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March 2010

New to the Collection: Doorstop or Bookend?

2009_072DP1 The National Heritage Museum recently acquired this charming doorstop that shows an arrangement of Masonic symbols.  We purchased it at auction and although it was described as a doorstop in the catalog, some Museum staff have been arguing that it seems more like a bookend.  So, what do you think?  Doorstop or bookend?  It’s cast iron (giving it the heft that a doorstop needs) and measures 6 3/4 inches high by 4 inches wide by 2 1/4 inches deep.

While we do not know exactly when and where it was made, the doorstop adds nicely to our collection of Masonic household (or lodge) accessories.  I like the bright red color, accented with white and yellow paint.  And, it offers a quick primer to some of the most common Masonic symbols:

Square and Compasses with G – perhaps the most recognized Masonic symbol, the square and compasses symbolize reason and faith, while the G in the center stands for God, geometry, or both.

The trowel (at top left) spreads the cement that unites Masons in brotherly love.

The gavel (at top right) symbolizes the stonemason’s hammer used to break off rough edges of stone.  In Freemasonry, this is extended to represent divesting a man's heart of vice.

The pair of columns at the bottom corners represent Jachin and Boaz – the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple, which symbolize strength and stability.

The central staircase and arch at bottom signify advancement in Masonic knowledge.

The level (at bottom left) stands for equality.  It is also used for the lodge’s Senior Warden jewel (or symbol of office).

The slipper at bottom right is used in the First Degree, or Entered Apprentice.  It is symbolic of consecration and the new member's assumption of obligations.

We look forward to reading about your opinion on the function of this object (or maybe your favorite symbol) in our comments!

Barbara Franco, Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts, Lexington, MA: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of Our National Heritage, 1976.

Masonic Doorstop, late 1800s, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Museum Purchase, 2009.072.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Final Days to Register! New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism Symposium Friday, April 9, 2010


On April 9, 2010, the Museum will present a symposium, New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism, which will explore new research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day.

The keynote speaker is professor and author Jessica Harland-Jacobs of the University of Florida. She will speak on how using world history methodologies furthers understanding of fraternalism as a historical phenomenon.

Other presenters from the United States, Canada, and Britain include:

  • Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch, University of Michigan, "Brothers of a Vow: Secret Fraternal Orders in Antebellum Virginia"
  • Hannah M. Lane, 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, George Washington University, "Freemasonry, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and the Fraternal Ethos of American Art"
  • Kristofer Allerfeldt, Exeter University, "Nationalism, Masons, Klansmen and Kansas in the 1920s"
  • Adam G. Kendall, Henry W. Coil Library and Museum, “Klad in White Hoods and Aprons: American
    Fraternal Identities, Freemasonry, and the Ku Klux Klan in California, 1921-1928”

Registration Is Still Open
There are three ways to register. First, download the form from our website.

  • Complete form and mail with payment to: Claudia Roche, National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421
  • Complete form and fax to 781-861-9846
  • Call 781-861-4142 to register by phone
  • Registration is $50; $45 for Museum members—to become a member, visit our web site.
  • Registration includes program, morning coffee, lunch, closing reception, and access to the Museum’s galleries and Library and Archives
  • Refund requests received by April 1, 2010 will be honored, minus a $10 handling fee. No refunds after April 1, 2010.

The symposium is funded in part by the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, United States of America.

Photo Caption:
Masonic embematic painting, 1840–1850. Possibly New York. Collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 90.20. Photo by David Bohl.

Lecture on Sunday, March 28: Moviegoing and American Culture

Close your eyes and think back to your most memorable moviegoing experiences. What do you remember? Did the films themselves make these occasions special? Was it the occasion or the company? Did the place, the movie theater itself, make an impact of its own? Some maintain that the aura of the Art Deco movie palaces, designed in a bygone era before the advent of the multiplex, deserve a special place in our hearts.

