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September 2017

The Intriguing and Peripatetic Life of Adolphe Minski

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Masonic Certificate, 1849. Issued to Adolphe Minski, Prudente Amitié, Lons-le-Saunier, France. Lithographed by Brother Marin, Marseille, France. Gift of Mrs. H. Heinze, A71/002/002

In 1971 a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Mrs. H. Heinze, wrote to an officer at the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin about six antique documents that had been discovered in her late uncle’s effects.  Though her uncle, Arthur H. Spoerer (1893-1971), had not been a Freemason, these documents—dating from 1849 to 1875—had to do with Freemasonry, in particular with the Masonic career of a man named Adolphe Minski, unrelated to the uncle.  The documents are now in the archives collection at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Born in Poland, Minski (1819-1886) immigrated to the United States around 1850.  With him he brought a certificate (illustrated at left) attesting he had been made a Mason at Prudente Amitié, a lodge in Lons-le-Saunier, France, in 1849.  Freemasonry played an important role in his life in America.  Minski joined Masonic organizations in many of the towns where he resided while earning a living as a hairdresser.  Putting together pieces of information from Minski’s preserved Masonic documents and other records, a picture of Minski’s life emerges.    

For over twenty years Minski collected inked demits (declarations that he left a lodge in good standing) and notes related to Masonic lodges he visited on the back of his 1849 certificate.  For example, as recounted on his certificate, in 1850 he demitted from L’Union Francaise, a French-speaking lodge, in New York City.  The same year a census taker counted him as a resident of New Jersey. Records of land purchases, as well as the Iowa state census, put him in Dubuque, Iowa, in the mid-1850s.  He did not stay there for long.  In 1856 the lodge secretary of Dubuque Lodge No. 3 certified that “Bro. Adolphe Minski was permitted to demit and the Secretary authorized…the same…” on the back of his 1849 certificate. 

By 1858 Minski had moved to Tyler, Texas, where he joined Tyler Chapter No. 24.  His certificate, issued by the group, survives (illustrated at lower left).  Two years later a census worker noted that Minski lived at a hotel in Tyler.  Ten years later, Minski had relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, where he advertised in a city directory as a “French Hair Dresser,” barber and wig maker.  A census worker recorded he was an American citizen in 1870.  He applied for a U. S. passport the following year. 

In 1876 a directory publisher listed Minski as a Milwaukee resident.  Around the same time, he became involved with the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee.  The Freie Gemeinde, or free thinkers, was a progressive group with German roots whose members explored philosophy, science, music and education.  Though the group shared some elements with mainstream religions, such as holding ceremonies and meeting in congregations, it privileged a person’s right to seek his or her own truth.

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Royal Arch Certificate, 1858. Issued to Adolphe Minski, Tyler Chapter, No. 24, Tyler, Texas. Printed by Galveston Civilian and Gazette Book and Job Office, Galveston, Texas. Gift of Mrs. H. Heinze, A71/002/003

Minski's connection with the the Freie Gemeinde continued for the rest of his life.  His will, written about a month before his death in Milwaukee in 1886, offers insight into what Minski valued as he outlined his wishes for the division of his estate and his funeral arrangements.  Minski stated he had’ “no near kin or relation of blood in this country…. Consequently I am at liberty to dispose of my earthly possessions according to the dictates of my own better convictions….” Among his will's provisions, Minski forgave an 1872 mortgage owed to him by the Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies in Lyons, Iowa, noting that he was a Scottish Rite member and deisred to give “material aid to [the group] to carry out and practice the lofty philosophical teachings and charity of the beloved order….”  He  left the majority of his estate—just over $13,000—to the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee.  He earmarked the bequest for “the dissemination of liberal views, scientific lectures and the education of the younger elements belonging to the congregation in a progressive and enlightened spirit.”       

Minski specified his funeral arrangements in his will, noting that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes housed at the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee in an urn bearing this inscription:  “A-Minski of the City of Milwaukee, who—although born in superstition—lived and died a free man.”  At the time, cremation was a relatively new and uncommon burial practice.  Minski’s remains were transported to Buffalo, New York, home of one of the few crematories in the United States.  Perhaps because of the novelty of process, Minski’s cremation was reported in the New York Times on July 28th.  A reporter recounted this detail, “Fifty minutes were consumed in reducing the body to ashes." The reporter added information about the deceased, relaying that "Mr. Minski was a prominent Free Thinker and a delegation of three men and three women representing the society…came here with the body….  The reporter concluded his article with this statement: "The cremation was perfectly successful.” 

Nearly a hundred years after  Minski’s death, his Masonic certificates had been preserved by Arthur Spoerer and his neice, Mrs. Heinze.  The link between Mrs. Heinze's uncle and Minski was through the Spoerer's work.  For many years Spoerer had worked as a custodian at Jefferson Hall in Milwaukee—the former home of the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee. Why he saved the certificates is not known, but we are grateful that he did for a glimpse they offer of Adolphe Minski's intriguing life. Three of the certificates are on display in the exhibition, “Signed and Sealed: Masonic Certificates” through December, 2018.

Many thanks to Kamel Oussayef, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library; Larissa Watkins, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, SJ, USA; Debbie Galli, Grand Lodge of Nebraska and Erika Miller, Grand Lodge of Wisconsin.  


Berenice Cooper, “Die Freien Gemeinden in Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, vol. 53, 1964, 53-65.


