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April 2010

New to the Collection: Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug

Frog Mug front Freemasonry is often acknowledged as the first fraternal organization to come to American shores.  But, it is far from the only group that crossed the Atlantic.  This mug, marked “Ancient Order of Foresters,” also represents a group that started in England and came to America.

The mug, which the National Heritage Museum recently acquired, was made in England in the 1830s or 1840s.  Known as a “frog mug,” the vessel has a ceramic frog inside that would surprise the drinker as he drained his beverage.  This charming joke was put on by a number of pottery manufacturers during the 1800s.

The Ancient Order of Foresters dates back to 1790 in England, when it was known as the Royal Ancient Order of Foresters.  According to the group, their object was “to unite the virtuous and good in all sects and denominations of man in the sacred bonds of brotherhood so that while wandering through the Forest of this World they may render mutual aid and assistance to each other.”  Initially, members had to prove themselves in combat before gaining admittance, but in 1843 the group dropped this requirement.  Scholar Victoria Solt Dennis has suggested that this may have served as a “primitive health check" since "a candidate who could acquit himself creditably in a mock fight was probably reasonably fit to work and support himself.”

In 1834, the group had a schism and changed its name to the Ancient Order of Foresters.  It also changed its ritual and introduced new signs and passwords.  Although the Order came to the United States in 1832, it did not take strong hold until the 1860s.  Today, the group remains active in England as the Foresters Friendly Society.2009_012DP3

Despite the prominent inclusion of the Foresters name on the mug, it bears a verse from a decidedly Masonic song: 

Ensigns of state that feed our pride,
Distinctions troublesome and vain,
By Masons true are laid aside,
Arts free-born sons such toys disdain.
Ennobled by the name they bear,
Distinguished by the badge they wear.

This verse is part of “The Fellow-Craft’s Song,” which appeared in Anderson’s Constitutions, a governing document for Freemasonry, when it was published in 1723.  Did the potter make both Masonic and Forester mugs and just make a mistake about which verse belonged on this piece?  Or did the Foresters appropriate the song?  We may never know, but it does seem strange that such a clearly Masonic verse would appear on a mug for a non-Masonic fraternal group.


Victoria Solt Dennis, Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their Badges and Regalia (Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd., 2005), 114-123.

Albert C. Stevens, The Cyclopedia of Fraternities (New York: E.B. Treat and Company, 1907), 221-229.

Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug, 1834-1850, England, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Museum purchase, 2009.012.  Photographs by David Bohl.

A Nod to Freemasonry

SC83_19_5DP1 Bobblehead dolls – do you love them or hate them?  Do you have any in your office or your house?  Recently, the National Heritage Museum received two Masonic bobblehead dolls – both depicting Shriners (members of the Masonic group Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) – joining two others already in the collection.

Our Collections Committee – which reviews all objects offered to the Museum by gift or purchase – was charmed by these toys.  Bobbleheads, also known as “nodders” or “bobbers,” seem to date back to at least 1842.  In his short story, The Overcoat, published that year, Nikolai Gogol described a character as having a neck “like the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads.”  In the 1920s, a New York Knicks basketball player bobblehead was produced and enjoyed some popularity, but it quickly waned.  In the 1960s, sports figure bobbleheads came into vogue once again and since that time, innumerable popular figures have been immortalized with their heads on springs.

Three of the Museum’s Shriner bobbleheads date from the 1960s, including the one shown at left.  These dolls have plaster heads on springs.  The figure wears a black suit with a white shirt and a typical maroon fez with a black tassel and a yellow and green Shrine symbol.  Unfortunately, we do not know exactly when or where this bobblehead originated.  It may have been a souvenir from a specific Shrine event, or perhaps just a whimsical toy that the original owner purchased.  Bobbleheads seem to be a perfect fit for Shriners – the group is known as “the playground of Freemasonry.”

We also have a Shriner bobblehead from about 2003, which a museum staffer purchased at our Heritage Shop and recently donated to the collection.  This newer doll has a plastic head and body, but shows remarkable similarities to our earlier ones.  Compare the photo of the plastic one at right to the plaster-headed bobblehead above.2008_043DP2

Do you have any other Masonic or fraternal bobbleheads?  If so, we’d love to hear about them in a comment below!

Top: Masonic Shrine bobblehead doll, 1960-1970, National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. James A. Wieland, SC83.19.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom: Masonic Shrine bobblehead doll, 2003, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Jennifer G. Aszling, 2008.043.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Say Hello to Billy the Patriot Mouse on Patriot’s Day!