Crest_Sacramento smallerGoing to the movies has been a very popular leisure activity in the United States for more than one hundred years. It has changed with the times as American culture has developed. In the 1920s and 1930s, lavish theaters were built on the main streets of numerous towns, reflecting the glamour and style that Hollywood offered ordinary Americans through films shown at these venues. Is moviegoing itself now becoming a thing of the past, now that we can install home theaters in our dens and order films for home-viewing through the internet?

Film historian and movie palace preservationist Ross Melnick will help us put these questions into historical perspective. Melnick, lecturer at UCLA and Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and co-founder of the Cinema Treasures website, is coming to the National Heritage Museum on Sunday, March 28th. He will speak at 2 p.m. on "Exhibiting Change: Movie Theaters and American Cultures from the 19th to the 21st Century." His lecture will feature images and video clips that capture the flavor and excitement of over a century of moviegoing. As traced and discussed on the Cinema Treasures website, many of the finest movie venues from the first half of the twentieth century are closing or are threatened by demolition. Melnick will also discuss the issues facing historic theaters in today's digital and megaplex era. We hope to see you there!

This free public lecture is funded by the Lowell Institute. It complements the exhibition, "The Art of the Movie Theater: Photography by Stefanie Klavens," on view through May 31, 2010.

Crest Theatre, 1996. Sacramento, California. Photo by Stefanie Klavens

Which Way to the Masonic Lodge?

92_003T1 Ever since I started working at the Museum, Masonic signs along the roadways have jumped out at me.  Once you understand the significance of the square and compasses, you start to see them everywhere – along your town’s roads and on lodge buildings themselves.  At a glance, they signify the existence of a lodge in a town, provide its name and indicate its location.

Today’s signs tend to be painted on metal, or sometimes feature neon or electric lights, but they are just the modern version of a Masonic tradition.  Looking back to the 1700s and 1800s, Masonic signs were painted on wood and could often be found outside the local tavern.  Virtually every town had a tavern in the 1700s and 1800s.  They began by providing accommodations for travelers, but evolved into important community institutions providing food and drink, beds, stables and meeting space.

During the 1700s, few buildings were devoted exclusively to lodge meetings and activities.  Many American Masons met in coffee houses or taverns, which were conveniently located in town centers near major roadways.  This makes it tempting to assume that a Masonic symbol on an antique tavern sign means that a lodge met in that building; however, research has shown that this was not always the case.

A tavern sign in the National Heritage Museum collection shows the common style of the 1800s.  The dark-colored oval sign has gold decoration with a prominent square and compasses symbol in the center.  Around the symbol, lettering reads “Entertainment by J. Healy 1819.”  Jesse Healy’s (1769-1853) tavern was located in the Trapshire, New Hampshire, area.  Healy was raised a Master Mason on May 7, 1800, in Hiram Lodge #9 of Claremont, New Hampshire.  When Faithful Lodge #12 was chartered in Charlestown, New Hampshire, the next month, Healy was appointed Senior Warden.  He continued his service in that lodge as Master from 1802 to 1803, Chaplain from 1812 to 1814 and Senior Warden in 1815.

Although Healy’s tavern sign includes a Masonic symbol, it does not mean that the tavern hosted Masonic meetings.  Sometimes a Masonic symbol on a tavern sign merely indicated the owner’s membership.  During the early 1800s, a man's Masonic involvement was often understood as a sign of prestige.  Travelers saw the symbol and knew that the owner was a Mason who could be relied upon to provide good service at an honest price.  Additionally, the use of Masonic symbols in such a visible way allowed lodges and members to generate interest in the lodge within their community.  In a sense, these signs offered publicity, allowing the fraternity to continue to grow and prosper.

