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April 2018

A Real Nest of Owls

Baby owl 4-19-18
Baby Great Horned Owl at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, April, 2018.

For the last month or so, staff and visitors to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library have been charmed by a pair of Great Horned Owls living on a tree on the Museum’s grounds.  The owls, a mother and owlet (pictured at left), made their home in a disused hawk’s nest in an evergreen tree near Mass Ave. The baby owl, nicknamed Scottie, started as a fluffy gray puff.  S/he, fueled by owl treats brought to the nest by the mother, soon grew bigger and bigger and developed an increasing number of brown feathers. Fascinated, staff were eager for owl information—the great website All About Birds, was particularly helpful.  Using their newly acquired knowledge, staff identified one of the baby owl’s behaviors: “branching,” or walking on branches, a first step to learning to fly and to achieving owl independence.  So far this week, neither the mother or baby owl has been spotted, leading us to suppose that the owl family has left the nest.  We are already hoping an owl comes to visit us again next year.

Photograph of an Order of Owls Nest, Possibly Boston, Massachusetts, 1910-1930. Gift of Steven Smith, 2014.117.2

In the meantime, we are happy to remind blog readers that we  have material in the collection related to some of the fraternal groups related to the Order of Owls.  Several groups claimed variations on the name, one founded in 1904 in Indiana (the Order of Owls), another (the American Order of Owls), that became the Fraternal Order of Orioles in 1910 (you can read a post about them here) and the Afro-American Order of Owls (later the Afro-American Order of Orioles) that was active in the first decades of the 1900s.  This photograph (at right) shows a "nest" or local group of the Order of Owls. Like other Masonic and fraternal groups, Owls wore aprons.  You can see at least one in the photograph.  This blue and white one (at left, below) may have belonged to Boston area member Edward A. Vogel who served as the President of Boston Nest No. 130 in 1911 and 1912.

If you have a connection to an Owls group, or material related to a member or nest, we'd love to know more.  Tell us about it in the comments section below. 

Apron, 1910-1930. George Lauterer Company, Chicago, Illinois. Gift of Steven Smith, 2014.117.5. Photograph by David Bohl.


The Fantastic Tale of George A. Gardiner

In this letter from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, George A. Gardiner, most likely a confidence man, requests assistance from Columbian Lodge, located in Boston, Massachusetts.

(front of letter)



To the Officers and Members of Columbian Lodge.

Having lost our property by the great Earthquake of the 26th of March 1812 in Caracas, in South America, and the greatest part of the time since that period been detained by the Spaniards as prisoners, and for the last four years suffered everything but death and frequently threatened with that, and ultimately,-- during the contentions in that country, the Royalists having found themselves likely to be overcome by the –patriots, Robbed us of everything we possessed even to our clothes, and said “if the patriots should gain the place they would put me, my wife, and my two infant children to immediate and instant Death!”

Anticipating the success of the patriots we resolved to make an effort towards our escape, which we effected the same night, and arrived in Puerto Rico, where we found a friend who gave us passage to this place, where we are in the greatest possible distress, having a sick child and not wherewith to provide for it. The above facts compel me thou’ not without that diffidence and reluctance which every man of spirit must feel on such an occasion to ask from the fraternity a donation

(reverse of letter)



for the present and immediate relief of a distressed family who have never before known want.

G.A. Gardiner




In 1820, two years after writing the above letter to Columbian Lodge, Gardiner published his only known literary attempt, A Brief and Correct Account of an Earthquake Which Happened in South America, an account of the 1812 Venezuela earthquake. In addition to incorrectly dating the event (Gardiner stated the earthquake took place on March 26, 1818), Gardiner greatly exaggerated the numbers of casualties and his tall tale included a fantastic description of a “subterranean channel” that “was formed by the tops of two very high mountains falling together” nearly four hundred miles from Caracas.

Gardiner's surreal description of Venezuela drew the attention of respected Venezuelan geologist Franco Urbani Patat in 1985. Urbani Patat debunked Gardiner’s work, calling it a fictitious invention possibly used to impress others. Gardiner’s account amounted to literary fraud, Urbani Patat concluded.

