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January 2014

Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Objects from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

96_050T1Starting February 5, 2014, one of our hallway cases will feature a selection of Masonic and fraternal ritual objects from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection. 

Among the more than twenty objects on view will be favorites such as a trick chair, one of our ritual bells and a ritual beehive thought to have been used in a Masonic lodge.  We will also be showcasing two altars, as well as several officers' staffs and ritual props.  In addition to objects used in Masonic lodges, material from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Modern Woodmen of America, the Daughters of Rebekah and other fraternal organizations will be exhibited. 

Masonic and fraternal organizations teach new members about their groups’ values and symbols through ritual. These ceremonies often feature props, special furniture and other paraphernalia. All of the intriguing objects that will be exhibited were designed to not only help convey certain concepts and illustrate important symbols, but to also focus initiates’ and members’ attention.  Imaginatively-wrought ritual props were often oversized and brightly decorated. Ritual props did not need to function as the actual objects that inspired them did.  For example, static metal feathers and gold-painted dowels represented arrows in the whimsically colored and ornamented quiver pictured here. Combined with a darkened lodge room, dramatic lighting and bright costumes, props and other specially-designed objects enriched the presentation of Masonic and fraternal ritual.  In the accompanying photograph members of Lodge Room in Baxter Springs, Kansas a York Rite chapter that met in Baxter Springs, Kansas, many wearing regalia, posed for a portrait in the lodge room where they likely presented ritual.  Shutters covering the buildings’ windows both protected members’ privacy and assisted them in creating an appropriate setting for ritual. Along with a suitable venue, ritual objects helped make the time initiates and members spent in the lodge room--and the lessons they learned there--memorable. 


Independent Order of Odd Fellows Ritual Quiver and Arrows, 1850-1900.  American.  Museum Purchase, 96.050.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Royal Arch Degree Team, 1890-1900. Baxter Springs, Kansas. Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.112.


Order of Railway Conductors: A New Member is Initiated in 1904

Certificate for Order of Railway ConductorsThe Order of Railway Conductors was founded in 1868.  The original organization was a fraternal benefit and temperance society rather than a labor union.  It was established in Amboy, Illinois by a group of conductors on the Illinois Central Railroad.

The ORC represented the interests of train conductors.  Like ship's captains, they were the most prestigious and highly compensated railway workers of their time. This particular division of the ORC, the DeSoto Division, was organized in 1889.  At this time, any member that participated in a strike would be expelled from the order.  Because of this, a labor union was formed for railroad conductors, named the Brotherhood of Railway Conductors, in 1885 and continued to be a rival force.

Joseph R. Turner (1868-1926) received this membership certificate (shown at the left) upon his initiation in 1904 to the De Soto Division No. 241 of ORC in DeSoto, Missouri. Turner was a railroad conductor for the Missouri-Pacific railroad and owned his home in DeSoto, Jefferson County, Missouri.  He was married to Ida Alice Tonget (1866-1931) in Broadway, Union County, Ohio in 1889.  They had ten children and lived in DeSoto, Missouri.

Turner's certificate depicts the symbols or emblems of the ORC which are inside the black circle (or wheel).  They are the lantern, representing the conductor's profession, the arm with the chain, and the hand reaching for a device to couple railroad cars.  In the center of the circle are the clasped hands which symbolize perpetual friendship.

Turner would have gone through an elaborate ceremony for his initiation.  The ritual for this initiation consisted of an opening (or introduction), initiation, obligation, closing, and prayer. The teachings, or principles, were Fidelity, Justice, and Charity in Perpetual Friendship.  This ritual has a structure that is similar to Masonic and other fraternal initiation ceremonies.


Photograph Caption:

Membership Certificate for the Order of Railway Conductors, 1904.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2013/31/1.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Boston's Statler Building - A Supreme Council Headquarters for 40 Years

Statler_building_webTwo objects in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library - a postcard and a photograph - give us a sense of what the headquarters of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction looked like for nearly half of the twentieth century.