Healy Tavern Sign, 1819, New Hampshire, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 92.003.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Dorothy Cleveland Brown: Inside Order of Amaranth

A2009_37_portrait_DS_web_versionRecently, the Library and Archives acquired the papers of Dorothy Cleveland Brown (MA 053), which document her participation in Order of Amaranth.  Dorothy Cleveland Brown (1907-2000) rose through the ranks of Order of Amaranth from the 1950s through the 1970s.  As seen through the papers, this fraternal organization was central to her life.

Dorothy, shown here ca. 1950, lived in Olean, New York with her husband Theron C. Cleveland until 1967 when he died.  In 1970, she married Roy Brown.  Dorothy was a member of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church where she served on the Altar Guild.  She also enjoyed baking and bird watching.  She was a former member of Order of Eastern Star, but chose Order of Amaranth for most her activites. (For an explanation on the relationship between OES and Amaranth, check out our earlier post on the topic.)

She participated in her local court, Olean Court, No. 19.  The photograph below is from the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of Olean Court, held in 1955.  Dorothy (a.k.a. Dolly) is in the center, wearing a white dress and long white gloves.  The group stands below the symbol for the Order of Amaranth, the crown and sword with amaranthus leaves surrounding it.  As taught to Order of Amaranth members, the amaranthus symbolizes the fraternal bond of friendship and stands for distinction and honor.

During the same year as the Olean Court anniversary, 1955, Dolly was elected to serve as Grand Associate Conductress (Matron) of New York, Order of the Amaranth. During 1958-1959, she served as Grand Royal Matron of New York.  After holding this post, Dolly continued to participate in Amaranth at the state level, performing much committee work.  Her next role was that of Chairman of the Rules and Regulations Committee, Grand Court of New York in the 1960s.  The Grand Court of the Amaranth in New York still exists today.

As her papers show, Dolly reached the highest office in Order of Amaranth, that of Supreme Royal Matron for the United States, an office that she held during 1971-1972.  While she served as Supreme Royal Matron, Dolly did quite a bit of traveling in this capacity and presided over various conventions.  


Image Captions

Portrait of Dorothy Cleveland Brown, ca. 1950, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2009/37. Gift of Craig Klose.

Order of Amaranth Members, 1955, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2009/37. Gift of Craig Klose.


Does This Building Ring a Bell?

91_037_2aDP1 Did you know that the Old Belfry is the only site in Lexington, Massachusetts, to ever appear on an official United States coin?  In 1925, the United States Mint issued over 162,000 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollars to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening battles in the American Revolution.  Each silver half dollar bore the image of the Old Belfry on the reverse or back side, along with Daniel Chester French’s (1850-1931) Minute Man statue from Concord, Massachusetts, on the obverse or front.  The National Heritage Museum owns two of these coins, which it received in 1991, along with their original presentation boxes.

The town of Lexington originally built the Old Belfry in 1762 on land owned by Jonas Munroe. Six years later, the Belfry was moved to the town common, where it stood during the Battle of Lexington. On the night of April 19, 1775, the Belfry’s bell sounded the alarm that the British regulars were coming.  While the original Belfry was destroyed in 1909, the Lexington Historical Society built an exact replica in 1910 on its original Belfry Hill location. 91_037_2aDP2

During the months leading up to the anniversary celebration, the United States Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Commission came up with the idea for the commemorative half dollar, and created a preliminary design for the coin.  Next, the Commission, which was primarily composed of residents of the two towns, hired noted sculptor Chester Beach (1881-1956) to turn their blueprint into a metallic reality.  While Beach is most famous for his marble and bronze statues and busts, including The Unveiling of Dawn (1913) and Fountain of the Waters (1927), he also designed the Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar (1923), and produced the models for the Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar (1928).

