tell that story. Today, the collection numbers over 16,000 objects. 

The collection’s primary strength is its American Masonic and fraternal items.  As the largest group of objects of its kind in the United States, the Museum’s holdings include over 400 fraternal aprons, over 2,500 fraternal badges and pieces of jewelry, and more than 1,000 items of fraternal regalia, as well as household and lodge furnishings, glass, ceramics and works of art, all decorated with Masonic and fraternal symbols.  The Museum manages an additional 12,000 objects and documents from the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts under a long-term loan agreement.  The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives comprise 60,000 books, 1,600 serial titles and 2,000 cubic feet of archival materials related to American history and fraternalism.  Selected treasures from our collection can be seen on our website.  The Library’s catalog of printed books is also accessible online.

The Museum also collects material related to American history.  These items offer different perspectives for the interpretation of important events, people, themes and issues in American history.  For example, the Willis R. Michael collection of American and European clocks comprises an encyclopedic diversity of over 140 time-keeping mechanisms.  Many of these clocks are currently featured in the National Heritage Museum exhibition, "For All Time," on view through February 21, 2010.  The Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection of more than 600 George Washington prints and related ephemera showcases the way that the memory of our first president has developed over the past 200 years.86_61_115DI1 Guyton GW print

The objects in the museum collection are highlighted in interpretive exhibitions, presented in educational programs and used as the focus of scholarly research.  All enrich our understanding of the past.  The National Heritage Museum actively seeks to add items to its collection that tell an engaging story, do not duplicate existing holdings and are in good condition.

If you have questions about the National Heritage Museum’s collection, or would like to make a gift to the collection or a financial donation to support future object purchases and conservation, we would like to hear from you. For more information, please contact Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections, at (781) 457-4144 and anewell[at]monh.org.

Top: Masonic tracing board, ca. 1820, attributed to John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841), probably Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.76.  Photograph by David Bohl.  Bottom: G. Washington, 1856, A. Chappel, artist, G.R. Hall, engraver, New York City, National Heritage Museum, Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection, 86.61.115.

"Mister Mason was a Mason and a good one too"

Be_A_Mason_cover_web It's fair to say that Freemasonry has been having a bit of a pop culture moment during the past few years. The most recent example, of course, is Dan Brown's latest novel, The Lost Symbol.

But Freemasonry's appearance in popular culture is nothing new. Pictured here is sheet music for the song Be a Mason (And Take It By Degrees) which was published in 1916 (and whose first line is the title of this post). The music is by Albert von Tilzer, who was a well-known Tin Pan Alley composer. You might know him as the man who wrote Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

The song Be A Mason draws on people's familiarity with Freemasonry and puts a funny, even slightly risque, twist on it. Despite the title, the song isn't actually about trying to convince someone to become a Mason or even reminding someone that he should act more brotherly or fraternal.

Instead, the song plays on the listener's familiarity with the existence of the three "degrees" of Freemasonry: the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason rituals that every candidate participates in when joining his local lodge. But, in fact, the song has nothing to do with joining a local lodge. Instead, it's a playful song about seduction, offering humorous advice on how a young man ought to move slowly, in steps, as he woos a woman:

Be a Mason, take it by degrees
Be a Mason, and you'll be sure to please
A little bit now, a little bit then
When you want some more, come back again...

If you're interested in more references to Freemasonry in music, be sure to check out the page put together by Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. You'll find references from Irving Berlin to Public Enemy.

Photo caption: Be a Mason (And Take It By Degrees). Cover illustration by Andre C. De Takacs. New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1916. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 79-1179SC, Museum purchase.