Drilling for blog In 2007, at the opening of “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution," the museum introduced Billy the Patriot Mouse.  Since then, visitors to the exhibition, especially younger ones, have enjoyed following Billy through pictures in the gallery and a book that tells his story.  Museum staff, working with illustrator Sheli Petersen, created Billy to help young children engage with the exhibition.  Looking out for Billy in each section of the exhibition allows families to experience the events of 1775 through his eyes (or at least imagine them). 

Billy lives with the Estabrook family of Lexington and participates in happenings throughoutBilly on farm small "Seeds of Liberty."  Billy steals cheese in the Loring kitchen, listens to political gossip at John Parker's wheelwright shop and watches the Lexington Tea Bonfire.  After the battle at Lexington, he travels with Prince Estabrook (by pocket) and later fights with the troops in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Although Billy is placed at the eye-level of a child, he has attracted the attention of visitors of all ages.   Many visitors note on comment cards that Billy is who they would most like to meet of all the people introduced in the exhibition. 

We hope you will seek out Billy on your next visit.  The museum is open this Patriot's Day.



Illustrations by Sheli Petersen, 2007, National Heritage Museum

The Lexington Alarm Letter - on the web and on exhibit!

Lexington_Alarm_letter_scan_March_23_2009_web Once a year, to celebrate Patriot's Day, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm letter, written the morning of April 19, 1775 to alert the colonies that war with the British had begun. The Lexington Alarm letter will be on view in the lobby of the National Heritage Museum from April 17-25, as part of the festivities surrounding Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday that commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord each year on April 19th. Be sure to stop by the museum and check out this exciting piece of American history. And, of course, you'll want to view our long-term exhibition, Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution to learn more about Lexington's role in the American Revolution.

Whether you're able to stop by the Museum or not, be sure to check out our two blog posts from last April about the Lexington Alarm letter. The first post explains more about what the letter is and the role that it played during the 24 hours after the Battle of Lexington. The second post - "Quite to Connecticut": (Google)mapping the Journey of the Lexington Alarm - follows the ride of Israel Bissel (using Google Maps!) on April 19-20, 1775 as he spread the news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Below is a transcription of our Lexington Alarm letter. The verso of the letter (not shown here) reads: "To Christopher Leffingwell Esq. or either the Committee of Correspondence Norwich." 

Watertown Wednesday Morning near 10 o'Clock

To all the Friends of American Liberty, be it known that this Morning before breake of Day a Brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 Men landed at Phip’s Farm at Cambridge & marched to Lexington where they found a Company of our Colony Militia in Arms, upon Whom they fired without any Provocation and killed 6 Men and Wounded 4 others. By an Express from Boston this Moment, we find another Brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1000. The Bearer Mr. Israel Bissel is charged to alarm the Country quite to Connecticut and all Persons are desired to furnish him with Fresh Horses as they may be needed. I have spoken with Several Persons who have seen the Dead & Wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this they know.

J. Palmer, one of the
Committee of S-----y [i.e. Safety].
Col. Foster of Brookfield one of the Delegates. A True Coppy taken from the original p[er] order of Committee of Correspondence for Worcester. Attest. Nathan Balding T[own] Clerk
Worcester April 19th 1775.

Brooklyne Thursday 11 o'Clock - The above is a true Coppy as rec[eived] here p[er] Express forwarded from Worcester - [at]Test. Daniel Tyler, Jr.


Image caption:

Lexington Alarm’d Letter, 1775
Daniel Tyler
Brooklyn, Connecticut
Ink on paper
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A95/011/1

New to the Collection: Mourning McKinley

2008_021_5DP1 Commemorative glass and ceramic platters, mugs and pitchers were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s – particularly those bearing the likeness of one of our presidents.  But, this glass platter, which was donated to the National Heritage Museum in 2008, the gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, seemed somewhat eerie to me given its inscription, “It is God’s way / His will be done.”

A quick search of the life dates on the platter, “Born 1843 / Died 1901,” confirmed that the man depicted is William McKinley, 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  So, I initially attributed the rather severe verse to vestiges of somber Puritanism or to Victorian mourning ideals.

However, additional research turned up a far more pertinent explanation for the words on this commemorative platter.  According to the New York Times on September 14, 1901, McKinley’s last words as he died that day were “Good bye.  All good bye.  It is God’s way.  His will be done, not ours.”