In the early years of the twentieth century, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, although officially headquartered in Boston (known within the Scottish Rite as its "Grand East"), still maintained a presence in New York City, where its Grand Secretary General continued administrative tasks, while the organization's archives were located at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. At the Supreme Council's annual meeting in September 1926, then-Sovereign Grand Commander Leon M. Abbott (1867–1932) announced that the lease for the premises at 299 Broadway in New York City, used by the Grand Secretary General, was coming up for renewal on May 1, 1927, and that "it will become necessary to take some action at this annual meeting, looking to the renewal of the lease or the securing of other quarters." Present at that annual meeting was a man named Ellsworth M. Statler (1863-1928) - one of America's great hoteliers and a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason.

1.20 94_040_2DP1DB Statler Bldg_webE.M. Statler had started construction on a grand hotel in Boston in 1925. By the time of the 1926 annual meeting, the hotel was just half a year away from completion. The Hotel Statler and Statler Building (see postcard above) opened on March 10, 1927, as the newest in E.M. Statler's hotel chain. Located at 50 Park Plaza at Arlington St., the Boston Hotel Statler and Statler Building was a mixed-use building that combined both office space and a hotel. When the hotel opened it claimed to be the eighth largest hotel in the world - with 1,300 rooms. (The Hotel Statler building stands today - operating as the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.)

Statler urged the Supreme Council to lease space in his office building and, to further encourage them, offered that the Supreme Council "name its own terms." The lease began on May 1, 1927, for 3,090 square feet in rooms 1117 through 1124 on the eleventh floor. The new space in the Statler Building allowed the Supreme Council to consolidate its administrative offices and archives into one space. Yet it wasn't just office space that the Supreme Council occupied. As the photo above shows, one room was fitted up as a Supreme Council chamber.

By 1967, the Supreme Council was starting to outgrow its space in the Statler Building. That year they acquired 2,200 more square feet on the eleventh floor of the Statler Building, for a total of almost 5,000 square feet. In addition, they appointed a special committee to start investigating the possibilities of securing "a building of our own to be located in the Boston area." After forty years of being headquartered in the heart of Boston, the Supreme Council relocated a few miles west, to the town of Lexington. But that's a story for another day.


Postcard of Hotel Statler and Statler Building, Boston, Massachusetts, ca.1930. Tichnor Bros., publisher, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Museum purchase. A2012/37/1.

Supreme Council Meeting Room, Statler Building, 1927-1960. Atlantic Foto Service, Boston, MA. Gift of the Estate of James Farr, 94.040.2. Photograph by David Bohl.


Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America. [Boston: Supreme Council, 33°, N.M.J., 1926], 51.

Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America. [Boston: Supreme Council, 33°, N.M.J., 1967], 61-62.

George Adelbert Newbury and Louis Lenway Williams. A History of the Supreme Council, 33° of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America. (Lexington, MA: Supreme Council, A.A.S.R., N.M.J, 1987), 203-4.

Come In from the Cold! Museum Gallery Talks, January-March

The Museum is showing two fabulous exhibitions featuring objects from our collection. The curators of these shows will present our free spring gallery talks. Come in from the cold and seize an opportunity to learn from the makers of the exhibitions!

Hilary cropped 2Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tellon view through the beginning of April, was curated by Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Exhibitions and Audience Development. Join her for a gallery talk on Saturday, January 11, 2:00 p.m. or Saturday, February 1, 2:00 p.m. Maps can chart everything from newly explored territories, familiar hometowns or distant theatres of war. This free talk will share some of the stories maps tell.

Newell PhotoA Sublime Brotherhood:  200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was curated by Aimee E. Newell, the Museum's Director of Collections. Two free gallery talks on this show are slotted for Saturday, February 8, 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 22, 2:00 p.m.Come and learn about the Scottish Rite's French roots, its founding in America two centuries ago and its evolution into one of the most popular American fraternal groups during the 1900s. The exhibition includes photos, costumes, and Scottish Rite items, many of which have never previously been on view.

"A Sublime Brotherhood" celebrates the bicentennial of the Scottish Rite fraternity. Our readers may be interested in the accompanying anniversary publication, co-authored by Aimee E. Newell and other Museum staff. To learn more about the book and how to order it, read our previous post.

If you come to a talk on January 11 or February 1, you'll have the chance to see our Library and Archives exhibition, Secret Scripts: Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Books, curated by Jeffrey Croteau, Library Manager. You can see Jeff's posts on books and manuscripts in that show here

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.