91_037_2bDP1 Although Beach had his own ideas of how the coin should look, the Commission insisted that he follow their predetermined design.  In the end, he reluctantly created models for the coin that met the Commission’s exact specifications, but refused to sign the design as he had done for his previous half dollars.  Each coin came in a pine presentation box, with the Concord Minute Man and the Belfry, respectively, printed on the lid and the bottom of the box.  While Beach may not have been satisfied with the final product, fairgoers in Lexington and Concord liked the coins enough to buy 60,000 of them between April 18 and 20, 1925.  An unseasonable snowfall impacted the turnout for the fair, which featured a reenactment of the battle at the North Bridge in Concord, and an elaborate military parade afterward.  Collectors in New England bought most of the leftover coins.  

While the Massachusetts State Quarter, issued in 2000, showed a figure resembling the renowned Minute Man statue in Concord, the Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar remains the only legally issued American coin to depict a Lexington landmark.  Will the Mint recognize Lexington again in 2025, for the 250th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord?  We hope so!


"1775 Battle Acted at Concord Bridge: Great Crowds See a Pageant in Which Minute Men Again Face British Regulars. Throngs at Lexington Dawes and Pershing Take Part In Series of Exercises Beginning With Paul Revere's Ride." New York Times (1857-Current file), April 21, 1925, www.proquest.com (accessed January 11, 2010).

Murphy, Ian. “Lexington Belfry Has Storied History.” The Concord Journal, April 11, 2007, http://www.wickedlocal.com/concord/fun/entertainment/arts/x1605763781 (accessed January 21, 2010).

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. “1925 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar.” Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, http://www.ngccoin.com/CoinDetail.aspx?ContentID=161 (accessed January 8, 2010).

Opitz, Glenn B., ed. Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo, 1984.

Tour Lexington, Massachusetts. “Historic Sites and Museums.” The Liberty Ride, http://www.libertyride.us/historic.html (accessed January 11, 2010).

Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 2010 (63rd Edition): The Official Red Book. Edited by Kenneth Bressett. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2009.

Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar and Box, 1925, U.S. Mint, Washington, D.C., National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Dorothy L. and Stephen W. Smith, 91.037.2a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Hancock Church Silver in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty”

Among the many treasures on view in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution” are some wonderful examples of communion silver.  Residents of Lexington first used them to take communion as part of their worship over 240 years ago.  In addition to playing an essential role in the service, these cups, associated with different members of the Hancock family, were fashioned to be enduring memorials.

In the 1700s in Lexington and other New England towns, only church members took communion from these during Sunday services. Not all who attended the First Church in Lexington were members. To become a member, a man or woman needed to publicly confess their transgressions and be saved.  During that time, in Congregational churches, church goers commissioned communion silver that could be passed easily from hand to hand.  As well, they selected forms based on the kinds of vessels they used in their own in households, including beakers and cups like these.   Although these forms may have been familiar to Lexingtonians, the fact that they were crafted of a precious metal made them anything but ordinary.

EL99_001_11a-bT1 On a gray day, polished silver would have glinted, shone and added glamour to the meeting house.  In addition to their aesthetic properties, the monetary value of these cups ensured they were well looked after.  In fact, these cups may have been among those cared for by the elder church deacon, Joseph Loring (1713-1787), at his home in 1775. On April 19, still in shock from the morning's battle, Lexington residents worried that British soldiers might loot homes on their way back from Concord. To protect her family's and the church's valuables, the deacon’s daughter, Lydia (b. 1745), hid these portable valuables under a pile of brush behind the house. She was smart to have done so.  British soldiers pillaged the Lorings' home and burned itto the ground, but Lexington did not lose its communion silver. 

Both of these cups both memorialize Hancock family members.  Successful Boston businessman Thomas Hancock (1703-1763) grew up in Lexington. He was the son of John Hancock (1671-1752), the town’s first minister. Upon his death, he left £20 to his father’s former church, specifying it be used to make “two silver cups for the communion table.”  Thomas Hancock, with his wife Lydia, raised his nephew, also named John Hancock (1736/7-1793).  The younger John Hancock later served as the President of the Continental Congress and in that capacity added his now-famous signature the the Declaration of Independence.   
EL99_001_7S1 small Also a son of the Reverend John Hancock, Ebenezer Hancock (1710-1740) followed in his father’s footsteps and served as his assistant for six years. He died at the age of thirty, possibly in a diphtheria epidemic.  Made of valuable, long-lasting material and permanently marked with his name, this present to the church endured well after the memory of Ebenezer’s contributions to town life faded.