Born in 1843 in Niles, Ohio, McKinley became a teacher until the Civil War broke out.  He enlisted in the Union Army, eventually achieving the rank of brevet major.  After the war, he became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio.  He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and held two terms as governor of Ohio.  In 1896, McKinley was elected president of the United States, and was elected to a second term in 1900.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short on September 6, 1901.  On that day, despite the presence of Secret Service agents, anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot McKinley while he was shaking hands at a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition.  Despite quick medical attention, gangrene set in around McKinley’s wounds and he died on September 14, 1901.

In addition to his distinguished political career, William McKinley was a Freemason.  He received the first three degrees from Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, during his Civil War service.  After the war, McKinley affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 90, Canton, Ohio, later becoming a charter member of Eagle Lodge No. 431 in Canton, Ohio.  He was also active in Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights Templar.

President William McKinley Commemorative Platter, ca. 1901, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Some Recent Library Acquisitions on Freemasonry and Fraternalism

Better Angels of Our Nature cover Listed below are some recent acquisitions - many newly published - on the subject of Freemasonry, fraternalism, gender, masculinity, and conspiracism acquired since June 2009 by the National Heritage Museum's Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives. You can find all of these titles (and more) by searching the library's online catalog.

And, of course, we’ve got plenty of great new American history titles, as well as periodical subscriptions that include Heredom, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (AQC), Philalethes, and The Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, which all contain great, current research on the subject of Freemasonry.

(Note: titles below are linked to publisher's descriptions on publisher's websites.)

Abel, Sheri Lyn. Charles Testut's Le Vieux Salomon: Race, Religion, Socialism, and Freemasonry. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2009.

Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 2003.

Berry, Robert. The Bright Mason: An American Mystery. [Chicago?]: R. Berry, 2008.

Beyer, Thomas R. 33 Keys to Unlocking The Lost Symbol: A Reader's Companion to the Dan Brown Novel. New York: Newmarket Press, 2010.

Brown, Dan. The Lost Symbol: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2009.

Bush, A. E., P. L. Dorman, and John William Graves. History of the Mosaic Templars of America: Its Founders and Officials. Fayetteville, Ark: University of Arkansas Press, 2008.

Carnes, Mark C., and Clyde Griffen. Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Cooper, Robert L. D. Cracking the Freemasons Code: The Truth About Solomon's Key and the Brotherhood. New York: Atria books, 2007.

Cox, Simon. Decoding the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Dafoe, Stephen. Morgan: The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry. New Orleans, LA: Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2009.

Davis, David Brion. The Fear of Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion from the Revolution to the Present. Ithaca [N.Y.]: Cornell University Press, 1971.

Eisner, Lisa, and Glenn O'Brien. Shriners. [Los Angeles, Calif.]: Greybull Press, 2004.

Eisner, Will, and Umberto Eco. The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

Emery, George Neil, and John Charles Herbert Emery. A Young Man's Benefit: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Sickness Insurance in the United States and Canada, 1860-1929. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.

Factor, R. Lance. Chapel in the Sky: Knox College's Old Main and Its Masonic Architect. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010.

Frank, Stephen M. Life with Father: Parenthood and Masculinity in the Nineteenth-Century American North. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Godbeer, Richard. The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Goldwag, Arthur. Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, Black Helicopters, the New World Order, and Many, Many More. New York: Vintage Books, 2009.

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Halleran, Michael A. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010.

Hamblin, William James, and David Rolph Seely. Solomon's Temple: Myth and History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.

Harrison, David. The Genesis of Freemasonry. Hersham, Surrey: Lewis Masonic, 2009.

Johansen, Shawn. Family Men: Middle-Class Fatherhood in Early Industrializing America. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Kinney, Jay. The Masonic Myth: Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry. New York, N.Y.: HarperOne, 2009.

Moore, Duncan. A Guide to Masonic Symbolism. Addlestone: Lewis, 2008.

Nance, Susan. How the Arabian Nights Inspired the American Dream, 1790-1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Neem, Johann N. Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts. Harvard historical studies, 163. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Pipes, Daniel. Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From. New York: Free Press, 1997.

Proctor, Tammy M., and Nelson R. Block. Scouting Frontiers: Youth and the Scout Movement's First Century. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub, 2009.

Stauffer, Vernon. The Bavarian Illuminati in America: The New England Conspiracy Scare, 1798. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2006. [Full-text of original 1918 edition available online.]

