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July 2012

Treasured Lands - Final Gallery Talk

Quang-Tuan Luong at workAll good things must come to an end. The last day to view "Treasured Lands: The Fifty-Eight National Parks in Focus" is Saturday, August 4.

Join us for a final gallery talk on Saturday, August 4 at 2 PM in the "Treasured Lands" gallery. Photographer Quang-Tuan Luong has created stunning works depicting the natural beauty of America's landscapes. We will explore his techniques as well as his artistic project of capturing all of America’s national parks in large-format photographs.

The gallery talk is free. For further information, call the Museum's front desk at 781-861-6559 or refer to our website.

For more on Quang-Tuan Luong and his work, read two of our previous blog posts: on how the exhibition has been received by the public and on the show itself.

Credit: Quang-Tuan Luong at work in King’s Canyon National Park, August 2007. Photograph by Buddy Squires. © Buddy Squires, used with permission.

New Acquisition: First Masonic Almanac Published in the United States

Free Mason's Calendar title pageThe Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives recently acquired The Free Mason's Calendar and Continental Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1793. It was the first Masonic almanac published in the United States.

According to Kent Walgren's descriptive bibliography Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry, and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850 only nine other libraries own a copy of this almanac. The addition of this almanac to the library's collection makes ours the tenth known copy.

Samuel Stearns (1741-1809), the author whose name appears on the cover of The Free Mason's Calendar, was a physician and astronomer. In addition to the Free Mason's Calendar, he issued other almanacs, including the North-American Almanack, published annually from 1771-1784, as well as the first American nautical almanac, The Navigator's Kalendar, or Nautical Almanack, for 1783.

The copy of The Free Mason's Calendar that we acquired has a fairly detailed provenance (i.e. a list of previous owners of the book). Starting with the first owner, Thomas Noyes, there are eight known previous owners of this book. The most recent owner, Edward B. Jackson, who had owned the book since 1997, generously donated it to our Library & Archives this year.

The previous owner that I'm choosing to focus on in this post is Jonas H. Brown (1821-1897), who wrote a presentation inscription opposite the title page. Although the text indicates that Brown was presenting this to someone else, the recepient is not named. Brown's inscription reads:

Presented by Jonas H. Brown, Warren, Mass., No. 1 Carl street, late of 34 regt. Mass. H Company, Vol. Infantry. [Indecipherable] of Post 65 Clara Barton, Department of Mass., G.A.R. 1894.

Brown's inscription provides a lot of biographical information - where he lived, that he was a Civil War veteran, and that he later joined the Grand Army of the Republic. As the inscription notes, Brown served in Company H of the 34th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry. Following this lead, I was able to discover that Brown served with the 34th Regiment for the for the entirety of its existence. Brown volunteered as a Private on July 23, 1862 (at the age of 41) and was discharged on June 16, 1865. Following the war, Brown was active in his G.A.R. Post - he was named Commander of Clara Barton Post 65 at the end of 1879. Brown died in 1897 at the age of 81.

And although this is a Masonic almanac, it's not clear whether Brown was a Mason. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has no record of him being a Massachusetts Mason, and it appears that Brown was a lifelong Massachusetts resident. The 1850 Census names his place of birth as Massachusetts and all subsequent censuses place him in that state. If you know more about Jonas H. Brown, feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.

The Free Mason's Calendar and Continental Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1793. New York: Printed and sold, wholesale and retail, by Samuel Campbell, no 37 Hanover Square, [1792].
Call number: RARE 01 .S799 1792
Gift of Edward B. Jackson

Gallery Talks: "Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles"

2010_006DP1 Statue Liberty quilt_WebCompressWhat contribution did women’s textiles make to Freemasonry’s vibrant shaping of American families and communities in the 1800s and the 1900s?

To find out, join Director of Collections Aimee E. Newell on Saturday, July 28, 2:00 p.m. in the "Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles" exhibition. This free gallery talk will offer visitors insights into how women demonstrated knowledge of Masonic values with their needles and created lasting reminders of their skills. This new exhibition features more than 25 quilts, coverlets, needlework pictures, and hooked rugs drawn from the Museum's collection. It tells a compelling story of connected lives and shared values.

We will offer two "Threads of Brotherhood" gallery talks in the fall:

Saturday, September 15, 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 20, 1:00 p.m.

2002_008T1 cover quilt_WebCompressThe October gallery talk is scheduled prior to Pamela Week's 2 p.m. lecture on Civil War quilts for soldiers.  Combined, the two programs provide an ideal opportunity to explore how women used their needlework to help shape public life in 19th century America.

Save the dates! We'll see you at the Museum!

Photo Credits:

Lady Liberty Lights the Way, 1985, Nancy M. Crasco, Massachusetts. Gift of Nancy Crasco, 2010.006.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Quilt, 1880-1920, unidentified maker, probably Ohio.  Musuem purchase, 2002.008. Photograph by David Bohl.

Caliphs of Bagdad

Caliphs of Bagdad CardRegular readers of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library blog may remember my previous post about the mystery of the green Caliphs of Bagdad fez (read it here and see one of the fezzes below).  I couldn't find any information about the group's history or location.  But, recently, another clue came my way.  A friend of the Museum called my attention to the membership card (pictured at left), which was offered for sale on ebay.  Imagine my surprise and delight to see that it seems to have a direct relationship to the same group as the two green fezzes now in our collection!  I was very excited to be able to add the card to our Archives collection.