It is unclear as to why Gardiner, who does not appear to have been a Mason, requested aid from Columbian Lodge or whether he made the same request to other lodges. Furthermore, we may never know for certain whether Columbian Lodge ever responded to Gardiner's plea for assistance. The Museum's collection of records for Columbian Lodge is incomplete and contains several gaps that prevent this question from being answered. That said, research into Gardiner’s life provides a better, if not always clearer, picture of the man and of his life.

George A. Gardiner was born in New York State in about 1786, and married Mary Anne Headley of New Jersey sometime before 1818. The couple had at least three children together: a son George A., who was born in 1818; a son John Charles, who often used the name Carlos or John Carlos and was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1824; and a daughter whose name and birth record could not be discovered during research for this blog post. While no record of George A. Gardiner's death was found in Ancestry.com, courtroom testimony from the trial of his two sons for perjury and fraud, the infamous Gardiner trial, uncovers that senior Gardiner died in Havana, Cuba, possibly around 1840.


Letter from G.A. Gardiner to Columbian Lodge, May 6, 1818. Gift of Columbian Lodge, Boston, Massachusetts, courtesy of Mrs. Godfrey S. Tomkins, MA 002.


Barthel, Thomas (2010). Abner Doubleday: A Civil War Biography. Jefferson: McFarland.

Gardiner, G.A. (1820). A Brief and Correct Account of an Earthquake Which Happened in South America. Poughkeepsie, New York: P. Potter.  

Moore, John Bassett (1898). United States and Mexican Claims Commission: Convention of April 11, 1839. In History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party, (Vol. 2, pp. 1209-1359). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. Accessed: 5 March 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=s10QAAAAYAAJ

United States. Congress. Senate (1854). Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session, Thirty-third Congress, 1853-’54.  (Vol. 708, pp. 1259-1260). Washington, D.C.: Beverley Tucker. Accessed 5 March 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=qWxHAQAAIAAJ

Urbani Patat, Franco (1985). George A. Gardiner (1812-1820). Accessed 15 March 2018.


Life Aboard the 𝙐.𝙎.𝙎 𝘿𝙚𝙡𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙚

George Newbury and Shipmates, ca. 1918. Gift of George A. Newbury, 78.48.60.

In April of 1917 the United States declared war on Germany and formally entered World War I. Thousands of men registered for the draft in the month following the declaration, including George A. Newbury (1895-1984), former Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction from 1965-1975.

Newbury, aged 21, registered for the United States Navy, in Ripley, New York, on April 21, 1917. He served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Delaware, one of five American battleships in the 6th Battle Squadron sent to assist the British Grand Fleet around the Orkney Islands near Scotland. Newbury left the Navy in June 1919 with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, seven months after the war ended in November 1918.

The group photograph above shows Newbury—on the far right—with his fellow shipmates aboard the U.S.S. Delaware sometime in 1918. Newbury donated a collection of photographs from his time in the Navy to the Museum

Result of Six Months in the War Zone, ca. 1918. Gift of George A. Newbury, 78.48.17

& Library in 1978. The images show daily life on a wartime battleship, from recreational activities to the visits of foreign dignitaries. Almost all of the photographs include the handwritten letters, "McK,"  near the bottom of the prints. Staff is currently researching Naval photographers to learn more about who "McK" was and if there are other similar images attributed to that photographer. To see more photographs from life aboard the U.S.S. Delaware visit our online collections page here.

To learn more about other World War I items in our collection, visit our exhibition “Americans, Do Your Bit: World War I in Posters,” on view through June 2018.





Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33 degree, for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America (Lexington, MA: Supreme Council 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 1984)

Naval History and Heritage Command. USS Delaware (Battleship # 28, later BB-28), 1910-1924. www.history.navy.mil/. https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/us-navy-ships/battleships/delaware-bb-28.html, accessed March 16, 2018.