Stott, Richard Briggs. Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Summers, Martin Anthony. Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900-1930. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Sutherland, Denise, and Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. Cracking Codes & Cryptograms for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.

Syrett, Nicholas L. The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Taillon, Paul Michel. Good, Reliable, White Men: Railroad Brotherhoods, 1877-1917. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Uzzel, Robert L. Éliphas Lévi and the Kabbalah: The Masonic and French Connection of the American Mystery Tradition. Lafayette, La: Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2006.

Wasserman, James. The Secrets of Masonic Washington: A Guidebook to Signs, Symbols, and Ceremonies at the Origin of America's Capital. Rochester, Vt: Destiny Books, 2008.

Weber, John, Patrick Huyghe, and Michael Bober. An Illustrated Guide to The Lost Symbol. New York: Pocket Books, 2009.

"Jim Henson’s Fantastic World" Opens This Saturday, April 3!

Henson and his characters smaller 

Please note: The Museum will be closed on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jim didn’t think in terms of boundaries at all the way the rest of us do. There are always these fences we build around ourselves and our ideas. Jim seemed to have no fences.
      --Jon Stone, Sesame Street producer and director

Without “fences” to limit where his imagination could roam, Jim Henson (1936-1990)—artist, puppeteer, film director and producer—created elaborate imaginary worlds filled with unique characters, objects, environments and even languages and cultures. His work is enjoyed in dozens of languages in more than 100 countries. “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World,” a new exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and The Jim Henson Legacy, offers a rare peek into the imagination and creative genius of this multitalented innovator and creator of Kermit the Frog, Big Bird and other beloved characters.

“Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” will be on view at the Museum April 3 through June 27, 2010.

The exhibition features 100 original artworks, including drawings, cartoons and storyboards that Jim_Henson_Bert&Earnie illustrate Henson’s talent as a storyteller and visionary. Among the variety of exhibition objects are puppets, and television and movie props, photographs of Henson and his collaborators at work and original video productions, including excerpts from Henson’s early career and experimental films.

“It’s such a treat to get to know Jim Henson through his doodles and drawings, his puppets and his fantastic performances,” said Karen Falk, curator of the exhibition and archivist at The Jim Henson Company. “I’m delighted to be able to share this inspiring and entertaining experience with people all over the country. Seeing his original work firsthand opens a window into his visual thinking and provides both an appreciation of Jim as an artist and a reason to laugh out loud.”

Jim_Henson and Kermit From the very beginning, Henson expressed his ideas with incredible bursts of invention, through a variety of visual forms, clever dialogue, songs, comic bits and animation. All of his work reveals a highly sophisticated and nuanced thought process, evident in the decades-long metamorphosis of a small group of captivating characters from simple doodles to cartoons to puppets to films. What began as a one-man enterprise eventually grew into an international phenomenon. As time passed, the simple hand puppets Henson created for his first television show, “Sam and Friends,” evolved into increasingly more sophisticated characters—from the Muppets of “The Muppet Show,” “Sesame Street” and “Fraggle Rock” fame to the larger-than-life fantasy creatures of “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.”

“Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” is organized by The Jim Henson Legacy and SITES, in cooperation with the Henson Family; The Jim Henson Company; The Muppets Studio, LLC; and Sesame Workshop. The exhibition is made possible by The Biography Channel. Additional support has been provided by The Jane Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson.


The Biography Channel is a 24-hour digital cable network dedicated to presenting compelling stories about the world’s most interesting people. One of the most sought after and fastest growing channels available today, The Biography Channel presents vibrant profiles of intriguing individuals, plus exciting new original series, short features and documentaries. For more information, visit www.biography.com.

Established in 1993, The Jim Henson Legacy was created by family and friends in response to the extraordinary interest in the life and work of Jim Henson. The organization is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Henson’s contributions to the worlds of puppetry, television, motion pictures, special effects and media technology. By making Henson’s creative body of work available to the public through presentations and exhibits, the Legacy will share the power of Henson’s art and imagination and his positive view of life with generations to come.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For more information, including exhibition descriptions and tour schedules, visit www.sites.si.edu.

Photo captions:
Henson and His Characters. Photo by John E. Barrett, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company. Kermit the Frog © The Muppets Studio, LLC.

Bert & Ernie. Photo by John E. Barrett. TM & © 2007 SesameWorkshop. All Rights Reserved.

Henson and Kermit. Photo courtesy of The Jim Henson Company. Kermit the Frog © The Muppets Studio, LLC.