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December 2015

Fraternal Mysteries: Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team


Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team, ca. 1890, Unidentified Maker, Parkersburg, West Virginia, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.116.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns over a thousand photographs. A number of these photographs feature unidentified men and women in mystery locales, performing unidentifiable group rituals, or at unknown meetings and events. We are starting a series called “Fraternal Mysteries” in order to crowd source potential information about photographs that are difficult to identify. The museum staff conducts extensive research on our collection but is sometimes left stumped when the only potential clues about a photograph or artifact are a few illegible handwritten notes on the back of the object, a small sign, or an element of clothing. We hope to get these and other images in our collection in front of as many history enthusiasts and fraternal members as possible in order to help us build richer and more accurate stories about our collection objects.

Recently the collections team made some progress in identifying one of these mystery photographs. In 1988, the Museum & Library purchased the Grant B. Romer Fraternal Photographic Collection. Grant B. Romer was the conservator of photographs at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, N.Y., for many years. The collection numbered over 180 items and included a wide variety of ambrotypes, ferrotypes, daguerreotypes

Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team, ca. 1890, Unidentified Maker, Parkersburg, West Virginia, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.115b.

and silver gelatin prints of members of fraternal organizations. Fraternal organizations represented in the collection include, the Improved Order of Red Men, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Loyal Orange Institution, Odd Fellows, Knights Templar and Knights of Pythias.

There are three photographs in this collection identified as a “Knights of Pythias lodge degree team.” These photographs feature a group of about thirty men dressed in demon costumes in a rural outdoor setting. In the above photo they are posed in a group photo and in the other two they are standing in what appears to be a cross and circle formation. A handwritten note in pencil identifies the location as “Parkersburg, W.VA.” Typed notes included with the photographs state that this Knights of Pythias degree team photo is “showing Mephistopheles costumes (Mephisto suits) used in the Amplified T----- Rank for the character PL.” Part of the name is redacted.

The photos are highly intriguing. The collections team wanted to verify the group as the Knights of Pythias and determine the ritual or event in the image. After some research in our own library and archives we found two references that seemed to describe the depicted ritual and match the typed notes on file. In an 1872 Knights of Pythias ritual book titled Amplified version of the Knight degree, a character named Pluto is mentioned and seems like a plausible match for the "character PL."  The character Pluto was also referenced in relation to the Amplified Rank degree. In an 1882 M. C. Lilley regalia catalog titled Lodge paraphernalia for all three ranks including the Amplified Third we found a ritual name and costume descriptions matching the information in the file. Advertisements for related ritual paraphernalia included Mephisto costumes, facial hair, and masks for PL (again probably for the character of Pluto). The catalog marketed the paraphernalia to Knights of Pythias lodges “working the amplified third rank degree” because it seems apparent that not all Pythian lodges practiced it.

Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team, ca. 1890, Unidentified Maker, Parkersburg, West Virginia, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.115a.

The Knights of Pythias Phoenix Lodge No. 72 in Mill Valley, California, mentions the 1930 authorization of a new degree called the "Pluto Degree" on the history section of their website. They write "it is likely the Pluto Degree was a reintroduction of the 1872 amplified version of the Knight Degree." We could not find reference to the Amplified Third degree in later ritual books from our collection and it is unclear when the degree stopped being practiced.

As of now, based on the information we have found, we believe these photographs depict a Knights of Pythias degree team practicing the Amplified Third Rank degree for the character Pluto sometime in the 1890s.

There are quite a few uncertainties; why are they practicing the ritual outside? Do these images really correspond with the information from the previous owner?

Do these images or men look familiar to you? Do you have any information about this Knights of Pythias degree ritual?  Please write a comment below or contact Ymelda Rivera Laxton, Assistant Curator at [email protected] with information or if you have any questions.

To see these photographs and more from our Knights of Pythias collection, visit our Flickr page at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalsrmml/

Want to help us identify or research more mystery photos in our collection? Stay tuned for our Fraternal Mystery Flickr album launching in January 2016.




Ritual of the Knights of Pythias, containing the forms for opening and closing, and the ceremonies of the different ranks, together with other forms of ceremonial work by order of the Supreme Lodge, S.l. : the Supreme Lodge, Knights of Pythias, 1882


An Intriguing New York Desk

Desk, 1860-1880. Whitehall, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.012.2a-i. Photograph by David Bohl.

As a furniture form, the desk is for doing business and this example is no exception. Along with large drawers and a lockable cupboard, the craftsman who made this desk fitted its interior with several shelves, pigeon holes and drawers sized for organizing and storing correspondence. He also included two looking glasses on the desk, one on the gallery at the top of the desk and another at the center of the interior.These mirrors may have given the desk’s user a chance to check his appearance, provided him advanced warning of who was approaching him while he worked or--most likely--have helped pick up light in the room.The desk features two drawers that are not obvious to the casual viewer. Behind each of the triangular-shaped decorations flanking the interior mirror, the cabinetmaker concealed two small drawers with rounded bottoms, perfect for storing pens. Giving this type of desk its name is the roll top, wooden slats linked together and mounted to fabric that run through tracks on either side of the desk. These slats form a flexible lid for the desk’s interior. This lid helped keep a study or workplace looking tidy while shielding correspondence from prying eyes.  