Digital Collections Highlight: Hand-lettered Scottish Rite Certificate of Appreciation

A2016_018_DS_webThe Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives' Digital Collections website features a rich collection of digitized documents from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Among these items is this hand-drawn certificate of appreciation issued by the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, to Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, the Mayor of Boston and an Active Member of the Supreme Council. The certificate, dated June 19, 1869, was given to Shurtleff in recognition of the Supreme Council's "high appreciation of the most cordial and fraternal welcome extended" to the Council during the Annual Meeting held in Boston, June 16-19, 1869. (A high-res image of the certificate may be viewed here.)

The 1869 Annual Meeting was held at the Masonic Temple in Boston. According to the 1869 Supreme Council Proceedings, on the second day of these meetings, Friday, June 18, the Supreme Council voted on "an invitation to accept the hospitalities of the Mayor of the City of Boston, the Hon. and Ill. Bro. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, at Young's Hotel, at 7 1/2 o'clock, this evening." On motion, the Mayor's party invitation was unanimously accepted. Young's Hotel, which had opened in 1860 and would eventually close in 1927, was located in Court Street in Boston.

While the 1869 Proceedings provide no details about the celebration held at Young's Hotel, an article published in the July 1, 1869, issue of The Freemasons' Monthly Magazine gives a brief account of the dinner. It records that the tables for the reception "were furnished with such luxuries as the markets at this season of the year can afford, and were in great abundance." The celebration continued "until late in the evening, when it was increased by the addition of music, by an excellent band from the City of Troy, New York, who had previously been contributing of their skill to the success of the Peace Jubilee."

The National Peace Jubilee, which happened to coincide with the 1869 Annual Meeting, was a five day music festival held in Boston. It began on June 15, 1869, and celebrated the end of the American Civil War four years earlier. Thousands of people attended the Jubilee, and a huge temporary coliseum which could seat 50,000 people was constructed for the musical performances. The event was so attractive that The Freemasons' Monthly Magazine reported that the Jubilee actually delayed the start of the Annual Meeting: 

The session [i.e. the Annual Meeting] was informally opened on Wednesday, at 12 o'clock, noon; but, in consequence of the interest which the members manifested in the festivities of the opening of the Peace Musical Jubilee, the Council was called off until the following morning at 10 o'clock, and no business was transacted.

The celebration hosted by Mayor Shurtleff at Young's Hotel made a great impression upon his guests. The following day, at the Supreme Council's Annual Meeting, Henry L. Palmer, a future Sovereign Grand Commander for the Supreme Council, offered a resolution, the text of which was incorporated into the certificate by its artist, Charles E. Sickels (1841-1927).

In 1869 Sickels was a 28-year-old artist and engraver who executed this certificate entirely by hand. He had only been a Mason for two years. His father, Daniel Sickels, 33°, Grand Secretary General for the Supreme Council, signed and sealed the certificate in the lower left-hand corner. Charles Sickels would later go on to become the head of the Art Department of the American Bank Note Company, which printed currency and stamps for the federal government, as well as stock certificates. By 1875, the American Bank Note Company printed membership certificates, such as this one, for the Scottish Rite.

You can explore more historic Scottish Rite documents at the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website.

Ask A Curator Day! September 13th

#AskACurator Day with the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

Ask a curator day 2017Ever wonder what Freemasonry is all about, or what a curator does? What the difference is between an Odd Fellow, Oriole, or Moose? Whether or not a symbol is Masonic? What your family’s connection to Freemasonry may be?  Which U.S. Presidents were Masons? Or, what the oldest object in our collection is? Now is your chance to get answers to your questions!*

Join us on twitter, September 13, 2017, for the international museum event, #AskACurator day. Hundreds of museums from around the world have participated in this live tweeting event since 2010.

Our passionate and knowledgeable staff will be on hand from 9:00am to 3:00pm to answer your questions. Tweet your questions to @masonmuseum using the hashtag #AskaCurator on September 13th. Want to get your questions in early? You can! Tweet your questions using the instructions above or email them to ylaxton@srmml.org.

Please see below for Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library staff participating in the event:

Croteau-JeffJeff Croteau, Director of Library and Archives

Jeff Croteau is the Museum’s librarian. He is the Director of the Library & Archives and is responsible for  acquiring books and periodicals, cataloging books, and providing reference services. He also frequently writes about the library’s collection for the Museum’s blog and The Northern Light, the quarterly magazine of Scottish Rite Masonry in America.

Stelling-Hilary-Anderson1Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Collections and Exhibitions

Hilary oversees collections and exhibitions. At the museum she has curated exhibitions on topics ranging from Masonic decorative arts and neon signs to colonial history and contemporary photography. Hilary writes for the Museum’s blog and contributed to the publication Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection.

Coelho-John1John Coelho, Archivist

Museum archivist, John Coelho, is responsible for all aspects of the archives’ functions, which include acquiring archival items and collections, cataloging, and providing reference services. He has a Master of Science in Library & Information Science (M.S.) from Simmons College in Boston and a Master of Arts (M.A.) in History from Providence College in Providence, RI.



Laxton-Ymelda-Rivera1Ymelda Rivera Laxton, Assistant Curator

Ymelda Rivera Laxton focuses on all aspects of digitizing the museum’s collections and making them accessible online. She researches and writes about artifacts in the collection and shares those stories through her contributions to the museum’s online publications and Masonic journals and magazines.