I still have many questions about the Caliphs of Bagdad, but I'm pretty firmly convinced that the group was active in Pennsylvania in the early to mid-1920s.  Both of the fezzes donated to the Museum came from Pennsylvania and this card originated from Court No. 1 in New Castle, Pennsylvania.  I find it intriguing that the Caliphs may have been open to both men and women.  The card is for a James A. McKnight, but the "Chief M.C." at the bottom was a Judy Sypher.2009_022DP1

What do you think?  Does this jog anyone's memory about the Caliphs of Bagdad?  Did you know James McKnight or Judy Sypher?  Have you seen any other documents or objects associated with this group?  Leave us a comment below.

Membership Card, 1910-1950, unidentified maker, Pennsylvania, gift of Ron and Judy McKnight, 2012.

Fez, early 1900s, gift of Stanley A. McCollough, 2009.022.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bill Hart's Order of Chanta Sutas

Order_of_Chanta_Sutas_cover_webWhat do a silent Western film star, boys playing "cowboys and Indians" in the 1920s, and Freemasonry have to do with each other?

We recently purchased an intriguing ritual book, written by William S. Hart, entitled The Order of Chanta Sutas: A Ritual, published in Hollywood in 1925. The book contains the text of the initiation rituals for three fraternal degrees (Indian, Plainsman, Scout). The first page of the book explains that "the Order of Chanta Sutas is designed for boys fourteen, or over. A preliminary training in the Boy Scouts or some other organization, while not absolutely essential, is highly desirable; for the work herein outlined can be best grasped and followed by boys who have already had concerted troop training."

The publication of a ritual for a boys' fraternal group in 1925 makes a certain amount of historical sense. The late teens and early 1920s were a boom time for the establishment of many fraternal youth groups - including DeMolay (founded in 1919), Job's Daughters (1920), Order of the Builders (1921), Rainbow Girls (1922), Order of the Knights of King Arthur (est. 1893, reorganized 1923), and the Junior Court of Foresters of America (1923).

But who wrote this ritual and why do the settings of the three degrees seem like they're straight out of a movie Western?

William_S_Hart_LCWilliam S. Hart - better known as Bill Hart - was a silent film star who appeared in dozens of Westerns from 1914 until 1925. Hart began his career as a stage actor and appeared in the original Broadway production of Ben-Hur in 1899 - a role he reprised in his first film appearance in 1907. His last movie, Tumbleweeds, came out the same year as the book under discussion here, The Order of Chanta Sutas. 

It's perhaps no surprise to discover that Hart was a Freemason. The ritual of the Order of Chanta Sutas carries all the hallmarks of Masonic and fraternal rituals: three initiation degrees that involve swearing oaths that one will not share with non-members the grips (i.e. handshakes), passwords, and signs that are imparted to the candidate. What makes Hart's ritual so interesting is that he borrows heavily from the Old West themes of his movies.

The third degree (Scout) ends with the candidate being told the secrets of the Order. And yet, not everything is revealed. As with many printed rituals, this one leaves blank those things which are considered secret so that, rather than describing a sign, the text merely indicates that the sign (which will be taught to the candidate) should be given. Here's an example from the Chanta Sutas ritual:

The Sign of the Third Degree, which means "I am a Scout," is made in this way. [Shows sign.]

The big question I hoped to answer when looking at the book was what, exactly "Chanta Sutas" referred to. I was initially disappointed to find this on the second-to-last page of the book:

The words "Chanta Suta" mean                        

Yes, that empty blank line is in the book. A footnote indicates that "this material will be supplied in person by the monitor of the Lodge."

Happily, a biography of Hart published in 2003 - Ronald L. Davis's William S. Hart: Projecting the American West -reveals that the phrase "Chanta Suta" was drawn from Hart's own life - although possibly an exaggerated, romanticized version of it. While Davis observes that Hart "claimed to know and understand the Indians far better than he in fact did," he also reports that Hart "boasted that his Sioux friends had given him the name Chanta Suta, meaning "Strong Heart," and that his friendship with the Indians had done much to strengthen his character and deepen his understanding of fundamental truths." (You can read more about what Davis has to say here.) As for how Chanta Suta became Chanta Sutas, it appears that Hart pluralized the name he claimed was given to him, so that all young boys who aspired to by like their Western film idol could also become a part of the Order of Chanta Sutas.

Unfortunately, it's not clear whether the Order of Chanta Sutas met with any success - or whether any groups were formed at all. Hart self-published this book in a limited edition and it's not clear whether he made any attempts to actual form Chanta Sutas groups or whether he hoped that just putting this book out in the world would inspire boys to form their own groups.

If you know anything more about the Order fo Chanta Sutas, please leave a comment below.


William S. Hart. The Order of Chanta Sutas: A Ritual. Hollywood, CA: The William S. Hart Company, 1925.
Call number: RARE HS 3313 .C5 H3

Photo of William S. Hart courtesy of the Library of Congress:

[William S. Hart, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front, in cowboy outfit], 1918