The National Heritage Museum is grateful to the First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, for the loan of the communion silver that helps tell the story of April 19, 1775.


Footed Cups, 1764. Nathaniel Hurd (1729/30-1777), Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, EL99.001.011a and.011b. Photograph by David Bohl

Beaker, ca. 1740. Jacob Hurd (1702/03-1758), Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, EL99.001.7. Photograph by David Bohl

Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society

Radio_Orphan_Annie_2_web Pictured here are the "New 1937 Secret Wig-Wag Signs" from the Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society booklet issued in 1937. Pictured below is the 1935 decoder pin that came as a premium from Ovaltine, Radio Orphan Annie's commercial sponsor. Children who had the decoder pin were encouraged to listen to the radio show, during which they'd receive an encoded message that could only be decoded if one was in possession of that year's decoder pin. The pin changed from year to year, insuring that only current members could decode the secret messages. (And, no doubt, insuring that children would pester their parents to buy Ovaltine.)

2006_013_5DS_webFreemasonry influenced a number of the fraternal groups that were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and indeed many fraternal groups were founded by Masons. The Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society shows the influence that such groups had on popular culture as well. The"Wig-Wag" signs pictured above, for example, show how far those who created the Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society went in drawing from actual fraternal groups. Historically, individual Masons have held different opinions on precisely what they feel they can divulge to non-members. Despite this, there has always been consensus among Masons that they are obliged not to reveal the passwords, signs, and grips (i.e. handshakes) that are used to by Masons to identify each other. A number of fraternal organizations were patterned after Freemasonry - many have three initiation degree rituals and most have passwords, signs, and grips that a member promises not to divulge. The "Wig-Wag" signs, while intended for a children's group that might only be generously labeled as a "secret society," are similar to the type of signs that a member of a fraternal group will learn upon initiation and promise not to divulge to non-members.

Radio_Orphan_Annie_1_web So, perhaps it's not terribly surprising to find that Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society had its own set of passwords and signs. (Interestingly, and possibly because this was aimed at children, who are not, typically handshakers, there are no grips.) Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society, like some other fraternal groups (the ones for grown-ups), made sure that the passwords changed from year to year, insuring that only active members had the current password that would identify them to other members and/or allow them to gain access to the group's meeting.

The 1937 booklet for Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society was sent to children who joined the club that year. Little Orphan Annie started life, of course, as a comic strip, first published in 1924. Starting in 1930, a radio show began airing. The Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society radio show started in 1934. If you're not old enough to have joined the Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society, you might be familiar with it from a funny scene from the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, in which the main character, Ralphie, receives his secret decoder from the Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society.

Because our rituals policy permits us to share once-secretive information for fraternal organizations that have gone out of existence, we can share with you the passwords and signs for the Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society from 1937. But remember, these must be used with care, as Annie herself reminds you in the booklet that accompanies this information:

"Sometimes outsiders may pretend that they are members of Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society when they're really not members at all. So whenever you want to find out for sure if anyone is a 1937 member - ask him to give the password to prove it.

You say to him: "Give me the 1937 secret password."
He should answer: "SIM-COR." (This new password is made up of the first syllables of the two words, "Simmons Corners" - the town were Annie lives with her foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Silo.)"

The signs, of course, are pictured at the top of this post.

Top and bottom:
Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society, 1937.
Call number: PN 6728 .L55 R3 1937
Gift of Robert A. Frank

Center: Radio Orphan Annie Decoder, 1935, National Heritage Museum Collection, Gift of Robert A. Frank, 2006.013.5