Desk, showing interior, 1860-1880. Whitehall, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.012.2a-i.

When the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library first purchased this desk, the seller noted that it had been used by a lumberman in Whitehall, New York, a town situated between Lake George and the Vermont border. This intriguing tidbit of information was not documented, but an element of decoration on the desk may either support it or be its source. The desk’s drawers and edges are ornamented with inlay shaped and shaded to resemble cut logs—objects that would have been meaningful to someone who earned his living in lumber.

Much of the inlay on this desk is ornamental—such as the stripes on the columns in the gallery, the different colored wood highlighting each side of the roll top and the jagged lines drawing attention to the front of the desk, but some of the decoration likely held special meaning for the desk’s owner. In addition to his interest in lumber, he was also likely a Freemason.The cupboard door at the bottom of the desk, pictured below, features interesting Masonic imagery. An inlay picture on it depicts a lodge master—identified by his attributes, a top hat and a gavel—standing on a pedestal flanked by the kinds of columns used in Masonic lodges. Another inlay picture at the center of the cupboard door shows lodge furnishings—a Bible on an altar surrounded by three tall candlesticks.Underscoring these pictures, the craftsman placed a small inlay square and compasses with the letter G, one of the most recognized symbols of Freemasonry, at the bottom of the cupboard door. Adding more to the story, the craftsman joined the legs of the compasses with three chain links—a symbol association with another fraternal group, the Odd Fellows.

Desk, 1860-1880. Whitehall, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.012.2a-i. Photograph by David Bohl.

If you have ideas about this desk and its intriguing decoration, please leave us a note in the comments section below.


John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons (Lexington, Massachusetts: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994), 51-54, 65.

New to the Collection: A Miniature Chair in a Bottle

Miniature Chair in Bottle, 1924, George Barnhart (b. 1851), Liberty, Missouri, Museum purchase, 2015.044. Photograph by David Bohl.

Recently, this small chair inside a bottle caught our eye because it is inscribed on the legs, "Liberty / Odd F. Home / FLT / IOOF / G.G. Barnhart 1924."  We were charmed to add it to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.  I am pleased to share what I've learned about it so far, but I hope that readers will help us to learn even more about it.

The bottle is only 4 1/2 inches high and 1 3/8 inches square, just to give you a sense of its diminutive size.  Crafting small items like this and placing them in bottles was a popular pastime during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Perhaps the most well-known example is the ship in a bottle.  However, chairs were not unusual.  There are several known examples that show a strikingly similar style to this one and most are inscribed with Odd Fellows initials, or "Odd Fellows Home."  Several also have inscriptions suggesting that they originated in Liberty, Missouri, like ours.

The Odd Fellows Home in Liberty, Missouri, was one of many institutions erected and run by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternity across the United States.  Odd Fellows members are encouraged to visit the sick, educate the orphan and bury the dead, so homes like this, which offered lodging and care for orphans, the elderly and the destitute, fit well with the tenets of the organization.

The first home in this location burned down in 1900 and was subsequently rebuilt.  The "School Building" was erected in 1904; the "Old Folks Building," originally known as the "Old Folks Pavilion," was built in 1907 and 1908; and the hospital went up in 1923.  Given the inscriptions on this chair, it seems likely that it was made by a resident at the Home in 1924.  Further research suggests that the "G.G. Barnhart" named on the chair was George G. Barnhart, born in Missouri in 1853.  According to the 1920 United States Census, he was living at the "Odd Fellows Home" in Liberty, Missouri.

Have you seen other chairs in a bottle like this?  Do they have a connection to the Odd Fellows Home in Missouri?  Do you know anything about George Barnhart's life?  If so, please write a comment below!


Model Train Weekend presented by the HUB Division of the National Model Railroad Association

Saturday, December 12, 2015 HUB Train Show
10:00 AM-4:30 PM

Sunday, December 13, 2015
12:00 Noon-4:00 PM

$7 per family ($5 for Museum or HUB members)
$5 per individual ($4 Museum or HUB members)

Join us for the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s annual HUB train show! For over a decade the HUB Division of the Northeastern Regional Model Railroad Association has set up an amazing display in the museum’s Farr Conference Room. The HUB Division uses HO-scale model trains which are 1/87th the size of a real train car and very detailed. Adults and children alike are fascinated by watching these trains speed along the tracks through the realistic layouts model railroaders have constructed. 

Don’t miss this crowd favorite! Proceeds benefit the HUB Division of the National Model Railroad Association and the Museum.

For more information about model train weekend, contact the Museum at 781-861-6559  or email [email protected] 

Want more trains? Don’miss our February 2016 NTRAK Model Train Show, Saturday, February 13, 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM and Sunday, February 15, 12:00 Noon – 4:00 PM.